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why do we paint realism?


 I always struggled with a question that I often fail to really have any master answer for me. Why do we still paint realism, when we have the incredible photography and even photoshop and other programs that can enhance photos in many possible forms? I gravitate towards paintings by the old masters, the impressionists. From the impressionist time one of my favorite works is done by John Singer Sargent... but soon thereafter photography became a thing, and before you knew it photography can perfectly represent a figure, a city, a seascape in total reality of the lens... even further came video, and with video not only could we see the person, city, or the sea, but we could also hear their voices... Picasso himself struggled with this, and eluded to abstraction since to him photography had replaced represental painting. How do you feel about the subject, perhaps it can be a future video of yours tackling this question from one artist to another... why do we still paint portraits? Is there still a market for it? Even harder to fathom is why paint scenes of a city or a beach, when one can buy a big photograph, frame it, and hang it for $100.00 instead of paying a master artist in the 1000s... I know there is a certain level of class and awe by a painting, but is there not more than that? Id love to hear your response :)



  • Hmmmm....I think each person will have a different answer to your interesting and thought provoking question and should make for a good conversation. My personal thoughts are that it is “the hand of the artist” that still gives a relevancy to realist painting. I would also argue that there are many fine portrait photographers that bring an artistic sensibility to their work that make for compelling images. However, I think it is the element of time spent in front of a canvas, bringing forth something from nothing, observing, making hundreds of decisions, that creates a strange intimacy between the artist and the subject that can then come through the painting and as a consequence elevates the subject.
  • edited August 2018
    well I will say my opinion..
    First the resolution of a photo is way less inferior to a painting.. Let's speak about colour as a wavelenght, digital and even anoalogic photo are compressed. the paint we lay on a canvas have an atomic resolution so almost infinite. You can search for the Fourier transformation and see how an anoalogic signal is digitalized. Some argue about the eye view capacity is less than the resolution of a photo.. but I think the colour which is bumping direct into pigments is different from a printer or a screen.
    Second important point is that with a camera you fix a picture in less than a second..witb painting you fix a second in days or months so there is a philosophical difference.. But this is the sensibility of the viewer..
    3 point is that I think painting realism is never a true realism..even if you achieve a photographic effect is never like a photo only something close but distant in the rendering.
    finally I think, at least for me, realism is a challenge with myself..I always when I saw others style wonder if the author could paint realism and than choose to do another style..but not as a shortcut, maybe one day I will move into other style but at least I don't have regrets.. 

  • Boitaly, you are so right about all your points, well said and well thought out. A painting, especially an impressionist style is a unique style that just is wonderful to look at...the brushwork, etc... Picasso ofcourse did paint beautiful realism paintings, and could draw very well,  but created a completely new style built on cubism which is why he is so revered...although I would never paint like him, for I feel like that's me trying to copy another artist's style with a different subject... Nothing is quite like painting realism for sure, it always presents the awe effect.

  • PaulBPaulB mod
    This question arises a lot, although not so much on this site.  It bothers me, because it’s usually a case of the asker of the question projecting their own taste and not fully understanding that different people have different viewpoints, and tastes, equally valid.

    it is said that every question asked reveals a lot about the asker.  Does this person not understand that there are different types of art, and that they overlap, and that it can be a matter of taste?  Is this person confessing that they have no emotional connection to art?  That they don’t understand the purpose of art?  Is it simply a budget constraint, and photographs are cheaper?

    Admittedly we’re a little close to the subject, being creators of realism.  But we can ask similar questions.

    I could ask why go to a rock concert when you could just pop in the CD and hear the same thing.  If you’re an avid concert-goer, your answer will be that it’s not even close.  If not, then by all means skip the concert.

    You could ask why eat supermarket bread when you can bake your own?  Convenience aside, seeing the results of your own efforts, smelling it baking, and eating it fresher than ever before is not even close.

    Obviously there are many of these examples, and it wouldn’t take too long before I hit on a topic that someone is passionate about, and suddenly they’re on the other side of the argument defending the artisan. 

    If someone doesn’t see the value in a painting, they should by all means put the photo on the wall and be just as happy.  Photographers need to eat too.

