The return of photo-realism

Dear Artist, Yesterday, Sharon Knettell of Woonsocket, Rhode Island wrote, “Why do current trends among realists seem to favor extreme rendering? I’ve noticed that the prize winners of many contests — the Outwin-Boochever, the Art Renewal Competition and the BP Portrait Awards are almost indistinguishable from photographs. The runners-up were all quite photographic in finish and, I think, origin. It seems the beauty of the deftly painted or drawn mark is being subsumed by the current penchant for extreme verisimilitude. What has been lost is the struggle to capture an image with economy and freshness. What’s going on?”

“The Age of Mallory”
oil painting, 70 x 45 inches
by Sharon Knettell

Thanks, Sharon. You’re right, super-realism is back in style. There are several reasons: In the last decade, everyone and her sister has been trying to paint like Sargent, Sorolla and Nicolai Fechin. The painting-a-day folks are on it like gangbusters. It’s been Impressionism all over again. The tightening up that we’re witnessing is, in part, a reaction to this “fresh painting” trend. Further, with the current widespread distrust of Expressionist and large-scale unskilled art, both artists and collectors are attracted to works where they think they see evidence of skill and craftsmanship. In a world of increasing conservative values, sharp copying of photos and photo-like super-realism is the new validation. One need not depreciate this wisdom. It’s good clean wholesome work that startles many collectors with the artists’ patience and loving attention to detail. In this age of upset and flagrant knuckle-dragging, workmanlike, time-consuming and time-honouring pursuits like quilting, weaving and woodwork are also on the rise. And there’s another reason for the rise of super-realism. Tight rendering based on photographic reference is actually easier to do than realistic painting done freshly and expressively. Advances in projecting and digital technology have played a part. A few photo-realists have knocked it all down to a science and are using assistants for the grunt work. Sharon, I don’t think we’ll ever come to a time when painterly bravura is out of style. It’s just too beautiful to look at, and only a few can do it well. All my life I’ve noted people getting hot under the collar with changing trends. Like the width of men’s ties, things wander. As the wise man said when asked by an Eastern Potentate to come up with a saying that might fit all occasions, “And this too will pass.”

photograph (left) painting (right)
by Félix Vallotton

Best regards, Robert PS: “The contemporary art audience, having had a century of flotsam and jetsam flung at them, think that [super-realism] is miraculous stuff.” (Sharon Knettell) Esoterica: Right now there’s a show at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam called “Snapshot–Painters and Photography 1888-1915.” It’s coming to Washington DC and Indianapolis in 2012. Artists like Degas, Vuillard and Bonnard relished their Kodaks and used them well. The resulting paintings were not photo-dependent as much as they were photo-guided. In some ways it’s nice to know that some of the Impressionists were not as pure as we thought. A selection of Sharon Knettell’s remarkable paintings are below. Sharon works from life.   Sharon Knettell

“Alicia Blue”
pastel, 60 x 50 inches


“Red Dakini”
pastel, 72 x 39 inches


“Pink Corset”
pastel pencil, 40 x 30 inches


“Emerald Maiko Study”
pastel pencil, 20 x 16 inches

                People have no criteria these days by Dan McGrath, Lexington, KY, USA  

“Late Fall Dix River”
oil painting, 8 x 10 inches
by Dan McGrath

We are now in an age of less art exposure and practice in schools. Many people have no criteria to judge what is good art versus better art, or what standards are, and are afraid to ask a gallery owner, so they opt for what they can quickly understand: the photo or its reproduction in paint.     There are 3 comments for People have no criteria these days by Dan McGrath
From: Anonymous — Dec 09, 2011

I agree that many have no criteria re; what constitutes good or bad art. At the end of the day there is room for excellence in all modes of expression. This constant judging is wearisome. Of course, everybody will hold up their own method as the ONE. I can tell you though, from the bottom of my painterly creative heart that: NEVER would I trust a gallery owner to educate me or anyone else on “good art” Galleries are about Business…The Busines of Art!!…very very different from “Good Art”

From: Anonymous — Dec 10, 2011

Why must art be understood to be good? Is that not an elitist attitude?

From: Rick Rotante — Dec 11, 2011

For me -good art should be understood from a visceral point of view. It should evoke some feeling on the part of the view. Today as in past times, there has been ‘intelecual’ art and ’emotive’ art. Both have their place in the world. People will always appreciate art based on their knowledge and experience. We just have to keep creating work worthy of being called “ART”.

  Where’s the depth and poetry? by Scott Kahn, NY, USA  

“Griswold Pond”
oil painting, 62 x 72 inches
by Scott Kahn

There are many skilled, trained, and virtuosic technicians who paint in the realist mode. Some are hyper-realistic and very much akin to photo-realists, whether they use photographs or not. To distinguish themselves from the thousands of other equally accomplished painters, it becomes necessary to carve out a niche. Invariably this involves subject matter or some gimmicky way of painting reality. It’s really a heightened form of illustration. No amount of virtuosic skill and choice of subject matter can be a substitute for depth and poetry.   There are 5 comments for Where’s the depth and poetry? by Scott Kahn
From: Sheila Minifie — Dec 09, 2011

Love the painting! Depth and poetry definitely there.

From: Susan Avishai — Dec 09, 2011
From: Ellie — Dec 09, 2011

Susan, Love your show title!

From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — Dec 09, 2011

I really like this painting…you are definitely not a flat earther! This painting is an artful yet literal solution to the question and contradiction always lurking in modern landscape painting…that the earth is round.

From: Erin Kelly — Dec 31, 2012

I am thrilled to find this perspective so eloquently put and agree with one of your replies that your last sentence is for a quote. Lately, artists in this region are often overlooked unless photo-realistic — a disservice to non-photo-realistic talented artists. Interestingly, what juries love in this area people here aren’t buying and photo-realistic artists here express a lot of confusion about that; the non-photo-realistic are what are selling. It rather reminds me of ancient Greece when sculptors perfected the human form so perfectly, people tended to move away from them toward subtly exaggerated, sculpture – expressing essence, as well.

  ‘It shall return’ by Lesley White, Prince George, BC, Canada  

“Rain Dance”
oil painting
by Lesley White

Sharon would only have to follow fashion trends to understand why photo-realism is currently in vogue. If we stayed the same size from decade to decade, it wouldn’t be necessary to shop anywhere but our own closets. Despite my admiration and appreciation of several other painting styles, my passion for painting realism never wanes. Three-haired brushes and painstaking rendering of detail is what keeps me involved and excited. Naysayers of realism have always existed but I never did pay much attention to the dictums of fashion trends either. I’ve explored painting impressionistically, afraid I was missing something magical and agree realism is easier, but it’s not about hard/easy, it’s about what draws you to your studio each day. Keep the course, remain true… and don’t throw out those bell bottoms or high top sneakers just yet. Perhaps an addendum to “this too shall pass” should be “but given time, it shall return.” There are 3 comments for ‘It shall return’ by Lesley White
From: Sabra Kuykendall — Dec 09, 2011

Here here!

