Better Social Realism was presented at CANADA, New York,  in 2004. Below is the artist statement that accompanied the exhibition.

When I look at things that I find beautiful I experience them as meaningful, as having a meaning to impart. They seem to be laying bare what it really is to be human and conscious in the world, what the form of that underlying structure is.
However, I am always frustrated. I never feel I am able to understand them specifically enough. If I were really able to accurately understand their meaning I could use that knowledge throughout the different spheres of my life: artistic, social, ethical, and political. I would know clearly, for instance, what the meaning of the “beautiful abstract painting” implied for my interaction with the “man downstairs in the deli”.
I try to tease out these implications. I try to work from the place of the beautiful abstract painting toward the man downstairs in the deli while simultaneously trying to work from the man downstairs in the deli toward the beautiful abstract painting. I try to start from very simple certainties so that I am sure of my ground. For instance, at the most basic level, what do I think when I am out in the world, what do I look at? I look at women and men. How do I look at women and men? I judge whether or not I find the women attractive and the men threatening. I try to understand how I came to these judgments.
What would this activity of looking at men and women look like if it were a “beautiful abstract painting”?
I ended up with this body of work, ‘Better Social Realism”. Images of women attractive to me and images of threatening men flank some terrain or body that extends, or fills out the space, between them. At the beginning that terrain took the form of a spiky tower, later it took the form of a more sensual ceramic covering. I tried to render both the men and the women as specifically as possible. As the drawings progressed however, I found myself always more attracted to drawing the women, and the men just began to disappear. This also seemed correct.

Tom Johnson

Date: 2004

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