Scale Modeling as Art?

It’s interesting how quickly the “AK Interactive::Condemnation” thread went off the rails:

AK Interactive::Condemnation Thread

I don’t want to re-open that discussion, but as I read through it, I thought there was a potential segue that sort of got lost, and that was the idea of the interpretation and depiction of controversial historic and social events through the medium of scale modeling.

So, by some definitions, art is understood as a form of communication between its creator and its audience with the message usually considered to be mostly emotive. That is, the artist is sharing his or her emotions through the medium. Those emotions could be simple appreciation of the aesthetic appeal of the subject or topic of the work or something deeper, perhaps combined with narrative elements. The point being that the artist is sharing a message that can be comprehended, felt and understood by the audience as they perceive the work.

Again, without revisiting the specifics of the AK marketing issue, I wonder what others think about the idea of scale modeling as a means of communicating emotional and narrative messages between the modeler and those looking at the works.

As examples of scale modeling art that speaks to controversial historical and social events, I might offer up Rick Lawler’s “Burden of Sorrow” or Bob Tavis’ “Strange Fruit”

I’m sure that many of you could come up with examples of scale modeling works that can be appreciated for their pure aesthetic appeal, like Olga Kropotova’s and Juliana LePine’s figures or perhaps some of Jean Bernard Andre’s dioramas.

So, is there some line that scale modelers shouldn’t cross with subjects and ideas, or, like with other art forms, the only line is the one the artist makes for himself? Do we censor and condemn, or do we accept (with or without criticism)? Is the difference between what is and is not acceptable one of the skill and talent of the artist to present the subject, or are some subjects just off-limits?

Is it all “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” or are there subjects that can’t be tolerated?


Yes, to all of those questions. Build what you want to build but if you present your work in the public forum you should expect opinions and critique.

There are lines that should not be crossed. Setting up and directing an actual attack on someone and then filming it as an art project is one example.


In the context of our hobby or art if you will it’s a scale representation of whatever the modeler wants to create and to that end no subject should be off the table. You can make what you like but you should expect that no matter how good your project is not everyone will like it and not all media outlets will be ok with having it displayed.

So make what you want and post here but understand not everyone might not like it and if too edgy Jim might remove it as it’s he’s right as the owner.


As a professional historian(retired college prof)this is something I have wrestled with for quite some time. On the one had I do not believe history should be censored or whitewashed as there is much to learn from the past, not just events but how it can illuminate human nature. Then there is the side of me who is a modeler who until about five years ago built almost exclusively WWII German armor. I believe that what we do is an art form, especially those who build dioramas that can evoke our emotions. I also believe that art should not be censored just because it is something we are offended by or disagree with. Many times offensive or disagreeable art forces us to reexamine what we think or believe about the subject in question. This introspection may lead us to change our views or reinforce our already held beliefs. But as modelers where, if anywhere, is the line between representing history or historical events and the glorification of those events. As a young armor modeler I would almost always mark my Tigers, Panthers, etc. as Waffen SS. They always seemed to have the best equipment and interesting camo schemes. As I look back, I think that subconsciously it bothered me even then because as I matured I stopped putting any unit identification markings on my builds, preferring to model a generic type of vehicle rather than a specific one. Don’t get me wrong, this is a personal choice and I am perfectly fine with seeing builds marked as SS units, but when I do I can’t help wonder where is the line between representation and glorification.

Ultimately it boils down to a personal choice. But as others have stated, when you get to that line and post something that may be seen as controversial don’t expect to get universal praise or be surprised at the criticism.


There is a Swedish proverb (may well exist in other languages as well) which translates to:
“Don’t speak about rope in hanged mans house”

Whatever someone says or does there will almost always be someone that can feel offended.

As others have said: Do what you like but don’t whine about consequences.
As Sammy Davis Jr sings:

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I build little plastic tanks.