From: Todd — Dec 09, 2011

Really well said my friend. There is no shame in this type of realism. When I took the leap from my job to become a fine art painter I tried to paint loosely and more impressionistic. I spent a good year realizing it wasn’t who I was as a painter. I absolutely love to look at Monet and the impressionist but I have cone to the realization that I am drawn to creating works much tighter and closer to representational realism…I gotta be me babe- love me or leave me.

From: Angela Treat Lyon — Dec 09, 2011

I love your work – this is a marvelous painting – and unlike a lot of realistic work, yours has heart and deeper message than just copying what’s there. I had to laugh when I read about ‘3-haired brushes’ – the bigger the brush the better, for me!

  What makes a photo — ART? by Bruce Pollock, Victoria, BC, Canada  

“Violet square”
oil painting, 24 x 24 inches
by Bruce Pollock

As a photographer, I have been fascinated over the last few years by the increase in the number of paintings that are so obviously based on photographs and by the hyperrealism of some of the work. What’s troubling to me is that, somehow, by turning a photograph into a painting it becomes ART, no matter how banal the subject. I’m pretty sure that if I tried to exhibit an original photograph that was the source of the painting, it would be dismissed as uninteresting. And rightly so. I can appreciate the painter’s skill in producing such work (at least I did until I saw your comments about painters using digital projection) but is that really sufficient to elevate a boring subject? I’m not here to plead the case that we should stop treating photography as a poor cousin of painting and that it should be accepted as art – that issue was resolved long ago. I’m simply questioning whether every photographic subject becomes art simply because it is rendered as a painting, not as a photographic print. There are 2 comments for What makes a photo–ART? by Bruce Pollock
From: Suzette Fram — Dec 09, 2011

Well said, Bruce. The same rules apply to photographs as to paintings about composition, light, movement, contrast. A ‘snapshot’ turned into a painting won’t necessarily make a good painting, unless the artist interjects his own touch, his own style and some flair. What makes it art is the communication between artist and viewer, and work that makes you feel something more than recognition.

From: Sharon Knettell — Dec 09, 2011

Absolutely frickin’ gorgeous.

  No thanks to photo-realism by Skip Rohde, Asheville, NC, USA  

original painting
by Skip Rohde

Photo-realism in painting, per se, has never interested me. It often seems that the artist is raising the craft of painting to a higher level than the meaning of the artwork – it becomes a beautifully-made object that says nothing. There are those who deliberately use photographs as the subject of their paintings in ways that are fascinating (or at least interesting), but not many. Mostly, it seems that the goal is to say, “Look at how well I can paint.” No thanks. Give me something that says, “This is paint.” For a really thought-provoking look at how photography and the camera obscura have been used in the past, readers should take a look at David Hockney’s book Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters.     The power of detail and correct colour by Lori Spencer-Neuzerling, Western Australia  

“Red Flowering Gum”
watercolour painting
by Lori Spencer-Neuzerling

Your reply to Sharon was of keen interest to me. I paint in a style that is extremely exacting and of fine detail (my subject is Western Australian wildlife and flora). I’ve had very successful exhibitions — the last was a sell-out — and the main comment I received from viewers at that show was that it was so very refreshing to gaze at a painting that overwhelmed them by its extraordinary detail, coupled with the fact that they enjoyed being able to recognize and understand exactly what they were seeing. In fact, their attention was drawn to meticulous detail that they hadn’t noticed before in the bush. Another important fact to consider is that, in this style of painting, the artist blends extraordinary amounts of pigment to make myriad unique colours – and this is what truly distinguishes these artworks from photographs. It proves to me that this kind of detailed realism is alive and well, and appreciated, and I’m happy to hear it’s on the rise again. There is 1 comment for The power of detail and correct colour by Lori Spencer-Neuzerling
From: Brian Bastedo — Dec 12, 2011

I love your painting! It really shows your skill with the watercolor process and the subject matter. Gorgeous!

  Where’s the sensual delight? by Michael Epp, Vancouver, BC, Canada  

“Box of apples”
original painting
by Michael Epp

So, everyone’s been painting like Sargent for the last ten years, and now they’ve moved on? Dang, I’m late for the party again ! Seriously, though, when you paint from a photograph you end up with something very much like a painted photograph, but when you paint from the thing itself — sur le motif, as Cezanne said — you end up with a painting. I know this from experience. Remember the story about Norman Rockwell taking the wall off his studio so he could get a horse inside? A photograph wouldn’t do. Rockwell did use photographs, but he advised using them ‘judiciously,’ and never as a mere substitute for reality. The problem for me is, the real thing — the horse, the apple, the mountain, whatever — always suggests so much more than a photograph does. As Alex Colville said, “I don’t use photographs because photographs don’t give me the kind of information I need.” I’ve noticed that when I have painted photo-realistically, viewers, usually fairly novice ones, say, ‘That looks just like a photograph” (and that’s usually all they have to say) and they think they are being complimentary because they seem to think that the only reason all painters don’t paint photo-realistically is because they can’t. On the other hand, it seems to me that more sophisticated viewers and buyers are looking for something more — they understand that wonderful brushwork, contrasts between thin and thick areas of paint and between opacity and transparency, for example, are a huge part of the sensual delight of a painting, and they don’t and won’t get this from photo-realism. There are 4 comments for Where’s the sensual delight? by Michael Epp
From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — Dec 09, 2011

What wonderful orchard produces Cezanne Apples? I love that box of apples! Your painting swept me away!

From: Anonymous — Dec 09, 2011

Believe it or not, those are actual Bowen Island apples, from my neighbour’s wild trees across the street. Admittedly, I’ve studied Cezanne pretty closely — but the colour variation in actual ‘feral’ apples puts supermarket apples to shame. Some of those apples go from a very light pure yellow right to a dark winey red, I kid you not. I didn’t make them up.

From: Angela Treat Lyon — Dec 09, 2011

I’m delighted to know feral ,or, as I call them, ‘real’ apples still exist! I miss the ones we used to snatch from neighbor’s trees when I was a kid growing up in New England! here in Hawaii, all our apples are imported, and man, it’s so discouraging to go to a market and get plain jane green, red, yellow apples with cardboard taste! (but we have mango and papya….)

From: Rick Rotante — Dec 11, 2011

Michael- Wonderfully said. Thanks.

  Living in a high-definition world by Didier Flament, Pahoa, HI, USA  

pastel, 4.25 x 14.75 inches
by Didier Flament

Art often reflects a society’s preoccupations and the trend these days seems to be with all things HD: HD video, HD cameras, HD movies, HD TV, even HD glasses (the kind you read with). Photo-realism in painting is HD art. But I also think that the art-loving public is tired of scribbles and dribbles and paintings that look like they were done in a 10-minute session. Works of beauty such as Sharon Knettel’s pastels and photo-realistic painting can’t help but inspire admiration. I display a number of my pastel paintings in my home and the ones that get the most attention and compliments are those that are the most realistic (though my pastels are nowhere near photo-realistic). I only half-agree with Ms. Knettell’s statement that “economy and freshness” are lost when a painting shows a lot of detail. “Economy” might be lost, but “freshness” is a quality that can be present in any painting and is a function of the artist’s sensibility, not of how quickly the work was done. I must admit that I don’t quite understand the desire for “economy.” Why be stingy? Who decided that one stroke of paint is better than two? The artist should paint until he/she has achieved the desired effect, just like a piece of music should have as many notes as the composer feels is necessary. I, for one, am very thankful that Mozart was not a minimalist and did not strive for “economy.” There are 4 comments for Living in a high-definition world by Didier Flament
From: Sharon Knettell — Dec 09, 2011
From: Keena — Dec 09, 2011

This is a fascinating discussion! I just wanted to thank SHaron for mentioning Ohara Koson. I didn’t know his work – and I love it! Thanks for expanding my world! :)

From: Jackie Knott — Dec 09, 2011

This has been a satisfying discussion with this letter, and the responses. I would like to add any piece such as Sharon Knettell does with such precision and beauty will always be in style. One only has to see the care she invests in these works to see the artist’s skill, regardless what “ism” one prefers to place on it. They’re lovely.