    There is no single answer.  Live and let live.
  • MikeDerby said:
    Its what I like.
    What.. 42? ;)
  • Ha yes, I read the book.  Oh and realism too!
  • oops forgot to attach this: About painting from photographs.

    Brooker said: "It’s not the subject of the photograph that’s important but how it’s interpreted through painting techniques to express the artist’s aesthetic vision."

    amen to that.
    Thanks @dencal
  • edited September 2018
    @Richard-P, "42" is the meaning of life, the universe and everything. Take a hitch hike round the galaxy and you'll see that it's true. :)
  • Folks

    I have to give this one to Stephan Bauman. In one of his lessons he deals obliquely on the topic of reality and painting from photographs. He was critiquing his students work from photos of flower arrangements. In paraphrase, he said that an artist’s selection and composition of the floral elements with color, light and shadow makes an interesting and saleable painting. Otherwise, a reproduced vase of flowers as photographed remains a dull painting of ‘things’ that will be difficult to sell.

    The artist’s vision of reality, be it real or impressionist is what sells. The feeling, the mood, the narrative, the intrinsic qualities, the energy is what a painting needs.

    In my drawing practice I look less for proportion, perspective and balance these days. The essence of an interesting drawing is graphically depicting - energy - strength - weight - tension - stretch - these abstract attributes are difficult to find in the crayon box.


  • @Kaustav's paintings never fail to deliver "intrinsic energy".
  • I always have trouble with realism after my painting professor challenged me to paint him something he had never seen before.  Ever since then, my realism has always been a little wonky!
  • SummerSummer -
    edited September 2018
    I prepared a 4' x 6' stretcher and covered it with an inexpensive canvas (painting on those sizes are gone) and painted an ethereal orange car.  I was thinking about joining the automotive design team at the school at the time--at the Dean's suggestion.  A few years later, I married a man who drove an orange car.  We're still married.  You think there may be a connection?  Hmm. 
  • And was the man orange too? :)
  • SummerSummer -
    edited September 2018
    I think what happened, actually, is that ever since he said those words to me, I not only have to tap into my brain as I paint, but also my mind which to me means all of the unseen within and around us--feelings--which is where the wonky part comes in.  It can be an unexpected discovery that changes the realism somehow but evokes a feeling instead.  Hmm.
  • @Summer, I like wonky realism, pretty much my favourite style.
  • This blog pinpoints all the true values of realism.  But on a side note, I also think high calibre realism showcases an extremely talented artist.  I would imagine most of us have been in the company of other 'non-artists' in museums and such, and while viewing art (other than realism), cringe at comments like "That's in a museum?... oh, I could do that!".  In contrast, very few people can view high calibre realism and think "they could do that". There's certainly an awe about it.
  • SummerSummer -
    edited October 2018

    Good question about why do we paint realism.  At this time in my life as an artist, I think some of us paint realism because we can't and are challenged by it.  We want to take it as far as we can and compare our skills with other realists.  Then what?  Once we've done that, we move towards distinctiveness.  Why distinctiveness?  Because we aren't distinctive just as we once couldn't paint high realism.  Now we're talking about comparing ourselves with artists who found distinctiveness when they moved away from high realism such as Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, John Singer Sargent, etc.  I believe this is as close to the truth as I can state it from my view.  I should also mention that while we are being distinctive, it is not always recognized by our peers, patrons, or the art experts in our lifetime.  

    Is there life after Realism?  Yes!

    Realism.  Distinctiveness.  Death.  Fame.  :)

  • I Think the "Sutton Law" applies here. We paint realism because that's what the old masters painted (before cameras and impressionism). AND, Becoming a professional or accomplished painter requires skill, knowledge and a degree of creativity which together require time and dedication. The most difficult to achieve is creativity. Painting real objects or scenes reduces the amount of time and dedication it takes to be creative while we are learning the other skills. AND we can't be recognized for our skills until we can demonstrate them in realism. BTW Willy Sutton was a bank robber. He was asked why he robbed banks to which he replied: "That's where the money is." Hence the Sutton Law. (look to the obvious).
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