I definitely see modelling as an art form. I think I always have. I enjoy looking at the work of other modellers in the same way I enjoy looking at a painting. The way I see people looking at each other’s work at shows is the same way people look at works of art.

A few years ago at a show in Dublin I saw several pieces by a fellow modeller who had turned old Soviet propaganda posters into 3d works by using models. This, to me, was a visual representation of the art that is modelling.

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Rumor is Rembrandt, Picaso, da Vinci, Michelangelo, Van Gogh & Pablo Picasso are crashing the next IPMS National’s & AMPS Show.

Rumor is the best artists can’t resist a good IPMS contest or AMPS show for some 1st, 2nd, 3rd action or Gold, Silver, Bronze action.

Heard it from a friend this is Michelangelo’s entry.

Here’s my best paint by numbers.

Think I will be competitive?

Considering the Model Building/Diorama genre overall as art, strikes me like Dogs Playing Poker painting by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge.

kitsch artwork

There are of course a few exceptions when a model or diorama rises above and becomes fine art.

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I like making stuff that looks cool.

Simple as.


@kosprueone. I agree with you . The only caveat I have is that critique should be delivered in a manner designed to help the builder to become better. If a person delivered said critique then they are obviously more skilled and should further the hobby by explained the cause and effect of what they observe.
As for crossing a line artistically in scale model making , there is no line. Some people will simply choose to be offended, the easiest way to handle that is to not give them power.


I’m also sometimes torn between the ”building little plastic tanks” position and lingering qualms about some aspects of some subjects. I guess we’re really talking about vignettes & dioramas, presenting just a scale model of any vehicle or aircraft or figure that existed can’t be exactly glorying it. Works of art? Sure if they look real enough. The only exception I can think of came up a few years ago on this site when someone presented at least one German cattle-car, very nicely built – the main problem for most people being it was just sitting on rails, no context or setting. You could read it as a mute memorial…

I have seen a very impressive huge diorama of Sobibor death camp at one of the Jewish Museums, it’s probably the only fitting place I can think of. It visually brought home the sheer scale & organised horror of what happened in a way few photos of film clips can. Was it a work of art? In a constructional sense, absolutely. But I can’t imagine why anyone would attempt anything like that for a hobby. Maybe that’s the line in the sand, what we do is a hobby so to represent an atrocity trivialises it? I doubt anyone would try replicating, for example, the Malmedy massacre or the Katyn forest disinterments either, although if presented in context they might be acceptable – just. There is an argument that if you avoid such subjects there’s a missing counter-balance to all those slick SS vehicles & figures on show, to the point where only showing the latter could actually be construed as glorification. See how I just shifted from the first paragraph position already?

I continue to have a few qualms about my Anthropoid project. The intention was/is to commemorate an extraordinarily brave blow against tyranny (and by inference the horrendous consequences), and what became a strong secondary of setting the record straight about what actually happened. Nevertheless, it’s also depicting an attempted/eventually successful murder according to most legal definitions, the righteousness of which is technically irrelevant & Prague wasn’t a war zone at that time. Even the surviving leading Nazis weren’t gunned down on sight in 1945, they got Nuremburg instead because that’s how the Allies differentiated themselves from the Nazi’s version of what was lawful.

As if it needs to be said, those of us that model military machines are replicating objects whose sole purpose is to kill people or assist in that intention. To say we do it “because they look cool” is a fairly asinine reason, I don’t think their countless victims would agree. But that said I can’t come up with a completely convincing alternative reason - I guess the most obvious answer is the crafting of it (to address the original question about whether it’s an art-form) but if that was the only reason why don’t I just build racing cars or yachts? :thinking: :tumbler_glass:


This is a hobby. No more no less. To interpret it any other way is looking for a fight. I’m a semi pro photographer. Some folks love my work and some folks hate it. So be it. I’ve sold a lot of images. So I must be doing something right. But art, in any form, is subjective. I can’t make you like my photos just as I can’t make you like how I depict my interpretation of a Panzer iv. Just don’t let our hobby get sucked into this politically correct nonsense. Trying to erase history is what helps us to make the same mistakes again.