From: Rick Rotante — Dec 11, 2011

Sharon – I feel the first paragraph of your response IS your technique. I went to your site and as with all computer images you can’t see the depth and breath of your work. Zooming in, there is much going on and though not ‘bravura’ I can see some of those final exacting strokes you probably struggle to achieve. Thanks.

  Classical realism takes skill not photos by Cary Juriaans, Langley, WA, USA  

“After Dinner Port”
oil painting
by Cary Juriaans

I would like to make sure that photo-realism is not confused with classical painting, which is neverdone from photographs. See Jacob Collins for instance. There is a huge difference between photo-realism and classical realism. Yet many people seem to see them as the same. I run an art school (Whidbey Island Fine Art Studio in Langley, Washington) focusing on skill in art and classical skills. The artists who teach here have all earned the stripes with life drawing, no matter what their style is. They don’t teach with any photographic references, unless it is a specific class geared to this. As a classical painter, I do not ever paint directly from photos. I may use them as a reference or reminder of my set up. Also, a painting takes me way longer to finish than my impressionist friends. In order to paint well in the style of Sargent, Fechin and Sorolla, one has to know the skills first as you must know well. I don’t know many good impressionists that did not first paint a classical realist painting well. In fact, a lot of good painters were illustrators first, then they were able to develop another style. I must say, I have an issue with the term ‘fresh painting’ etc. It seems to me that this is just a term for splashed on thick paint. Not necessarily well done. As you said,the large-scale unskilled art is a reason for the return to art with skill (not photos!). In fact, painting from just photos is just as unskilled in my opinion. There are 4 comments for Classical realism takes skill not photos by Cary Juriaans
From: Jim Stewart — Dec 09, 2011

Interesting to see Sargent mentioned twice here. Most enjoyable to me about his work is being close to them and seeing how he seemingly threw paint around, and accomplished what he did.

From: Sharon Knettell — Dec 09, 2011

I absolutely adore Jacob Collins. His kind of training was not available to me in the the 60’s. I ‘attended’ The Boston Museum School where we were put in a room with either models, still-lifes or sand(not kidding). It was apparently below the pay grade of the instructors to show up. It still is, I am told. Collins work show the culmination of, knowledge, skill, talent and a point of view. The interface between the palpable air and the velvety skin in his figurative paintings is breathtaking. I had to muddle through and I encourage anyone to seek training at fine ateliers like the one above and across America, Canada and Europe. I took a lot of wrong turns and wasted years of effort. I thought I had it down as a portrait artist who painted from photographs and I refused to see the difference until many trips to the Boston Museum of fine art to study the Sargents etc. disabused me cruelly of this notion. I began sporadically to paint from life until I became an addiction- a born-again life painter as it were. I could no longer paint from photo reference- they seemed lifeless, grey and devoid of spirit. more reluctantly I was afraid to give up my identity and what I thought was my ‘style.’ I was in a word ‘terrified.’ I noticed that the figurative work pre-photography had more variety- there was not the so called accuracy of the photographic vision to compare work to. Ingres figures can be downright distorted- yet he is still revered as a master draftsman. At the end of my blog- if you care to look-are random painters- Goya, Watteau Botticelli- done before photography. Note how different they are in style. my first husband Eugene Tonoff said ‘style’ is simply your limitation. In fact painting from life is a great way to develop a style. Try something simple- paint an apple from a photograph- then from life. Splashed on thick paint done without knowledge and awareness is like an ostrich attempting a pas-de-deux at the Bolshoi.

From: Rick Rotante — Dec 11, 2011

I am quickly becoming a Sharon Knettell devote!

From: Anwar — Dec 12, 2011

Yeah, I agree that there is no comparison with painting from life and painting from photos. I have done both to a high degree of accurate representation. To a certain extant they both wind up looking similar, photos are much easier but always end up flat and lifeless…just like the photo did. In time and after painting from life for years I am becoming able to select information from a photo better than I use to and have it look closer to real life but it could never be like painting from direct observation. The eye and mind make the decisions in information selection not the camera setting and developing method.

  Let’s honour our differences by Jane Freeman, Bemidji, MN, USA  

“Once in a blue moon”
original painting
by Jane Freeman

I am afraid we are making assumptions about photos here. I know for a fact that many of the artists from the Art Renewal Center work straight from life because they are very accomplished and classically trained and if you take the time to follow to their websites you will see they also teach or have taught at very famous schools of art. It is not quite fair to assume they are just copying a photo. I have always found it quite curious that those who work more abstractly have a tendency to cut down those who work more realistically and those who work realistically seem to enjoy abstract work. I do not know why that is but perhaps I am a good example here. I enjoy all forms of abstraction perhaps because that is something I have studied. It is also how I learned to paint in high school and college. There came a time when I wanted more. I wanted to test what I was capable of. Slowly I became more realistic in what I produced and switched to watercolor. I have found a lot of satisfaction in what I do and enjoy it very much. If we all painted one way, how boring would that be? And how shallow to even consider there is only one way to express ourselves. Perhaps as more schools begin to offer realism as a subject in class, we will see more people able to appreciate what it takes to do this. It is wrong to assume because I might use a photo that I took and I arranged the setup for, that the painting painted itself. I could give the photo to someone else and they would have trouble doing what I did. Their expression of that subject would look totally different from mine and that is wonderful! I think it is time for all of us to sit back and enjoy and honor our differences. That is what makes each of us unique. My personality doesn’t fit with looseness or chaos as I am a planner at heart. My life is my life and how I paint is how I choose to express my life. For someone to think that is not good enough or even wrong, or worse yet not art, is pretty careless in thinking. I find wonderful qualities in other artists’ work and I wish you would find it in your heart to appreciate what I do as well. This world is too full of harshness and I do not think we need to add to it. In fact, if you stop and think about it, this attitude is just another form of bullying and at least we all know or should know that is wrong. It is not healthy for either party. Calm the art world by acceptance and honor the artist by appreciating what he or she does and why. We need to find a way to make peace amongst ourselves if we ever think the world will understand us or what we do. Division amongst any group, organization or people is the first step to failure. We would do well to work together in unity and respect. There are 5 comments for Let’s honour our differences by Jane Freeman
From: Sheila Minifie — Dec 09, 2011

Hear! Hear! *clap clap*

From: Karen R. Phinney — Dec 09, 2011

Well said, Jane! We should all be inclusive and allow respect for all different ways of self-expression.

