Are Realism, Naturalism, Photorealism or Hyperrealism more valid or “real” than other genres?

«Breaking through», oil on canvas, 50 x 50 cm., 2021.

The world of reality has its limits; the world of imagination is boundless.

 — Jean-Jacques Rousseau 


Are Realism, Naturalism, Photorealism, or Hyperrealism more valid or “real” than other genres?

This debate keeps coming back, with new non- or less-realistic genres continuously popping up in rebellion. It is an endless game … of Whack-a-Mole.

As regards “realism” and “naturalism”, I am more on the abstract – semi-realism continuum. Not because I do not appreciate the joys and satisfaction of trying to make a painting look “real” like a photograph, but rather because I interpret perception as a combination of naturalism and subjectivity. Perhaps I just experience and observe painting subjects differently than others. As Picasso said: “I paint objects as I think them, not as I see them.” However, I am always interested in the internet debates regarding comparative preferences for Naturalism versus Abstraction, in painting/Art — including everything from Impressionists, Fauvists, Abstract painters, and Expressionists to genres even I have not yet heard of. Many of the aforementioned having come about partly in rebellion against the very long and established traditions of the older classical traditions, and a few of the newer ones that were in vogue for shorter periods of time. This back and forth movement is quite apparent throughout modern Art History. What troubles me is how the camera and internet have solidified and limited subjective perception (and acceptance of it) in individuals today. What is photographed is not actually “real”, as it is a momentary interpretation and often (like naturalistic paintings) staged and glorified. Art has many functions, including making people feel good. “Feel-good Art” (in all its forms), is also valid. I consider much Impressionist Art to be feel-good art as well, My own focus in my Art is more confluence-psychological, in that I attempt to focus on a wide continuum of feelings, thought processes, and subjective questions, rather than to make beautiful paintings that strive to elevate positive self-perception or predominantly positive perceptions of the World. My approach is to explore different degrees of abstraction and naturalism in order to mate the recognizable with the subjective/psychological. This is perhaps somewhat akin to a stream of consciousness approach in literature.

That being said, while I do appreciate many naturalistic paintings, I prefer classical art photography to painting hyperrealism and photorealism. Photography somehow gives me a greater sense of freedom to interpret possible next moments after the image is photographed than a painting designed to mimic a photograph exactly (or even more so than the original image itself). I do not know why that is. Perhaps it is because paintings are for me more permanent and powerful, if not insisting, than photographs. When I look at photos it is generally for a few seconds at a time, but paintings I tend to study for many minutes … taking in the images more intensively, and allowing them to become ingrained and to impress themselves into my consciousness and perceptions of what Reality “really is”. Many of the Old Masters managed to create naturalistic paintings that allowed for greater degrees of Viewer interpretation and freedom than Photorealism and Hyperrealism do today.

I personally feel that Art (in all genres) is best when it balances the technical with the subjective. Technical mastery is important, but when it overtakes and overrules the subjective freedom of the Artist and the Viewer it becomes more of a technical feat and marvel than Art.

The perception of “Realism” being the only true art form was re-inforced by Gustave Courbet who commented: “Show me an angel, and I will paint one.” Well, many have painted angels and unicorns without having seen them in person, and paintings that personify mythical and Biblical creatures and events are also — in my eyes — valid Art. If you know what unicorns are, and how they generally are perceived to look, then they do actually exist for you. Like with realism, we perceive things as we know and interpret them in our minds. Or through a photographic image. So, we do not always solely paint what we see, and what we “see” is not really the totality of Reality. “Realism”, “Naturalism”, “Photorealism”, or “Hyperrealism” do not actually exist any more than more subjective interpretations (Abstract, Semi-realistic, Primitivism) and are, therefore — to me — not more valid or important on the larger scale of Art History.

And by the way, Gustave Courbet’s (a Realist) self-portrait — «Le désespéré», is one of my all-time favorite self-portraits. It combines incredible technical mastery with a subjectivity that makes the image jump right out of the painting.


Just my opinion, of course … as always.

NB. Balancing the technical with expression to maximize the “artistic” is achieved by planning and by lots of aesthetic decision-making; which leads to much more technical decision-making. These decisions and plans range from determining subject/theme/mood of the painting to picking the size and format of the canvas or board, to choosing colors that serve the theme/subject and/or mood, to decisions concerning overall composition, genre and style, to determining which tools to use (eg. brushes, palette knives, credit cards etc.), to deciding about brushstrokes (visible, or not; painted with broad, large brushes, or not; aggressive brushstrokes or caressed brushstrokes with small, medium-sized, large, flat, round or angled brushes or even fan brushes etc.); determining how much brush pressure to use, and how much paint is to be on the brush; deciding whether to paint impasto, or not; deciding upon degree of uniformity in the look and feel of the painting or eventually how to balance non-uniform sections in the artwork; the velocity of the painting process, and of the brushstrokes; to knowing how much detail is needed, and where; to knowing when to stop; and to deciding what cosmetic finishing tricks to use to make the decisions taken look intentional. Technical mastery is all-important. But it should not be divorced from the artistic vision. This holds true for all genres, styles, and complexities of compositional elements … as well as the level of detail. Every one of these decisions will affect your painting and the impressions it gives. Looking for the above mentioned is also how I view paintings in art museums and galleries, as well as technical accuracy and finish, the political, historical, social, and psychological aspects and effects of the painting’s theme and ideas presented, etc. My reactions to Art are based on my experiences of these technical decisions and skills in relation to larger artistic goals and expressions. And yes, I struggle with all of these technical decisions and skills in each painting, and in every genre and style.

