Photorealism: What’s the Point?

By Marion Boddy-Evans

Note: This is an opinion piece, a strongly expressed opinion on the topic of photorealism.

In a nutshell: I don’t see the point of photorealism where what’s painted is exactly the same as what you’d see in a photo, where the artist hasn’t done anything to the composition. Too frequently it’s merely a display of technical skill, which isn’t enough to create great art.

I don’t get photorealism paintings, where very single detail is painted, nothing is left out, nothing interpreted, and nothing put in. Why not just take a photograph? If you’re going to do photorealistic painting, then you must do something with the elements in it that you can’t do with a photo. To me a successful painting must capture the essence of a place, object, or individual people in a way that’s totally different to photos. That’s why you would paint the scene, rather than photograph it.

While I don’tt painted in a photorealistic style, I have done quite a bit of realism as well as photography, both ‘artistic’ and as a photojournalist, so maybe that’s why I need there to be a distinct difference between my art and my photography.

For a few years the BP Portrait Award was been dominated by photorealistic paintings. Visiting the exhibit I heard several people asking their companions what the point of photorealism was. (Though they generally didn’t use that term, but rather statements such as “But it looks just like a photo.”)

Why Not Just Take a Photo?
I don’t see the point of spending all the time a photorealistic painting takes, when it doesn’t have anything a photo wouldn’t have. There’s no texture, there’s no interpretation of the scene in translating it into paint, there’s nothing left out, or added it. Sure there’s a huge degree of technical skill and patience, which will make me stop and admire, for example, some magnificently painted drapery, but there’s nothing in photorealistic paintings that pull me in on an emotional level.

A lot of people support photorealism, such as George, who says: “If you can’t tell what it is, what is the point? Many people can appreciate and enjoy realistic art for the talent it shows and the moment in time it captures! I know it is not ‘in’ to appreciate realism, but the overall gallery sales will say that is the minority view.”

On the Painting Forum Noreen says: “I don’t have the skills for photorealism but I wish I did. I have often been frustrated with a camera because it can’t ‘see’ scenes the same way as the human eye.”

Starrpoint says: “Photorealistic paintings are more real that a photo. Photos, as good as they are, have a certain flatness, a shallow depth of field, and lack of detail, that the photorealistic paintings do not have. … In most cases, they are more ‘real’ than real. Added depth and understanding of the nature being studied is shown. Aften there are layers and layers of information in these paintings. And each artist has his or her version of what is real and what is imagined.”

My opinion on photorealism is much more like Brian’s, who says: “There was a time when I first started to paint, that I though photorealism was the ultamate achievement in the creation of fine art. … I somehow got disillusioned when people began to think photos of my paintings where actually photos. … I no longer strive to create photorealism but rather a style that is a blend of impressionism and realism. I like the loose brush strokes of many painters. The creation of mood or emotion in my paintings is a better goal. I want a viewer of my work to get something out of viewing it. I want to stir some sort of memory, emotion or feeling. Realization of the subject is more important then a photorealistic rendering of the subject in my view now.”





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