From: Marsha Elliott — Dec 09, 2011

I’m so much in agreement with you, Jane….very well written. Who’s to say what is right or wrong when it comes to art? It’s true, we have our preferences, but that is no reason to cut anyone else’s work to shreds.

From: Kris — Dec 09, 2011

Amen! Bulls eye! Thank you for so succinctly expressing what’s really going on here… a lot of defensive knit-picking. I don’t know of a standard of artistic expression anywhere that says “this one” is best. In fact, if you open an art history book or go to an art museum you will find enormous diversity of artistic style and range honored. And another good question… who says museum art is superior to any other art? The realm of Art is beyond these bickering judgements of “better than”. It’s not about that at all.

From: Nancy Wylie — Dec 09, 2011

You just said exactly what I wanted to say! Thank you! I can’t understand the negativity and disdain for realism when those who paint this way seem to actually like the loose and abstract as well. Why can’t we just respect and appreciate ALL the different styles of painting, sculpting, etc.? That’s what makes the world go around. What a boring world it would be if we all painted the same way.

  Getting a deposit for commissions by Catherine Stock, France  

watercolour painting
by Catherine Stock

I have just been listening to your radio interview and I was surprised to hear that you don’t believe in charging deposits for commissions. I charge a non-refundable 1/3 up front for a portrait commission, and 2/3 on approval and delivery of the final work. Now that I live in France, I also ask for travel and housing expenses to be covered. People often have an image of themselves or their children that doesn’t jive with my interpretation, so it’s better to have an understanding when such an occasion arises. I definitely feel more comfortable with an escape clause for both parties. (RG note) Thanks, Catherine. Yours is good advice for most artists. Being contrarian and not wanting to get hung up on the rocks, I don’t ask for a deposit because I dislike a feeling of obligation to do something I might decide I don’t want to do. When I do take a commission I like to be fully up for it, wanting to give it my best shot with no obligation to either party. If they don’t like it, I keep it and I don’t want them to pay a plugged nickel. Some people try to nail you with a deposit. I won’t be nailed. I’m probably very unbusinesslike on this one. But I hate having money in the bank for work I have yet to do.    

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for The return of photo-realism

From: damar Minyak — Dec 05, 2011

I met a painter in Wisconsin, who uses an airbrush to produce photo-accurate paintings of (mostly) birds. Work so detailed, I felt I could fluff the feathers of his subjects. He told me that, in his opinion, the purest art in the world is what parents put on the refrigerator door.

From: Alan Miles — Dec 06, 2011
From: Margret Howard — Dec 06, 2011

Hi Robert, Since 1990, I have looked at and respected photo-realism and realism as an art form. Since then, I have become a student of Dru Blair (a photorealism artist). Others have attested to my artwork getting so much better since applying what I have learned to my artwork. As an artist, I do think that there may not be a higher form of art with painting doing photorealism. Those who may disagree, probably have not taken classes or have achieved this form of art. Photorealism and realism is here to stay. I have seen this form of art dating back to the 1200’s in museums. Artists throughout the ages have struggled to achieve this art form and it still continues to be sought after by many.

From: Consuelo — Dec 06, 2011

Viva Sargent, Sorolla and Nicolai Fechin. Notwithstanding Robert’s assertion, I find more excitement in minimalist, expressive art than photographic/photorealism art, to me the latter almost feels like cheating.

From: Darla — Dec 06, 2011

What is the difference between photorealism and simply copying a photo? If the artist does not change anything except the size of the work, what’s the point? A photo enlarger can do the same thing better and faster, and even put it on canvas! If the artist is using someone else’s photo, does that make the painting a collaboration? Or if she doesn’t have the photographer’s permission, is that copyright infringement? I appreciate the skill it takes to do superreallistic work, but the artist has to add some changes and judgement to make his point, too.

From: Ron Unruh — Dec 06, 2011

Robert, thanks for your thoughtful and clear answer to a relevant question. Hurrah for ‘painterly bravura.’

From: Fleta Monaghan — Dec 06, 2011

I don’t think photo realism will ever vanish in the art world. I’ve even known some fantastic that are masters of combining abstract backgrounds with vivid realistic images painted in a trompe o’loeil style, and the collectors love it!! Abstract painting, which is deceptively difficult, cannot be masters without many hours of working from nature. You are right, realism is much easier to master than a loose and free style that looks masterful. I agree with deKooning, who put his students in front of a still life, much to their surprise. Thank heaven we are so different in our interests and styles, it makes for an interesting world.

From: Joseph Jahn — Dec 06, 2011

Yes, the passing fancy. I choose the classics to follow, Abstract Expressionism and Yves Saint Laurent

From: Monique Isham — Dec 06, 2011

Yes, I’ve noticed the trend also and while I admire the ability it takes to accomplish these paintings, I often find them boring.

From: Bev Bunker — Dec 06, 2011

Thanks for a timely article Robert. I had heard this a couple of months back that realism had returned. I don’t think it ever left, however I do believe that there needs to still be a line drawn which separates the ‘skilled’ work from the ‘just copied in exact detail.’ Its obvious the differences when one looks at one beside the other. The skilled artist still uses all the foundations of artistic understanding and knowledge. Those works are refined by years of experience and mostly likely hundreds of drawings and paintings. I am in admiration when I see such inspiring works. They vibrate with color, not over-blending of it. There is depth within the shadows that are expressed with subtle layers of color, not flat muddied areas that ‘float.’ Substance and solidity within the subject matter is rendered with brushwork that has been carefully honed over many years of experience. In the hands of a skilled artist who has spent years observing and looking, their personal expression imbues life into their paintings and they are indeed a joy and wonder to behold sometimes.

From: Suzette Fram — Dec 06, 2011

Photo-realism requires an immense amount of patience and skill. However, is it a work of art if they are copying a photo and not inserting their own touches, their own interpretation, their own feeling about the scene. Is what makes it art the superb drawing and application of paint, or is it a quality to a work that moves you, makes you feel something. It’s not just about tight rendering versus loose and fresh, it’s about a communication between the artist and the viewer. Yes, people like the photo-realism and they admire the skill it took to produce, but you could say the same about a quilt or a crocheted tablecloth. It’s a craft, but is it art? On thing I’ve learned is that, as painters, we are who we are, and we paint the way we paint. I see a lot of wonderful works out there and even if I try to emulate those artists and their work style, my work someone always seems to come back to what I do, which is different. I’ve heard other artists say the same thing. In the end, people like what they like, and as artists, we have to be who we are and paint what’s in our soul. And if we’re lucky, someone else likes it too.

