Photorealism vs. nature

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Photorealism vs. nature

From Gerald King

Published before 2005


I will admit that I have not been following this thread from its inception, but, I would like to comment on the influence of photography on today's realist painters. I do not believe that photography has harmed any artist who has mastered drawing from life. It has however, given countless number of young students and successful abstract artists a false impression of their drawing ability.

The proliferation of photographic images and colored reproductions in our world has numbed society to a real appreciation of most realistic painting and drawing, yet the urge to draw and paint realistically is as vibrant and exciting as ever. What has occurred is that realistic painting and drawing is considered less creative than abstract and primitive or naive artistic efforts. Realistic painting is considered mere copying of reality and is therefore no different than the images made with a camera. The cartoon and flat color field painting (san-chiaroscuro) is considered by most to be more creative because it is less like a photograph. The bottom line is that the public as well as most contemporary artists and art students do not view drawing or painting from life as the major factor in creating fine art. This is unfortunate, but it is a reality that realist artists must face.

The use of photographs as reference material is not detrimental to the mature artist, but it should be understood that it is a vicarious source for realistic images which requires a mature cognitive drawing base to produce really effective art work. It is not unlike the system of linear perspective which can be used to articulate 3D space. However, without strong drawing skills along with a well developed visual vocabulary and imagination the results of using linear perspective will always be lifeless and boring. The principles of chiaroscuro provide the artist with a way to analyze and articulate light and shadow in a photograph or in reality. They do not provide a means to use light and shadow creatively. Direct observation of objects provides the element of time which enables the artist to observe objects under differing light and atmospheric conditions. This exposure to such variants provides the artist with many more options than the photograph. Creative thought is stimulated by variety more than by routine.

Copying from photographs is a boring task and seldom inspires an artist to deviate or experiment with a form. As an expedient or source of detail their use can be tolerated but the sense of accomplishment is more that of craft than fine art.

It is my belief that it is through direct observation and drawing that the artist develops empathy for the world about him. It is this process of observation, cognition, and articulation that empower the artist to produce work that are imbued with a sense of life and beauty. Drawing or painting from photographs provides less intimacy with a subject and thus the artist is less stimulated and must rely more on an accumulated visual experience or vocabulary. The artist with a desire to grow or improve must practice translating three dimensional forms into illusions of three dimensional forms. This is best done from the most direct experience with the subject.

Gerald King