Friday, September 2, 2011

Get (un)real

There is a big opportunity to say something refreshing and new in both traditional art and illustration right now. The reason is that there's a huge movement toward photo-realism in both camps, for some odd reason.

Why do art students demand this hyper photo-realistic quality in their art?

I think one of the reasons has to do with why video games have gradually moved away from the fun, cartoony abstractions they were in the 1980s to the hyper-realistic simulations of today, where the measure of the game is its realism and not whether or not the gameplay is challenging.

That's one reason, possibly; but I don't want to go down that road. The video game philosophy stuff waits for another day and discussion.

Whatever the reason for the push toward hyper-realism in art, one thing is clear. The camera is the ultimate and final master of photo-realism. It will not by outdone in this field, for obvious reasons. That alone makes me scratch my head (why go in a direction that the camera has perfected?)... but the real problem is that if you aspire to photo-realism in your work, then all you can do for your public is what the camera does for them right now.

And the majority of non-artists don't appreciate a good photograph, anyway. They take vacation snaps and throw them away. Their cellphones are littered with odd shots in bad lighting, and these make their way to the internet. Because of this increasingly disposable medium, the value of a good photograph is disappearing. People aren't going to care about good photographs as much as they may have done in Ansel Adams' time. Good and bad photographs are just a Google search away.

So let's connect some dots here... if

  • Artists are pushing toward what the camera gives them anyway
  • People can find good (and bad) photographs for free on the internet
  • The general public is valuing good photographs less and less

...then obviously new art is going to be regarded as similarly disposable. Non-artists don't understand the work that goes into making a successful painting or drawing. They'll shrug off photographs in the blink of an eye; why wouldn't they do the same to a photo-realistic painting?

Photo realism, for this reason, is a dangerous slope that will marginalize artists' work and make laymen appreciate art less. Hyper realism in art reduces an artist's work to mere technical mastery and completely removes an artist's sensibilities. There's no message anymore... the only message if any is an echo of the photograph, and that message is getting largely ignored by the public.

Much of the enjoyment in a good art piece is seeing what details are left out of a piece... seeing what the artist's eye caught and what s/he wants you to see, and feel what s/he wants you to feel.

So what's to be done? There is plenty to do. Getting away from hyper-realism is one of the things, especially in fine art.

For illustration, it's similar. If people can get the same results from photographs that others do from hyper-realistic illustration, then soon nothing will be left for traditional illustration. Good design comes through no matter how abstract the concept. Even a layman can recognize a great design, and understands how much work goes into a great logo. They will appreciate something that was obviously done from an artist's mind and not something that could have been done with a camera lens.

The field is wide open for someone audacious enough to just "go for it". It always has been, and always will be. Trying to defeat the camera at its own game is a zero sum game at best, and there's no large audience waiting to applaud you for doing so--certainly no market. 

Ironically, this message won't make it past my walls... so it just leaves more of this field open for me and those of a similar mind. So.... carry on :)

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