Question on Photorealism

Question on Photorealism

Question from Carl

There is a question, but first the comment. I look forward to my Drawing magazine when it comes. The Spring 2015 issue features the winners of the Shades of Gray contest. The winners were almost exclusively photorealists.

Question on Photorealism

I really don’t understand this exercise and the message that is being sent. On one hand, the magazine includes an article on “Beauty Through Leonardo’s Eyes” and two examples of “Head of a Young Woman.” Looking at these drawings you can awe at the use of line, hatching and appreciation the artist has for his subject.


As Vladimir said in a recent post, you instantly recognize the artist. You can imagine him drawing the subject and the appreciation of beauty through his eyes.

On the other hand, while I am awestruck by the skill of photorealists, copying machines were invented so humans did not have to do this. Every entry is an excellent rendering or “copy” of the photograph used. While the context and compositions may be provocative visually, you can achieve the same result with a photograph. With a good phone picture, Picasa and printing on good paper you can frame the same visual result. You cannot see the artist in any of the entries.

My young daughter (who is studying art) is enamored of these works and it is getting harder to direct her towards classical drawing.

I believe that the Drawing Academy is one of the few places where classical drawing is featured. Is the desire to perfect or render minutiae using charcoal, graphite, or pastel art? I don’t think so.

So that is the question:
Is this art and will it last 500 years from now?

Feedback from Vladimir London and Natalie Richy
Drawing Academy Tutors

Hi Carl,

Many thanks for your question and kind words about the Drawing Academy course.

Yes, your observation is correct, the photo-realism is trending now.

For several years BP Portrait Award competition features hyper-realistic portraits and when those “artworks” are published in the competition book, they look exactly as digital photos, thus artist is no longer important; it is a showcase of photographers whose photos being copied by human reproducers.

Question on Photorealism

I can’t say whether or not it would be called “art” hundreds of years from now. One thing is for sure, you can’t tell even today an artist’s name behind this reproduction work.

To understand why this happening and where it goes, you need to see the bigger picture – “who is benefiting?”

The war on art started in 1947 after WWII, when a cultural cold war was set up by 3-letter agencies. The main purpose was to promote American culture, values and supremacy. Although it was targeted on USSR, it did much greater damage to Western civilization.

Despite all effort and disintegration of Soviet Union, Russian culture and art education is still based on traditional values and heritage of classical realistic art.

Repin Academy, St. Petersburg, Russia. 100 years of legacy exhibition.

Repin Academy, St. Petersburg, Russia. 1914 – 2013

Question on Photorealism

Question on Photorealism

Conversely, West European and American art school is placing the focus of education on “express yourself” mantra, no matter that art students are not even taught how to hold a pencil.

Your daughter’s mindset is a product of contemporary system, whether you like it or not. Billions of dollars are spent to make it this way.

We’re glad to hear that you care about traditional art values and hope you will keep sharing your views with your daughter.

Natalie-Richy-avatarTo your creative and parental success,
Natalie Richy and Vladimir London
Drawing Academy tutors

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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. xtreme.phil says:

    I was originally blown away by the early work of people like Chuck Close, but I now find photo-realism an exercise in futility. When one accurately renders a reproduction of a photograph in great detail one simply creates a large painting of a photograph. These renderings do have appeal to the casual viewer, as their response is typically that it is ‘amazing and so lifelike’, ‘how did he/she do it’ and other viewers in disbelief that it is not actually a photograph. But it is! The information in the image was captured by the optics of a camera. It was then ‘printed’ by a skilled human, but the information remains as the camera captured it, and with all of the optical qualities of a photography. I say ‘printed’ by the human, and in Chuck Close’ work, he actually painted the CMYK channels separately to form the color rendering. In my view, that’s quite a special skill!

    While I admire the skill in the rendering of photo-realistic images, I don’t consider this to be art, but a method of reproduction. Now Chuck Closes later work, where he creates images from had painted pixels has, for me, far more artistic merit.