From: John Ferrie — Dec 06, 2011

Dear Robert, I graduated from art school in 1988. Since then I have dedicated my life to being a painter. I read art forum, art in America and a few other arty magazines that seem to keep me current in what is happening in the art world. I go to as many galleries as I can, although I seem to avoid the “openings”. I have seen it all come and go; Art of the absurd, portraiture, light and video installations and multi-media up the wazoo! What I find interesting is after a while, there is a pattern. When the economy tanks, the art world fills up with higher quality works. When we are not hearing that the sky is falling, suddenly all this sloppy work is selling for a fortune. The thing about the school of realism, is most of it is about technique. First of all, it is usually done from a photograph and often a photo not taken by the artist (everyone is different though). The subject matter becomes so removed when it has gone through the eye of a photographer and then the eye of an artist. When I look at a piece of art, I want to know what the artist is trying to communicate to me. All of this hyper-realism and making it look like a photograph, although impressive in it’s technique, is really not strong communication when it comes to being an artist. “Oh these pieces take several months to produce” is a comment you will hear at a gallery when viewing these pieces. Should the length of time to create really dictate what is and isn’t a good piece of art? I do believe that doing good quality work is essential for creating works that people will respond to. But over time, it is still what the artist is communicating in their works that will be the lasting quality people want. Then again, that is just me…John Ferrie

From: Bill Skuce — Dec 06, 2011

I am enthralled by the sublime renderings of Sharon Knettell. While Degas himself would long and generously applaud her accomplishments, her own words, “economy and freshness”, are apt descriptions of her amazing work. Bravo Sharon! Thank you for the springboard you gave Robert to run with…and thank you Robert for giving us Sharon.

From: John Cotterell — Dec 06, 2011

Like others above, I admire the skill and patience that the photo-realistic painter exercises. Total opposite of my scrallings. That is my personal taste though… not really big into portraits. I do like stories though and the surreal. I think of Nerdrum or maybe the gorgeous work of Cyn McCurry (on this site) as wonderful examples of objective paintings of the human form.

From: Lokelani — Dec 06, 2011

I am definitely a fan of realism. I am amazed by photorealism; however, I do not attempt it. I recently did a painting from a photo, but made it what the photo said to me initially, which was not as the photographer intended. I believe realism has always been around, but was overshadowed by contemporary art. With the popularity growing for realism, IMO, we finally are seeing some great art.

From: Kasia Krolikowska — Dec 06, 2011

I visited a new museum in Barcelona ,Spain couple months ago. El Museu Europeu d’Art Modern, opened just in June 2011.It is dedicated to show the figurative art, very realistic ( lots of photo realism) from end of 19th century till now. It ‘s situated in Palau Gomis , 18th century neoclassical building.The art plays so well with the surroundings, and although I am not a big fan of realizm, I was deeply impressed. I think it is worth seeing; just couple steps from Museu Picasso is a great complement to this last one.

From: Tom — Dec 06, 2011

Maybe I am mistaken, but it seems that realism and photorealism are being conflated. There is a difference between realism or classical realism and photorealism. Photorealism has usually referred to making a painting from a photograph that looks like a photograph. The current surge in realist painting does not encourage painting from a photograph at all. Realist painters paint and draw from life. I know only one realist painter who uses photographs he takes to work on portraits that he started with studies done from life. Look at the work from the Grand Central Academy of Art, Florence Academy of Art, Gage Academy, Mims Studios, Tony Ryder Studios, Academy of Realist Art, or any of the other centers for realist art. And a photograph is not a direct recording of reality. A photograph has to be developed and that development is done by someone, even if only the programmers who developed JPEG. If a photographer shoots in RAW, the creative process begins from the moment of framing a picture, setting the exposure, and then making choices on what to do with the RAW image, and how to reproduce the image. And, to my eye, a good photograph and a good realist painting look nothing alike.

From: Susan Holland — Dec 06, 2011

Quoting from your article, Robert: …” In the last decade, everyone and her sister has been trying to paint like Sargent, Sorolla and Nicolai Fechin. The painting-a-day folks are on it like gangbusters. It’s been Impressionism all over again. The tightening up that we’re witnessing is, in part, a reaction to this “fresh painting” trend…” I tried to emphasize “tried to paint” in the above quote because I think that is at the very bottom of this issue. What I see in the “trends” that come and go are 1) some innovators who have gone against the current trends and who make an even newer trend (they used to be called avant garde) and 2) the wannabe famous/rich others who crowd in behind someone who has succeeded in capturing some rich entity’s support, and they want some of the money. If this sounds curmudgeonly, it may well be Scrooge-like bah humbug…but if we are trying to find out what the latest fashion in art sales is and rushing to follow … aren’t we discounting our own visions? I think part of the definition of an artist is original vision and original expression of that vision. If my vision is photorealism, then I should pursue it with all my heart. If my vision is impressionism (and it is) then I will not suddenly aspire to be a photorealist painter just because that what’s “in.” We should check every day to see what our art muse is saying. If you are looking at sales first, you will maim your muse.

From: Alexandra Tyng — Dec 06, 2011

“. . . it seems that realism and photorealism are being conflated. There is a difference between realism or classical realism and photorealism.” Absolutely true, but I’d like to make a further distinction between “realism” in general and “classical realism.” Realism, as it is understood today, is a broad category describing representational art. Our understanding of realism has shifted from the 19th century French definition: “Realism often refers more specifically to the artistic movement, which began in France in the 1850s. Realism in France appears after the 1848 Revolution. These realists positioned themselves against romanticism, a genre dominating French literature and artwork in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Seeking to be undistorted by personal bias, Realism believed in the ideology of objective reality and revolted against the exaggerated emotionalism of the romantic movement. Truth and accuracy became the goals of many Realists. Many paintings depicted people at work, underscoring the changes wrought by the Industrial Revolution and Commercial Revolutions.” Today we include classicism and romanticism under the umbrella of realism. There has been a recent tendency, as Sharon pointed out, to think of realism as synonymous with highly rendered art with classical subject matter or references from artists who have undergone rigorous training in one of the many ateliers. Actually, realism is NOT a style per se. There is also painterly realism and many other styles of realism. Each realist artist works in his or her own style. To me, realism is art that tells the artist’s story, in a language that utilizes the visible world in a recognizable way.

From: Adrian Deckbar — Dec 06, 2011

Could it be that the subject matter is a bit too saccharin?

From: Kathryn Jones Kaser — Dec 06, 2011

Some of Grant Wood’s paintings were done with the help of photography. My father’s sister-in-law (his sister’s husband’s sister: Ruth Weller Nelson McCluskey) told me that she had done this secretly for him. She only revealed this when she knew she was dying of ovarian cancer. It was the year of a special recognition of his work in Iowa, including a special stamp. She gave me the pin of the stamp and a book of photos of his paintings that summer.

From: Barb Finelli — Dec 06, 2011

Hurrah for a return to photo-realism I’m so tired of people who have not gone through the process of perfecting their skills in realism and splashing paint on a canvas selling their work work for millions while we who labor to get the exact shape, values, edges etc. correct receive little recognition. Sorry for my sour-grapes.

From: Caraleen Baker — Dec 06, 2011

Robert: A classic example of an artist who used photography and video as reference was Jack Chambers from London, Ontario. Jack would photograph members of his family is different poses and amalgamate his references into his finished canvas. He did not produce photo realistic paintings but made very good use of photography in the 60’s and 70’s when photography was at a significant low compared to today’s standards.

