Mostly we would describe a painting, which gives us a feeling of light, shadow, and shape — an illusion of a 3-dimensional effect — as “photo realism”. But artworks, which were created in an academic style are actually not photo realism. An artist creating a photorealistic painting uses photos as a reference and will try to copy it as detailed as possible. There will be not artistic freedom put into the expression and composition the photo-realistic artist tries to copy as precise as a camera. A painter of realism, on the other hand, shows us his view.
To clarify the difference, we will compare two artworks:
“Der Blinde” from Gustav Klimt and “John’s Diner with John’s Chevelle” from John Baeder
We can clearly see the characteristics of realism in the painting of Klimt if you have a closer look at the eye of the man which is supposed to be in the shadow. You do not see an eye it is a more dark color spot giving us the illusion of an eye. Also, the hair of the man. If you are standing very close you would only see some brush strokes but if you go a bit more away — having more distant our eyes and brain immediately recognize it as hair. The artwork of John Baeder, on the other hand, is detailed and precise. He painted every single detailed like every screw of the car and every single stone of the house.
But most people would say that the photorealistic work of John Baeder looks way too unnatural while Klimt’s painting looks more natural. The reason for that is that Baeder did copy the complete photo reference — detail by detail. But a camera shows the world in a different way than the human eye captures it. We have a peripheral view. That means those spot — things/persons/animals — where we put our eyes on appears sharp and more detailed — everything in the surrounding appears blurred and more simple. That effect is used in Klimt’s painting. The focus is put on the face of the man. It is edgier and there we also see more details. Those parts which are in the shadow — like the right eye of the man is not so visible. The further away we go from the face the simpler and softer gets the painting. This draws the observer's attention always back to the face of the man and gives the feeling of a realistic painting. And that is why Beader’s painting gives us an unnatural feeling. Everything is as detailed as the rest — there is no focus in the painting and gives us the feeling we have to look everywhere.