Words Carry Meaning
I think of scale modeling as a craft, and yes, as an art form. I strive to bring a craftsman’s mindset and ethic along with an artist’s eye for grace, form and simplicity to the work because I don’t make distinctions between scale modeling and crafts such as woodworking, sculpture or pottery. Craft is craft, art is art, creating is creating.
Putting aside stereotypes and outright ignorance, what does an artist actually do? We observe the world, form impressions about it and use our knowledge of design and visual language to share those observations with others. We make value judgments about what’s important and interesting based on what we respond to and why.
What do we do in model railroading? We observe the world, form impressions of it and use our knowledge of design and visual language to share those impressions with others. We also make value judgments about what’s important and interesting based on what we respond to and why. It’s the intent you bring to the work, not the medium you use.
Lots of people may think this is nonsense because, for them, it isn’t an idea they can embrace and that’s okay. I’m not here to force feed my views to anyone. However, if there is no aspect of art to model building, then my question is: why do we bother with painting and weathering effects? Why worry about whether the paint is accurate or what shade of orange that rust streak is? Why do we bother with scenery and buildings? Why does context matter?
Over the decades, the bar of excellence has been raised again and again. Few serious modelers would be satisfied with undecorated models on bare plywood, even though some operations enthusiasts would be fine with it. Regardless, I think many of us agree the intangible qualities that paint and weathering bring to a scale model count for something more than surface appearance.
If there is any issue between the two I think it’s this: art wants to be self-directed, while model building, as we understand it, tends to follow a predetermined process.
Think of the difference between scratchbuilding and a commercial kit. In scratchbuilding the choices of materials, process and sequence are wide open, while with a kit, the majority of the choices have been made for you. The parts are premade, the instructions lay out the assembly sequence and so on. It’s the difference between exploring a new path and following a map.
Explorer or Follower?
At various times we are both students and hopefully, explorers. Exploring a different path is hard. Given the amount of time pressure people face today, most won’t make the effort at all. Eighty plus years of how-to articles have conditioned us well to follow instructions. However, we have the choices we do today because people in the past were willing to explore new ideas and think for themselves. I’m thankful for that and I hope that modelers today understand the opportunities that are wide open to them.
We all develop a philosophy of modeling, whether we know it or not. Your philosophy will impact how you model as well as what you model. The degree of craftsmanship you bring to the work is a personal decision and your mindset plays a huge role in the choices you’ll make in this craft.