Monday, September 14

What is Realism in Art and Painting?

If you’re a regular viewer of the OrbisPlanis, you may have noticed that I’m always (or a lot of the time anyway) either asking questions about or looking for answers to what’s going on in the art world. I’m curious about why art is classified the way it is or who artists were (or are) or what happened in the past and why.

To me, that’s what makes art so interesting. You can spend all your time creating art or reading and learning about art, and there is always more to know, something new to try or learn.

Anyway, I’ve been wondering about Realism in art and painting. Why, you ask? It seems to me, since I started paying more attention to art in the last couple of years, that art is either realistic looking or it’s not. I’m talking mostly about paintings here, but I think it could be applied to other creative areas as well.

However, as I learned more about the subject, my view may be over-simplified, at least as it applies to the art world. I thought it was either/or—something either looks real or it doesn’t—and everything falls into one bucket or the other. Not so fast, I discovered, and if you dig deep enough, it all starts to get a little zen or nihilistic (e.g., what is existence?). I’ll think I'll just stick to art.

First, I’m not sure we’ll all be able to agree on a definition of Realism in art. One site, said it was the accurate and apparently objective description of the ordinary, observable world that appeared after 1850 when everyday life and people became accepted as artistic subjects (in rejection to earlier eras, such as romanticism, it said). It even provided a list of “Realists” including ironically (to me anyway), Degas and Whistler and a long list of other references on the subject.

But what about everything that came before or after?

Wikipedia (I know it’s not the definitive art authority, but it’s awfully popular) brings up the notion of illusionism as mimesis or verisimilitude (what?)--just wanted to get your attention. That simply means what I already said—something either looks real or it doesn’t. Wikipedia kind of agrees with my view when it talks about recreating the human form as far back as 2400 B.C. and also includes creating realistic figures and surroundings in other eras from ancient Greek to Medieval to the Renaissance. It then picks up where the other site did, and talks about Gustav Courbet’s famous 1849 painting, A Burial at Ornans, as creating quite a stir, being an ordinary funeral. It also includes VanGogh’s 1885 painting, The Potato EatersToday's Image and almost too real for me, if you know what I mean.

One of my favorite painters of realism, as I’ve shared before, is Edward Hopper, who painted from around 1920 until the late 1960s. Now, there was a real realist. Every one of his paintings was of subjects you could relate to. He used light and shadow to depict his subjects in a very real, some say harsh, way, and the people in his paintings are doing the most ordinary things even if you don’t know exactly what they are doing. Take a look at his 1960 painting, Second Story Sunlight, and you’ll see what I mean.

After an extensive Google search, what I discovered is that Realism is one of those subjects that is not easily defined or compartmentalized, and there are many views as to what it entails. For example, I’ll save photo-realism for another blog.

My last blog was about Abstract Expressionism, or at least it was about a movie on the subject of Abstract Expressionism. Now, that is about as far away as you can get from Realism. And yet, in the art world they co-exist—what’s up with that? See what I mean about art being so interesting with something always new to learn?

Keeping it real...


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