From: Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki — Dec 06, 2011

Mr. Engels described this phenomenon nicely as transformation of the elite into a mass — quality into quantity — Dialectic Materialism. That’s about the only thing I remember from my Marxist studies. I always thought that concept as so naturally beautiful. No one gets to hog the world, transitions just naturally occur and all we can do is embrace them and know that we can’t always be the fashion of the day, but at one time everyone will. Bottom line, long term investors should keep buying any type of art.

From: Leslie Tejada — Dec 06, 2011
From: Michael Jorden — Dec 06, 2011

As an unabashed realist I find I am increasingly striving for a sense of clarity, depth, call it ‘reality’ in my work. I admire the craftsmanship and patience of those painters who do photo-realism however, I think slavishly copying photographs is not all we can do as painters. A Montana artist whose work I greatly admire, Clyde Aspevig said “The more I painted the details out, the more real the paintings looked to me” [quoted in Southwest Art, Feb. 1991]. It seems to me the essence of the real is to be found through the painter’s subjectivity and interpretation of the world as perceived by the senses and not by the mere replication of a photographic image which is already one or two steps removed from that reality.

From: oliver — Dec 06, 2011

When I hear such questions I always wonder, what this has to do with the person’s art? Self-awareness of the market and how that may affect sales is of course something to be aware of. Ideas to explore in your own work MAY or MAY not be appropriate. At the end though isn’t your art a reflection of how you perceive the world? A communication of emotion or of fresh ideas? There can be other reasons for hyper realism as well. Modern movies and television are going to high definition, and three dimensional. You can even get three dimension at home now. Perhaps current popular culture’s trends toward high definition and 3D are impacting collectors and therefore painters – or painters and therefore collectors…. a chicken and egg discussion there. I use digital differently and understand that I’m somewhat out of step with both painting and photographic trends and know that when the economy is soft sales are soft too.

From: Brenda Behr — Dec 06, 2011

Although I receive and execute portrait commissions, I am by no means a successful portrait artist. When I am able to paint people loosely, please me and please my customers, then I will consider myself successful. I tell my customers, if it’s a photographic likeness you want, you need to go to a photographer. I’ve never had a customer walk away when I say these words. Yesterday, I had reason to do a very tight watercolor. Years ago I had a workshop teacher who exclaimed, “That’s not painting!” I tend to agree with him. Tight painting for me is a yawn. I find myself taking more breaks, getting up for more coffee, answering more emails. Tight painting doesn’t put me anywhere near the zone. Photo realistic painting is to impressionism what a ballroom waltz is to Argentine tango. Once you’ve done tango, the waltz seems stilted, controlled and oh so dull. Give me the passion, the sexiness and the bravura of the tango, thank you very much.

From: Kathi Hobbs — Dec 06, 2011

I tend to like paintings and people the same …fun, lively AND realistic.

From: Deb Lacativa — Dec 06, 2011
From: Lynne Hurd Bryant — Dec 07, 2011

Robert, I think you are absolutely right about hyper-realism. I, for one, am sick to death of “impressionistic” painting I see so much of. I am tried of the vignette look, the unfinished looking portraits, the drippy backgrounds…the messy look of “art” of recent times. I came out of art school at a time when this neo-Impressionism was coming on in full force. In fact, this is how I was taught to paint! Because I am not great technical painter, I never sought realism of any kind because I could not achieve it. I looked for something more lyrical, painterly, artistic and fresh in my work. Hyper-realism is nothing more than a technical feat, to my mind, and I have taken some instruction in it. If you want a photo, take one. If you want a painting, have a painting…a real painting. Surely there is a lot of room for something unique between realism and slopping paint on a canvas, and certainly the ability to create an audience for it, and creating that audience is what needs work, not recreating the art.

From: Alex Nodopaka — Dec 07, 2011

Photo-realism is nothing more than what the precursors to realism dreamed of becoming: nature duplicators. I draw the line between skill and artistry and photo-realism is but a skill. I.e. given enough time to move paint around until it fools the eye… or extreme trompe l’oeil. Now, as an exercise it is quite valuable but let’s not make art out of it. Let me reiterate that photo-realism is but an imitative technique with no artistic value except tedious craftsmanship.

From: Sybil Blazej-Yee — Dec 07, 2011

I was shocked and amazed when I saw the projection process for the first time (in 2004) and actually thought to my self that it was cheating of some sort or a few steps removed from the creative process but have gotten into debates with other artists including my instructor Ron Libbrecht about using a photograph to paint from versus a live scene. However, I had to put away my judgements and psychological projections (pun intended) and come back around to the most comfortable position of “to each, one’s own creative process.” I can enjoy a photo-realistic painting as much as any other style or technique.

From: Michael Chesley Johnson — Dec 07, 2011

I, too, have noticed a preponderance of hyper-realist paintings making it into shows and winning awards. And the galleries seem to be selling them. But the wisdom that is handed down from master to apprentice is, “Follow your heart.” I can paint in a realistic manner, too, but frankly, it is tedious work. If I’d wanted tedium, I would have become an accountant. I prefer the energy of the plein air brush stroke – intuitive, sometimes wrong but easily corrected. I do, however, admire the perspicacity and persistence of the hyper-realist craftsman. Sometimes I even admire the painting, but that is rare. So many of these works are uninspired and derivative. Are the painters chasing the dollar? Perhaps.

From: Jenny Hunter Groat — Dec 07, 2011

I quite agree with your assessment of the current trends toward extreme photo-realism, and I am as awed as anyone by these that I see. But now this last letter of yours puts my arm squarely in the slamming car door! :+{ I’m now 82, and spent my early, art years drawing realistically, as many do, even winning an Honorable Mention when I was 17, with a pencil profile of one of my Mom’s piano pupils. The drawing was quite free, too, and I still think it is remarkably good, for any age. I’m amazed that I could do it. Then I became a musician, then spent more years in Modern Dance, with 19 years in that field, ending in 1968 having established my own school and dance company in San Francisco. I stayed quiet for 5 years, doing no art, but with Nature and Zen practice as my deep preoccupations. Gradually I returned to the art world via western calligraphy, now still known internationally for my art and teaching. I was invited to teach workshops internationally, and still do tutor a bit for anyone who comes near me, for free. But since about 1997 my focus has been on painting. In calligraphy I did learn a lot, including study from the world figures doing workshops near me. I learned to do classic gilding and illumination. I can draw well and realistically, and I still regularly sketch people, landscapes and anything else in sight. But….I grew up in San Francisco during the height of the Ab-Ex painters, absorbing all that that entailed, including the “Door to the Orient” attitudes in San Francisco. I do consider myself a natural child of that art, and now it is how I prefer to paint, though I certainly can do realism. All my other art forms have left their marks on my work, so that now my paintings turn out to be a synthesis of them. I love black and white alone, and one whole group is in ink on paper. Right now a scroll-mounted piece of this kind is about to come home from a group show in Thailand, although those folks have other things to think about right now, with all the awful flooding there. The rest of my work tends to be oil (and sometimes acrylic) on canvas, in the AB-Ex category. This is a really “hard sell” now, and worse in this stumbling economy. I don’t paint to sell, so I just keep painting, and will do this till I die, though I am frequently ill enough to go to the hospital. I just come back and paint again. It (and my dear husband, Pete) are what keep my heart going. But It is hard to be painting non-objectively now, and your comments that “the realists are tired of” this kind of work is a concern. Not seriously, since I know you are quite broad-minded in your appreciations of things. Still…..My hand is hurting in that car door! Can you give us “others” a bit of hope?