 

«Secundo fluctus» (Second Wave), 60 x 50 cm., oil on canvas, 2020. The theme of this self-portrait is the impossible dream that is never finally achieved — no matter how much success we or others may think we have achieved, the dissatisfaction is always there. That has been the plight of most artists throughout human history; and it is no less today — for artists, and for non-artists. The tremendous Saturn-influence enveloping us at this time insists upon the renewal of our dreams, our motives, our ways of seeing, acting, living … imposing a heavy reality check upon us all. It is not all negative from an overall perspective, but it takes a higher degree of ingenuity, creativity, and persistence in order to create the much-needed and long-overdue New Consciousness. This dark expressionist self-portrait entitled “Second Wave”, provides a subjective inside-looking-out acknowledgment of the present experience. The intention is to document the thick muddy gelé of fear + the careful hopefulness that we are all enduring in this Winter of darkness. The observant viewer will note that the face is itself a mask, as is the masking Darkness.

 

Toxique / Toxic
“Toxique / Toxic”, 40×40 cm., oil on canvas, is an abstract painting which uses colour field and geometric styles to induce feelings of the “disgusting” which is beautiful. Here “the disgusting” is created by color combinations and the dizziness of the geometric images seemingly twirling about in atmospheric bile. The painting gives a sense of elegance in its overall balance and technical precision, while at the same time requiring quiet acceptance of discomfort.

 

“Threesome — Me, Myself, and I”, oil on canvas, 50 x 50 cm., 2021.

 

“Flying”, oil on canvas, 50 x 50 cm., 2021.

 

“Choosing a COVID-19 Vaccine — The Three Prisoner Problem”, oil on canvas, 50 x 50 cm., 2021.

 

 

 

 

“The Scream” (Isbad), oil on canvas, 60 x 80 cm., 2021.

Yet another rant, from an opinionated Artist.

Letter to an Art Historian, regarding an article he sent to me about
criticism of the art of Donald Judd:

I received the article in the post today. Thanks. Judd’s boxes are to me … just boxes. Like contemporary painters of photo-realistic  and some hyper-realistic portraits and still life who attempt to supersede photos but whose images are devoid of “soul”, I find this kind of Art to be “anti-Art”. One can delight in the technical prowess behind such works of Art, but the question remains as to whether they are in fact a “style” on the same definitive level as Realism or Surrealism, or a novelty which is a mere obscure footnote in the overall framework of Art History. To me, Art should speak to a purpose, i.e. an idea or an interpretation that needs to be expressed, to provoke a response … something that is in some way extraordinary, unexpected and insistent. The objects may very well be ordinary and mundane, but for me to become interested in artistic portrayals of them there must be an idea that suggests the artist’s standpoint or question; and an invitation for me to participate with the work of Art through my own reactions and proposed interpretational ideas. These anti-Art sculptures/installations remind me of others that repel me at museums and galleries. Repel me because they give me nothing … because my expectations are muffled by the Nothingness. Looking at paintings by artists from all eras and periods, I note that even classical painters were provocative in their time, due to aberrations from the defining art trends of the time, introduction of new techniques and materials, depictions of religious, social and political motives and ideas, which were often discordant in detail albeit seemingly typical otherwise.

The later successive periods entailed much experimentation with style and bore fruit to many “isms”, that opened up the field of Art immensely. Judd’s reaction to Minimalism in painting is not — in my eyes — a variation on a theme OR an alternative. The pieces are perhaps best as “one-offs”, rather than as a style. For that there is not enough substance — ideologically or technically, imho.

After struggling through Sartre’s “Being and Nothingness” I was subsequently appalled to read an article in a newspaper where he scoffed at and dismissed the massive work as inconsequential. In hindsight, it was indeed perhaps nothing more than a huge masturbation intended to massage freedom-seeking idle brains. Much like the creators of QAnon, which presents lots of bullshit conspiracy theories … just to see how far they can succeed in controlling the idle brains of the masses. It is — to me the same kind of anti-Art Project approach that many artists employ: presenting the emperor’s new clothes as a Reality that embarrasses all who do not see it because they feel dumb, uneducated, uncultured.

My own need to create and share my Art is different than these anti-Artists. My intention is to present ideas and images that entice the Viewer to become a creative participant in his/her own ever-changing thoughts and Life. My Art is based upon many ideas, feelings, questions etc. that I purposely make accessible in the Art and in my commentaries. And then — having given the Viewer the background for the work, and defined my intention — I leave it to the Viewer and critics to determine whether (or not) I have achieved my intentions technically and in my presentation of ideas.