Before I continue, I’d like to note that your point is really thought provoking, and I find myself totally in agreement. However, I will not be denied my opportunity to write a paragraph so I’ll be piggybacking off of your point.

When I say “I like making things because they look cool” I think I should point out that that is a result of my being a novice modeller who’s goal is to have a good time painting and weathering. If my goal was to make some kind of proper representation of a historical event or to deliver some kind of a point (as many people on this forum do everyday - and to you I say bravo!) then of course my perspective would be far different. When I was building the Canadian Firefly that allegedly killed Michael Wittman, I recall my attitude during the project being much more somber. While building I wanted to focus on making a representation of the real vehicle men fought in.

I find modelmaking can be an art form in two different ways. The first is the one we’re all discussing, and the one which I venture into when I build such subjects as the Firefly, or more recently the 2A4M. This field of the hobby involves us working to produce models and dioramas that tell a (hopefully respectful) story about the past, and we can read into these works similarly to other forms of art, such as modern paintings. The most skilled modellers in the field produce models that the viewer could read into and derive a greater theme from. If you are talented enough to do that, I say more power to you. It’s a fantastic art form, and in many ways one that is completely underappreciated.

The second art form I think modelling inhabits is what I call “technical art”. It’s like this - at the store I work at, there was an older gentleman who made models of motorcycles (in fact it’s his builds that got me into doing bikes) and I think that they are pieces of art. Not in the conventional definition of art, because they were, well, little motorcycles. There’s not message or anything like that. However, I call those bikes technical art because they represent a level of craftsmanship, involving everyone from the 3d CAD designer at the model company, to the person who designed the injection moulds, to the gentleman who built the kit etc, that is indeed unprecedented in the history of engineering and artistic technology. Just think - 100 years ago, who would have thought we could make something so complex as a 12th scale motocyle engine! My point I guess is that, despite not being conventional art, the kit is still undoubtedly an artistic expression. It’s an expression of the thought process of the modeller, as he builds the kit a certain way with certain techniques, paints it a way he finds pleasing, and so on. (That’s why I hate doing cars, airplanes etc in a real life scheme! To my eye, these jets and bikes and cars are devoid of their real life purpose, they’re beautiful canvases for me to apply whatever creative inspiration strikes me to them.) In my case, would a GR Supra with fictional space program markings be considered art in the manner of the first type? Course not, it’s a little car, and @Dioramartin correctly points out the small-mindedness of that interpretation. But, in my view, something like that absolutely falls under the umbrella of the second type of art :call_me_hand:

So why do we not just build yachts and such? Well firstly, because yachts have all that little rigging and nobody has time for that :wink: I think it’s a good question though! Why indeed would we build war machines, as we do? Perhaps when we build tanks and warplanes and we don’t intend for them to convey a message as they might if we wanted to make them “proper” art, we want to display our own craftsmanship on a canvas that is unique and varied. In many cases, why else might we get so excited when we scratch build or use some cool AM? Of course these are very important if we do “proper” art, because these things improve accuracy, but otherwise I think it might be because these things let us play around with our skills, and perhaps develop new ones. We get to put our creativity on a canvas, whether it has wheels, rudders, ailerons, or tracks, and make a physical object with our own unique mark.