    – Phil

  2. This is a subject I am passionate about. I strive for photorealism in my work and the reason is that I know how hard it is to achieve that and how much time it takes. It is a definite skill set. Comparing it to photocopying is an insult to all the artists who are able to achieve those results. In the same vein I see “art” displayed in museums and selling for thousands and they are but a stripe on a canvas or worse all just one color or none at all and it has a stupid name like “Angel in Mourning” or something and people are buying this stuff. I get it that people accept this stuff as art, but is it talent?? I don’t think so – a 4 year old could create some of these pieces and better so when people question photorealism, my suggestion would be to try it and see how difficult and time-consuming it is to create all the beautiful nuances of shade and shadow and color to create a work of art. It is no different than copying nature or reproducing a model. Also I do not think the artist is forgotten. I certainly don’t know the names of every artist and I would not recognize any unless I was familiar with them. Artists like Da Vinci and Monet have recognizable works because they have been made familiar to the world through their repeated showing in museums and exhibitions and social media. I don’t think that photorealism is a trend as you put it. I think that it is another artform that will take it’s place alongside every other form in history, including the stuff that requires only time and money and no talent.

  3. Carl Soranno says:

    Terry I appreciate your post and this is a debate worth having. Interestingly, you value the piece of art based on the time it takes and how hard it is to achieve. Picasso was credited as saying; “Bad artists copy. Good artists steal” and “If I paint a wild horse, you might not see the horse… but surely you will see the wildness ” and something like three lines but a lifetime to master or something to that effect. I believe that art should have something of the artist in it. Also you do not need an art history degree to recognize the style of an artist. In fact, I have noticed that every artist draws a line differently and can be immediately recognizable. I do agree with you that a stripe on a blank canvas may or may not be art and I am also frustrated with modern artists. Pietro Annigoni often proclaimed his disdain for the superficial social and artistic trends of the twentieth century: ‘I am convinced that the works of today’s avant-garde are the poisoned fruit of a spiritual decadence, with all the consequences that arise from a tragic loss of love for life’. Again, the point I was trying to make was that I am equally awed and appreciative of the time and effort that goes into photorealistic works. I really like them and they are impressive and leave you scratching your head. Like the soda can drawn so perfectly it looks a real can jumping off the page. But it is not art in my opinion. It is skill executed perfectly or near perfectly, but it is still a copy. I disagree that it is the same as copying nature or a model. That form of “copying” requires the artist to “see”, interpret, decide, represent and put into the painting or drawing the “wildness” that Picasso talked about. So I ask you this. If you could have one would you choose the perfect photorealistic drawing of a picture of a horse or would you choose a horse drawn by Leonardo, Raphael, Picasso or Van Gogh? I know what I would choose and my choice would be the same 500 years from now.

  4. Marianne says:

    Here is what I would say to Carl’s daughter: What do you want to be able to do? Do you want to simply copy a photograph or do you want to be able to draw on your own? Regardless of the answer, learning the basic skills taught through classical school of training will not only help you do both, it will enable you to do so much more than. It will help you to become an artist that will not just be a show stopper, because it is so much like a photograph, but it will give you the basics to create art that inspires and makes people think, not only about what is beautiful but also about life and ponder their role in life. Even more than that, having the skills that are acquired through classical art training, you will be able to do art that can make a difference in someone’s life because they have seen your art and it has made them stop to think about who you are and how you see life, as well as who they are, what life is meant to be, even what might be done to make it better. A photo-realist drawing will just make someone go wow but a skillfully done work of art will make the person stop and look and ponder and will leave a much deeper impression on the person. A photo-realist drawing will only last until the next one comes along.

    Classical drawing skills also translate into many other mediums, like photography, because many of the skills learned support producing much higher quality pieces in other mediums. For example, being able to evaluate tone gradation, as learned by doing tonal rendering, are important for taking better quality photographs, even if they are in color. And I bet that, like students who study languages tend to be better students all around, those who develop the discipline required in classical training also make better and more rounded students.

    Likely there will be many new forms of art and artistic expression that will be invented and discovered in the next hundred years, but the classic works of art will still be here and people will continue to marvel at them just as we do today, hundreds of years after they were made.

    So do you want to be just an average person who can copy something or do you really want to wow people with true skill and talent?

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