From: Brenda Howell — Dec 07, 2011

On the subject of tight realism in art, one style is favored in one competition and the other styles have their exhibitions. One of my works won an award in the Art Renewal Center’s International Salon a few years ago, and I am very thankful that they exist. It is important that we have more attention and venues for this kind of work, which was lacking for so long. While this flavor of realism may be making a comeback, of course it has never really gone away since its inception hundreds of years ago. I don’t think artists engaged in making this art are reacting to all the loosely rendered art of the world as much as simply making the work that wants to be expressed by his or her artistic sensibilities. When I was in school many years ago there was much pressure to stop short of a complete statement or to “make it look contemporary” by any number of gimmicks, so perhaps it takes a certain determination to carry it through, if that is what one wants to express. If all we saw was art done with “economy and freshness” it would be boring and then something wonderfully closely observed would thrill us, and vice versa. We thrive on variety. Referring to history, I appreciate Sorolla, Sargent, Fechin and other bravura-brushstroke-type painting as well as Bouguereau, Moran and Church. If it was easy to do tight realism you would find more people doing it, but it is impossible to turn out this work in a day. As to process, one can make super-realistic art or loosely-rendered art whether using photos or looking at life, still life set-ups, or the landscape. If the end product looks like a photograph it can look dead. Life shows brilliance far beyond photography and paintings can be closer to life. (Of course skilled photographers can do much beautiful art with their medium, too.) It doesn’t matter what the source material is, it is the response of the artist. Looking deeply and carefully at something that we have an emotional reaction to and rendering it with skill and with quiet patience is just as valuable as ego-driven expressionistic brushwork and “mark-making”. The important thing is whether the end product has that “magic” that gives it power.

From: Mellissa Meeks — Dec 07, 2011
From: Gretchen Markle — Dec 07, 2011

Given Sharon Knettell’s comments about photo-realism, I expected her paintings to be much more loose and painterly. Her work is beautiful and well-rendered, but to me it is pushing photo-realism. What has happened to paintings that are as much about the paint as they are about the picture? Yes, the Sargents, Sorollas and Fechins. I would paint like that if I could! (And I have tried. Unfortunately, I always end up coming back to my blended, boring old ways.)

From: Bruce Pollock — Dec 07, 2011

Thanks for posting this interesting question and your response. As a photographer, I have been fascinated over the last few years by the increase in the number of paintings that are so obviously based on photographs and by the hyperrealism of some of the work. What’s troubling to me is that, somehow, by turning a photograph into a painting it becomes ART, no matter how banal the subject. I’m pretty sure that if I tried to exhibit an original photograph that was the source of the painting, it would be dismissed as uninteresting. And rightly so. I can appreciate the painter’s skill in producing such work (at least I did until I saw your comments about painters using digital projection) but is that really sufficient to elevate a boring subject? I’m not here to plead the case that we should stop treating photography as a poor cousin of painting and that it should be accepted as art – that issue was resolved long ago. I’m simply questioning whether every photographic subject becomes art simply because it is rendered as a painting, not as a photographic print. Thanks again – looking forward to the discussion on this.

From: Karla — Dec 08, 2011

Reality is a womb. Where are the people who are not boring and predictable, and so terribly terribly conventional ? Where are the risk takers, the grand schemers, the producers of elegant variety ? Who are they, those who can still do something that might shock the lesser mortals ? Who can still commit the sensational without being ashamed in the morning after ? I never want to see another trite landscape, wonderfully rendered and so clean ! I’m tired of the same old studio nudes, faithful, realistic and classical posed. When has there ever been a still life, still alive ? Find for me the artists, who are not merely qualified technicians. Let me see alive again, to thrive on the uncommon, the irregular, the impossible made probable. That’s what art and poetry are meant to do. They are not to celebrate the ordinary. Whatever your calendar age, if you can’t dream beyond the scope of your own limited securities, you are already old. Reality is a womb. When do we leave being borne, to again be born ?

From: Logan — Dec 08, 2011

Karla, “Reality is a womb…” The origin of renewal. An ancient call ever vital, your thoughts are as Samuel Johnson said of Shakespeare’s characters…”rammed with life.” “Ripeness is all” is a call to the art of perception and the perception by authentic sense. You have that sense in spades, and have this day of mine just made. With deepest gratitude and love through time, I receive and reflect your wondrous truth.

From: Rita-Anne Piquet, SCA — Dec 08, 2011

Most styles of art have their detractors, some more justifiably than others. Over the course of my art career so far, I have worked with conviction in various modes and pursued subject matter from landscape to abstract. All have been part of the journey and one always seems to flow naturally from the other, apparent perhaps only to me. A few years ago I was embarking on a series of floral paintings and decided to take a course in Botanical Art at the Royal Ontario Museum. For someone who never was particularly interested in meticulously depicting detail, I found that I was drawn in by the process of carefully rendered form and that it served to slow me down in this fast paced environment we live in. It became a window to another world. I followed that path and did a number of paintings of floral subjects, in a non-traditional botanical style. This lead to a workshop in academic realist still life painting, which further captivated me. I began to portray the quiet moments in the world. It is not without great struggle that I have embraced this style, but nonetheless find it stimulating and challenging. It is good know that I am still learning and growing as I progress in my career. I hope to move along, now, and try to ease up a little in the adherence to realism and find ways to personalize my paintings to resonate with my life still further.

From: Peggy Kemp — Dec 08, 2011

Thank you! Thank you for being a lovely painter, writing well, thinking things through, having opinions, and sharing great quotes. I value you. Kapaa, Kauai,

From: Gail Caduff-Nash — Dec 08, 2011
From: Dean Taylor Drewyer — Dec 09, 2011

Robert – Degas said ‘it isn’t how to paint, it is what to paint!’ This perhaps gets to the bottom of the discussion. From years of readings (and painting) I don’t think he meant subject matter in a strict sense – he was no more a painter of dancers or bathers than anyone else – he was a painter of space and light and form and movement. He found his subjects through these things and thus technique (media, mark making, point of view, editing) was born. No artist of quality starts with “I’m going to be a photo-realist / expressionist / impressionist / etc.” They instead study and practice and look and listen – and over time find the reasons for painting intrinsic to their experience and struggle to make the work reach out to the reasons. This puts the soul, if you will, into the work – no matter th style. Tell me what style Rembrandt or van Gogh or Degas or Eakins or Hopper or, yes, even de Kooning made paintings in – I’ll tell you they were magical because they took the entire core of their being and poured into their work – they discovered the ‘what’ of Degas quote and they left no stone unturned in their ferocious effort to get there. We know Eakins and Degas referenced photography – they even believe Vermeer used an early camera obscura – what matters is what comes out. Slavish copying will never be as powerful – the camera is monocular and limited to a frozen moment which buries the shadows and gives all things equal intensity. The human binocular and flickering vision, coupled with the precious imperfection of the human hand is where art lives – there aren’t any shortcuts.