This has the old “What is Art?” question at it’s heart. In the U.K. it’s caused some scratching of heads since the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 (Section 63 Part 5) introduced the new concept and offence of Extreme Pornography. The result has been a series of updates to legal advice by the Crown Prosecution Service, I understand primarily because the basic definition would put many examples of art openly displayed in museums into that category. The advice currently implies they are not because they were not intended to cause prurient arousal, even when it’s pretty obvious they were originally porn for the very rich. But the passage of time has sanctified the martyrdom of saints… I’m not sure if the law can be applied to statuary (it specifies “images”) so build what you like’ just be a bit wary of what you post if you are in England or Wales.
Then we have Francisco Goya’s “Los Desastres de la Guerra” (‘Disasters of War’), the flip side of modelling figures of the Napoleonic period with it’s pretty uniforms. Not something I’ve seen from hobby model builders, but then there’s Jake and Dinos Chapman. Before they got round to defacing actual copies of Goya’s works they reproduced the prints as vignettes using models, sometimes substituting figures of the “Ronald MacDonald” clown. They then went on in 1999 to create “Hell” utilising hundreds of 1:35th/1:32nd/54mm models. in nine glass cases arranged in the form of a swastika. It sold for a mere half-a-million quid and was destroyed in a fire in 2004. Undeterred, they created an “upgraded” version “F***ing Hell” with the same indifferent quality of figure and armour modelling: this sold for seven-and-a-half million quid.
I must admit I have whole fantasy wargames armies in both 15mm and 28mm scale comprising mainly ladies with little or no clothing. Many years ago I also purchased some 75mm/1:24th scale figures of ladies in distress which went into the stash and are unlikely to be completed. But distressed ladies continue to be produced in scales suitable for Tabletop gaming including Role Playing Games:!/Victim-Girls/c/5965007



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The tanks and guns and trucks and planes and ships are also pieces of technological history and development. Apart from being cool or not …

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I might add “to me”. That looks cool… to me.


Is a still life art?

Could a resin kit from some artisanal producer be considered art if presented as a still life or would it still be just an artisanal product?


It is art, regardless of how it is presented, it’s just you won’t get art professionals (those that make their living from being “experts”) to admit it. It may be produced for profit and intend to be copied, but many of the “Old Masters” had their studios churn out versions of their “Greatest Hits”, and of course some forms of art (like the Goya prints I mentioned) were intended for mass production and sales. It might be a difficult point to defend with things mechanical, but one only has to look at figure modelling (historical or fantastical) to realise that all that’s changed is the materials used and the size of the work. Then there’s the crossovers; the picture on the cover of the old Historex catalogue was a model of Théodore Géricault’s “The Charging Chasseur” made from that companies components (some crafted for that purpose). Also I understand the originators of that range were “proper” artists and the moulds were hand-engraved rather than produced by methods more often associated with plastic kits…



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The same might be asked of some landscape or seascape. The artist painted that work to capture the emotions that the aesthetic of the subject depicted at the moment of its depiction evoked in him or her. The message shared to the viewer is that aesthetic appeal and whatever emotions that might also evoke in the viewer.

This is, I think, the heart of the descriptions and comments to the effect that, “I build such and thus because ‘it looks cool,’” or comments about the appeal of some technological form or the aesthetics of some particular camouflage, etc. “I create models of these subjects because I want to capture their aesthetic appeal because that aesthetic evokes some emotion in me.” When that same work is shared with others with the intention to convey to them, to communicate to them, that same emotional appeal, what has been created is art.

All of these descriptions of why someone creates a model of some particular subject are at their heart the exact same reasons that the artist painted the still life, the portrait, the landscape or the seascape. The desire to capture the aesthetics of the subject at the moment of the creation of the work. Putting that piece on exhibition (i.e. sharing it with others in any context) is to communicate that aesthetic with someone else and, perhaps, then share the artist’s emotional connection to the subject with the viewer.

To be sure, there is a very broad spectrum of creativity represented by the collective body of work done by all modelers, but then there is also a similarly broad spectrum of creativity in the collective body of work by the artists of all other genres. Some people dabble with paint-by-numbers and then there are the Constables and Monets.

There are other similarities that could be made, too. For instance the various schools of interpretation from realism to impressionism in painting are essentially the same arguments modelers make amongst ourselves over finishing styles and techniques and biases in favor or against them.


Hey y’all! Listen up!
We’re artists! Yay! :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:
Mike said so, see above.
Cool! I never thought I’d become an artist, but hey, whadda ya know … :+1: