We’re living in the midst of a resurgence of realism in painting. At the same time there’s a revolution in realistic CGI animation and digital effects. I thought it might be helpful to take a closer look at the various words that we use to describe art that looks real.
Art whose purpose is to deceive the viewer into believing he or she is looking at an actual, dimensional scene. Above, museum diorama backdrop by James Perry Wilson.
The close resemblance between the object or scene and its portrayal. Also, illusionism. Above, detail by Ludwig Deutsch.
Art whose goal is to represent the real world truthfully and objectively, based on close observation of commonplace details and contemporary life. Above, portrait of a peasant by Ivan Kramskoy.
A movement in art to represent the world according to objective scientific principles.
The resemblance of a work of art to particular qualities of photographic representation. Above, a simulation from CryEngine 2.
The quality of conforming to the observer’s experience or understanding of the world.
Versimilitude is the narrowest word, meaning simply holding a mirror up to reality. Trompe l'œil is a special kind of verisimilitude found in museum dioramas, sidewalk art, and still life. It always requires a specific viewing angle, size, position, and lighting to achieve its ideal effect.
Naturalism could be present in any kind of painting, including a fantasy image, but it depends on the adherance to rational rules of light and color found in nature, rather than contrived or artificial effects.
Photorealism, (used here in the broad sense, not just the art movement), refers to a kind of realism that borrows specific effects from photography, rather than simulating human perception. As blog reader Denis Loubet has pointed out on the recent GJ post on HDR photography, video games deliberately use photographic effects.
Believability is a subjective quality. A work is believable if it “feels right,” even if it’s not realistic in a photographic sense. The way cars explode in movies doesn’t happen that way in real life, but it’s more convincing than a film of the real event. Animators and caricaturists are primarily interested in this kind of non-literal truthfulness.
The word “realism” has the broadest, richest, and most contradictory meaning. Historically it includes Courbet and the Impressionists because of their insistence on painting the humdrum world around them. Ironically, despite their expressed intention to be scientific, the realism of the Impressionists departed more and more from verisimilitude and became increasingly subjective. The quality of realism that seeks out commonplace subjects lives on in contemporary paintings of telephone poles and fast food signs.
Central to the realist tradition is the reaction to Romanticism and Classicism and the resistance to schemata, conventionalism, and idealization. Instead, artists are encouraged to base their art on concrete, direct observations of the world around them.
Sidewalk Illusion drawings, link.
Recommended reading: Realism by Linda Nochlin, link.
Lines and Colors post on sidewalk illusions, link.
CryEngine gallery of digital photorealistic effects, link.