Saturday, February 18, 2017

Regarding Photorealism

I was at first inclined to wonder who would recognize what's depicted in this painting by Richard Estes, but though there likely are very few of them left in the world, it's probable that they've been seen by most of those living in one or another of the old movies TBS or some other channel shows at all times of the day.  Phone booths, once ubiquitous, are no more.  For that matter, there aren't that many public phones of any kind, either; at least, I haven't seen them, or more properly noticed them.

Still, charming as they are or were, one might wonder as well whether they're appropriate subjects of a painting, even when painted so realistically.  Especially so, when painted so as to resemble a photograph. 

Of course, painters have often enough painted objects such as flowers and fruit in bowls with considerable accuracy.  But only certain artists are photorealists, who paint from life or from photographs to create a work which seems to be a picture taken by a camera, and do so deliberately.    I would imagine that some would be compelled to ask--Why?

For my part, I find such paintings and what seems to me to be the idea behind them quite alluring, even perhaps amusing in an ironic or sardonic sense.  The thought of an artist painting a picture to mimic another picture, made not by an artist but by a camera, a machine, appeals to me.  Is it a comment about the pretensions of art?  Is the artist noting that what artists do is little more than what a camera does?  Is the artist demonstrating that what we do, when we see, is make a snapshot or video of the world?  Is photorealism a celebration, or criticism, of dualism generally?  Am I composing too many rhetorical questions?

It may be that photorealism is a reaction to art which seems to studiously avoid the real.  "Modern Art" I suppose some would call it; art that deliberately depicts the normal, day to day world and normal day to day people and things not as we see them, but as the artist wishes us to see them and think of them.  If so, I sympathize somewhat with such a reaction, though I have nothing against the varieties of Modern Art and find many such paintings quite attractive.  At the same time, however, I don't find them appealing as statements of any kind about us or the world, or the artist, at least of any profound meaning.  The may be so intended, but if so I'm too dull to perceive or be enthralled by them.

I have no pretensions when it comes paintings.  What I find appealing in the work of the photorealists, beyond the fact that I find the thought of painting photographs or creating paintings which look like photographs strangely pleasant, is usually what is depicted in the painting; phone booths, diners, street scenes, reflections of cityscapes in large windows, sometimes various kinds of Americana.  I admire the skill and patience involved in painting images so exactly.

And also, I think there is something about the real--the world in which we live--that is itself compelling and powerful, that has impact, even when it is familiar and mundane.  It may not be beautiful, it may even be horrible, but it's where we live and we're a part of it, no matter how hard we may try not to be.  There can be skill involved in photography, even art, but there's more skill involved in painting the world than operating a camera, and skill is admirable when it creates.  Photorealism is honest, and the honest perception and depiction of the world is admirable as well.

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