In this article, you´ll learn more about the difference between realism and photorealism
Quite often, a painting that creates a sense of light, shadow, and shape, or in short, a three-dimensional effect, is defined as “photorealistic.” However, artworks painted in an academic style are by no means photorealistic. A realistic painter seeks to portray the world as he sees it and also has some degree of artistic freedom to render his composition as aesthetic as possible. Whereas a photorealistic painter uses a photo as reference and will then copy the picture, trying to make it as accurate as possible.
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To clarify the difference, we will compare two artworks:
“The Blind Man” from Gustav Klimt and “John’s Diner with John’s Chevelle” from John Baeder.
We can clearly see the characteristics of realism in Klimt´s painting. For example, if you take a closer look at the eye of the man in the shadow, you are not going to see the eye. It is just a splash of color giving us the illusion of an eye. Likewise, the hair of the man is not hair. If you stand very close to the painting you are just going to see some brush strokes but if you go a bit more far away you have the illusion of been looking at hair. Instead, if you look at the artwork of John Baeder, you can see that it is detailed and precise. He painted every screw of the car and every single stone of the house.
However, most people would say John Baeder´s painting looks way too unnatural while the one of Klimt looks more natural. That´s because Baeder did copy the photo in every detail, without making any changes. But a camera shows the world differently compared to how the human eye sees it. We have a peripheral view. This means that we only focus on the things, people, animals we are looking at, which we see sharp and detailed and all the rest in the surrounding appears blurred and simpler. Exactly this effect is used in Klimt’s painting. The face is the focus of the painting: it has the sharpest edges and we also see more details. Instead, those parts which are in the shadow, like the right eye of the man, are not clearly visible. The further we go away from the face, the simpler and less detailed gets the painting. This draws the observer’s attention always back to the face of the man and gives the feeling of realism. And that is also why Beader’s painting gives us an unnatural feeling. Everything is sharp, as the camera captured it, and each object is equally detailed as if you were looking everywhere at the same time.
To sum up, we could say that realism tries to show the world how a human being sees it. Whereas the photo realism portrays the world how a camera sees it.