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What's The Point? Realism In Art

An exploration of photography Vs realistic art.

Don’t worry, this isn’t some sort of mid-career breakdown. This is a question I think about a lot, and I want to explore the perception of this. As a realistic artist, my purpose and mission is to represent nature as we see it from our eyes onto a 2D surface. I learn to copy nature's lines, to see her colours, and to translate what I see with my eyes onto my canvas. For me, there’s nothing more satisfying than painting realistically. Capturing someone’s likeness and showing the true colours of the world rather than the stereotypes we associate with them is what I am passionate about and what I help others achieve too.


I guess a place to begin exploring is looking at the limits of realism. How far can we push it in our work, and do we capture something authentically? Whether that is through painting or photography, they both have pros and cons. The biggest and most prominent question I’m faced with is – what’s the point? I hear this question all the time and sometimes, I find myself asking the same thing. What is the point? With cameras replacing the original way to capture an image (paintings), have we devalued the importance of realism in art? Are we now free from the burden of labour because we now have a tool to document, we can now explore and discover?

Some may argue that the use of cameras has given space for the artist to express feeling and emotion in a way like never before. The need to visually record life is no longer a form of record-keeping or a luxury for the upper class and now humans can express reality on an emotional plane and explore their deepest inner practise, like Pollock or Rothko. This isn’t the first time a change in society has freed up other ways of progression. We can compare this scenario to the evolution of farming and when we settled from a nomadic lifestyle we improved our methods of growing and harvesting crops. This allowed humans to free up space and time in their routines to focus on other roles like science, technology, and art because they did not need to hunt and gather food all the time. Is this the same for painting? We don’t need to capture nature practicewithto. paint anymore, because we can do that on our phones. Instead, we can dive into another dimension of painting with expression and creating emotional responses in our work. We have choices now and the freedom to explore.

Art School

Despite going to art school, I feel modern art just isn’t for me and most of the time, just like you, I think to myself ‘I don’t get it’. I feel I have to go outside of myself in order to figure out the puzzle and sometimes, I just want to enjoy what’s in front of me. I don’t want to play a game with my viewing experience. I want to enjoy the artwork for what is it. Don’t get me wrong I can appreciate and look at a modern artwork full of life and colour that has an impressionistic appeal. Look at Peter Doig below and the odd combinations of colours. Quite abstract yet we get a sense of familiarity and understanding. I truly love this work, and perhaps this is a version of realism that is close to that balance of nostalgia, nature and memory? Is this the freedom of reality that sits comfortably in my realm?

If you look at modern art that is even more extreme than Doig, it could look great as a decorative piece in the living room and it would certainly bring joy to many people who viewed it. Art is a talking piece, and if it helps create connections and conversations then it’s doing its job. But sometimes if those conversations are too complex, it can marginalise its audience and create an exclusive environment. I’m not a fan of exclusion, especially when it comes to an activity that has so many benefits for people. We shouldn’t create an environment of ‘us and them’ when art is for everybody.


I’ve always loved the classical style of painting. From the Renaissanceperiod at the National Gallery with Van Dyke and Da Vinci, to the hyperrealismof of Chuck Close and the emotionally charged paintings Mitch Griffiths. This is the work that moves me, hits my nerves, and stirs my emotions. The colours that artists use to perceive reality are sometimes mind-blowingand whiteCameras,,,atartist'sarertists use blue for highlights that are assumed to be white, they use red on dark skin assumed to be brown, and green on white skin assumed to be beige. Have a look closely at paintings next time you visit a gallery and see what colours you recognise.

Let’s look at this painting above for example. Look at how bright the artist has dared leave the red in the glow of the skin on the bum (aye aye) on the white body where we see white skin to be beige and pink. There are so many hidden treasures in paintings with realistic impressions that I think are often overlooked. The artist managed to get all of these colours from 4 tubes of paint, two of them being Black & White! Zorn used these colours to achieve vibrancy and natural colours with a very limited palette. If that doesn’t get your goosebumps tingling in the morning, I don’t know what will.

This was his list of colours:

Perhaps I have a simple mind and it’s the small things that please me but there is a lot to say about the beauty in simple things. Camera’s probably can achieve these colours, with some editing here, and some setting changes there, I’m sure this is completely achievable. So what is the difference between a painting and a photograph? Well it’s simple. One is created by hand, and one is created by technology. Technology is incredible in its own right, I love technology. However in art, you have to make every single decision. You are looking at the fine detail with a microscopic lens, you look at the lines, the shades, the colours, the composition. Every decision is made by you. You can alter it, you can copy it, you can control it, and maybe that’s where the question of reality comes into play. How much of this is real? Well, none of it! Just like a photograph, this is not real either and that moment has passed and no longer exists.


There is one question I must ask you, to think about your own interpretation of reality. I once heard that reality was a fleeting moment and that once the moment has passed, you can never get it back. Even if you capture it on a camera, or you draw it in an artwork, you can never recreate that time or place, it only existed in that moment. To you, this memory might have a positive reality and to me it might be a negative one. Both realities happened in the same time and place, but the experience is different. Your artwork may not look like mine but we both faced the same reality. Which version of reality do you trust more? The picture you took in that moment, or the memory that will change from the moment you store it as a memory. An artwork created in the style of realism, focusing on copying nature like for like could be technically accurate but you will always face the possibility of it being void of emotive execution, or distorting that true reality because of the time taken to create.

I may not have answered my own question, and I may not be able to answer yours. Reality can be a perception, and interpretation both emotionally, objectively and in any art form it takes. Photography is much quicker than making a painting, it’s certainly much cheaper. It can capture the scene extremely quickly and accurately. You can see the image immediately and you can print or store it and review this as many times as you like. Paintings are less accurate and take a long time, but they show the artist behind the work. You see the brush marks, the decisions of the maker and the combination of colours and compositions. You see glimpses of the artists emotions and you can have the freedom to feel your own. There is no right or wrong answers to this. For me, reality in art is achieved by copying nature as close to the reality as possible. Sure, I can take a picture of it, but I’m a better editor in oil paints than I am on the computer.

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