I use textures, shadows and lights to approach the 3-dimensionality that Judd espouses. I have made a number of minimalistic paintings, but even in those I attempt to create a sense of space that leaves plenty of room for running — hot and cold. In Judd’s works I only get a feeling of coldness, and of contained order. I prefer Pollock’s endless dripping and Rothko’s monotonous colourfield variations on the same theme. The paint draws me in, electrifies me and gives me a sense of mental tactile exploration that is far greater than what I get from boxes, metal or wood structures reminiscent of everyday objects that are presented as objets d’Art without modification or inclusion in a greater context that gives meaning.

A box is still a box, a bare urinal placed in an art museum gallery is still a urinal … and a golden toilet is still a toilet. The urinal was an Art-political statement by the artist, relevant to that particular time in Art history and politics. But of the three the toilet is the most interesting and provoking because most people do not have toilets of gold, because it elevates the throne to really be A Throne, and because some wealthy persons actually do make ornaments of their toilets. Their shit and piss is thus of greater value and importance than that of most of us. And therein is the Art and the Statement and the Provocation. But even so, a pig wearing make-up is still “just a pig, wearing make-up”. One of the more interesting artists working with Minimalism and geometric design was Ellsworth Kelly. And of course, Calder.

Technique is very important, and I am forever exploring was to explore using and improving my technical skills. But technique without interpretational presentation is, to me, just a form of technical mastery. Unfortunately, many Viewers and artists are obsessed with the technical “wow-factor” in itself. Technique is one of many available tools that can be used to achieve artistic interpretation but is in itself merely a technical achievement. Realistic painters from the earlier periods eventually understood that what we actually see and interpret is subjectively different than the static mirrored and photographic realistic images; and thus began making surrealistic, abstract and semi-realistic portrayals that perhaps more correctly represent the many possible ways of seeing and interpreting images and objects. It is there that Art invites to Viewer participation in the artistic process and invitation to personal perceptual creativity — from Impressionism, to Cubism to Abstract Expressionism to Minimalism etc. Artists today have a wealth of styles, techniques, and art historical trends at our disposal. Our challenge is perhaps to re-interpret and modify/expand on these in order to make new statements and approaches to exploring perception of our World and existence. Many have always maintained throughout the ages that “all has been done and expressed before”. I agree and disagree. To me it is a question of constantly exploring which styles, techniques and materials work best to present my ideas and questions … in the context of where we are in today’s world, with today’s perceptions and realities, and in the ever-evolving context of a long history of Art/artistic development.

All previous artists who have established new styles and techniques have faced the same challenges and goals. We have not exhausted all possibilities in painting, drawing or sculpture. And it is important to know when to move on in our ideas, rather than repeating the same styles and techniques throughout an artistic career. That which was interesting and original in one work quickly becomes boring after having been repeated in all possible colours and combination ad nauseam. Viewers and Readers today will not tolerate such limitations. Get to the point, and continue to make new inroads in style and technical presentation.

There were notable differences in levels of technical mastery even amongst the most famous Artists in the past 500 years. And Van Gogh’s and Picasso’s paintings (of which I have seen hundreds of examples in my tours of art museums) vary in technical qualities, even within their own styles. But the most successful artists have managed to find the right combinations of technique, style and ideas in order to create “striking” interpretational images/works. Sometimes technical “perfection” is subservient to interpretational skills.

Creating “magic” in Art requires that kind of decision-making. Even in hard-edge Art and geometric Art the question of exactness of lines, brush strokes used and solid (flat, opaque) versus non-solid (cloudy, murky, muddy, or even translucent or vibrating) colour fields arise. I constantly make decisions regarding lines being technically straight and not, because a technically razor-edge straight line does not always appear so to the Viewer, and because too much rigidity is not always interpretatively beneficial to the ideas of the artwork in question. I wish that more Viewers and critics of Art would begin to focus more on how well the artist’s technical decisions and stylistic choices work, why and why not, rather than upon prowess of technical detail alone … and adherence to old rules regarding styles established previously. The aims and standards of earlier eras (especially the pre-photography Era of Realism) can perhaps be different than those of today.

But this is just another rant, from an opinionated artist. Keep making, viewing and purchasing the Art that gives you personal joy. That is all that matters. 

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. LOCK HIM UP!

“ The Impossible Dream: impeaching and locking up ‘ The Orange One ’ “, 65 x 90 cm., oil on canvas, 2019. Liberals, Democrats and even some Republicans and ex-Cabinet Members seem determined to fulfill their dream of capturing the sly POTUS in their cat-claws. But will they ever succeed in outsmarting the Donald?

 

LOCK HIM UP!!!

 

Democracy by gun (We the People), oil on canvas, 100×80 cm., 2016.

AND PLEASE STOP THIS INSANE DESTRUCTION OF DEMOCRACY BY WAY OF GUNS, CONSPIRACY THEORIES, LIES AND BULLYING!

 

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