Ask The Artsperts – The Relevance Of Realism

Juliana Meek and Kristine Meek

Dear Artsperts:
My son is an artist and teaches art at a university. I asked him to take me to a museum so I could try to understand art better. I really liked the works in the classic realism section, but he explained to me that realism isn’t relevant today because cameras have replaced the need for realism in paintings. What do you think?
Get Real

Dear Get,
We believe realism continues to be relevant today, even in a world filled with photography. Just as any other style of painting continues in relevance today despite the advances in digital photography. Even cell phones can apply an impressionism or abstract filter to a photograph. Moreover, those who are professionals in digital fine art photography can skillfully apply even more effects and styles to a photograph. Fine art photography and digital enhancements certainly have their place in the art world, but they have not negated any painting genre, including realism.

Aside from classic realism, there are many other categories that fall under the realism umbrella including lyrical realism that tells a story, magical realism that transports you to another world, surrealism that bends reality, hyper-realism that takes objects out of context,  trompe-l’oeil that creates an optical 3D illusion, and super-realism. Each of these styles have a distinct place in the world of art, with super-realism often fooling viewers into believing a painting is a photograph.

Super-realism is a genre of art in paintings and sculpture, that while often based on photographs, is intended to create a new reality or feeling that does not exist in the original photo. The artist may use different textures, lighting effects, shadows, and omit or add details to the image. A super-realist is working in such a high-level detail, we often jokingly tell people that the artist is painting with a single strand of hair. While at first glance, the painting may appear to be a photograph, upon further inspection it becomes clear that no camera or even filter could capture the image as conveyed from the perspective of the painter.

Beyond the fact that there are so many styles of realism that continue to play important roles in the art world, every artist in training must develop skills in realism. Developing a deep understanding of how to convey the details of the world through realism, serves as the first path toward other genres of art. For example an abstract artist can’t become an abstract artist, without first understanding which details of their subject to subtract…an impressionist must understand how to alter details to convey the mood or the feeling of a moment…a colorist must observe the world full of even slight variations in color…and a minimalist must understand the levels of detail in the world to want to convey the exact opposite. Arguably, it still all stems from realism.
The Artsperts

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