From: Howard Dubois — Dec 09, 2011

Although there may those who use other and trickery to do their art, I do take umbridge at the seeming hatred toward artists who can paint in an extreme photo-realist manner. They may not use the photo to reproduce their work just as a reference. There are highly skilled artists out there who see the world differently than those who see just color and patterns. I think there is way too much made over technique and style. I am a photo-realist painter and all my life I have struggled against a bias art world. I was told that I had to paint impressionist style – no one would teach the basics of traditional painting. I had to learn on my own with the help of a few books I could find. I think that a lot of this bias is just jealousy for the most part. I think there is room for everyone and all manner of styles but folks, let’s face it, I am seventy years old and I can’t remember a time when it was cool to be a realist. Let’s all just do our thing and leave the others alone.

From: Karen R. Phinney — Dec 09, 2011

I agree with many of the comments here, particularly those that say, “live and let live”, re style etc. I am what I call an expressionistic artist, and I do get a lot of positive feedback, notably from fellow artists, but sales aren’t always brisk. However, it is coming from a real place within, I am having fun, and so will continue to paint in this way. That said, with regard to the realism and so on: it does seem to garner much awe and wonder on the part of non-painters, particularly, and while it obviously takes much skill and patience, I should think, I often hear other artists say, “they want to be looser” in their painting! I have been at workshops where fellow students have come with the goal of learning how to loosen up and make freer strokes, rather than being careful and measured with each stroke. I think it takes a lot of guts to paint freely and let the paint flow. It is a different concept to capturing a thing exactly and using small, fine brushes. Both of course, are valid, but…there seems to be an understanding that, while the exacting technique of realism is amazing, it is a challenge and takes nerve and confidence to just put that paint on fearlessly! So here’s to both ways and all things in between. Paint the way that makes you happy. I like my expressionistic style and will probably continue with it. I am always experimenting….so will see what the future brings! Cheers, everybody!

From: Patricia Solem — Dec 09, 2011

Individual taste is just that: individual. Few people, especially artists, enjoy more than a small percentage of what they see in museums, galleries and art books. However, I find examples in every medium and style that are appealing to me. The artist must follow his/her muse and is compelled to paint the images that interest him/her. If fine detail is the interest, then that is what he or she must paint. I began with realistic watercolors of plants, birds, and insects (not from photos) because these subjects fascinated me. I found photos allowed me a larger range of subjects which I could snap on the fly. While traveling it is not easy to sit in front of a subject drawing or painting for hours or days. One must take a photo. When painting from photos became boring, I then tried to alter the lighting, composition and I added other elements. Some turned into surrealism. Now my interest has turned to a little more impressionistic painting, in oil. The artist must follow his/her interests as he/she develops. I still appreciate some realists and photorealists. I cannot find fault with any well-executed and interesting art.

From: Joanne Teasdale — Dec 09, 2011

It is unfortunate that you put down the diversity in the artistic expression to tell us that people like me, who use photo-realism to convey an emotion and vibrancy unlike photography, are a trend that will soon pass. We have our place in the art world just like the abstract, expressionist, video and conceptual artists. Joanne Teasdale

From: Dan Mitchell — Dec 09, 2011

Those who dismiss realist art as dull or banal by virtue of its style are no better than those who invalidate abstract pieces with clichés of four-year-olds who might produce better work. Who is to say that a bold stripe of orange acrylic is more worthy of praise than a carefully rendered leaf? Do they both not celebrate expression in their own distinct ways? I’ve been deeply moved by classically rendered realist pieces, just as I have been by nonrepresentational art. Conversely, I’ve also gazed upon works of both types that have left me completely apathetic. Different art speaks to different people for different reasons at different times. There’s room enough for all types, even when the pendulum of fashion swings away from someone’s personal preference.

From: Russ Hogger — Dec 10, 2011

No artist is going to change his or her style just because there is a new “kid” on the block. All things must pass.

From: Russ Hogger — Dec 10, 2011

Comparing photo realism with most other types of art is always good for an argument from my experience. All concerned end up in hopeless disagreement. All it does is raise the blood pressure.

From: June Raabe — Dec 10, 2011

I think some people have confused photo realism with uncritical “copying” of photographs. Many artists use photos as aids, subject matter, or reference for fine details of a subject. I volunteer in a gallery that displays a lot of photographic works. I find myself constantly defending the photographer as much an “artist’ as well as a painter is. Most photo realists do not copy photographs slavishly. They use them only as a “starting point”, or reference. All works of art have the creator’s stamp, a particular view, a way to summon the viewers emotions. Personally I have little chance to get out and paint plein air, because of physical infirmities. Instead I search out close by subjects that intrigue me, ideally I do a sketch at the same time. The sketch provides the “soul” , for the finished piece and hopefully captures my emotions. When I discuss my paintings with viewers I do not like to say I used a photograph as my starting point. One person told me once “You shouldn’t copy photographs, you must paint out of your head”. It never fails to amaze me how some non artist viewers feel that they have the right to tell you what you are doing wrong!

From: Fran — Dec 17, 2011

I do both loose plein air work and photo realism work. I get more satisfaction out of the photo realism. It is that wonderful pushing an pulling of tones to get it just right that puts me in a wonderful zone and gives such satisfaction. But it does take time, so saying that it takes less work is ridiculous? If I use a photograph I expound upon the subject to intensify colors, liven up the shadows, eliminate distractions and zero in on a chosen focal point, which one doesn’t get from the photo itself. The goal is to make it better. To me this is being creative. As an artist I never copy exactly from the photo. What fun would there be in that! I also only paint from my own composed photo shots.. If you paint from life occasionally, you will learn how to make photographed objects look dimensional. As for projectors, have you ever tried to project an object on a canvas or paper? Unless I’m missing something or have used a really poor projector, it is impossible. Only shaky lines result. Believe me, you can get an almost exact likeness just by drawing free hand, if you have enough skill and patience. Where did this myth that super realism artists use projectors pop up and why is it spreading? Maybe by the same people who think the pyramids couldn’t possibly be made by humans. For some artists what is important in a painting is the beauty of the brush stroke or the pen mark.. That is their joy in painting the picture. Many collectors agree For other artists the joy is in portraying the beauty of the object itself, which is important. They want to portray nature as they see it unadorned by brush strokes. They want to celebrate the joy of the visual life they see around them and freeze it in a moment of time, whether its a flower’s soft petals or the play of light in glass reflections or pond ripples. And some collectors love to see this in a painting. Each individual has their own idea of what beauty is and what art is. Why quibble about it? Why belittle people for it?

From: Sachko Honda — Jun 11, 2013

Like HD, Home Theatre, Digital Sculpture, Wiki, Google…, people are fascinated by the extraordinary details and abundance of info. Is it going to pass? Maybe not “pass” but I think it will find some equilibrium point. And, as many of earlier commentators said, people find refreshing “realism” regardless of whether classical or photo. I did. So am I pursuing classical training now.

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Sea Changes

mixed media, 40 x 40 inches by Roberta Pyx Sutherland, Hornby Island, BC, Canada

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