Painting by Peder Mørk Mønsted (1859-1941)
One of the most frequent compliments I commonly hear about realistic paintings is usually: “looks like a photo”.
My impression of this type of comments has never been too favorable.
While it’s undeniably true that some realistic paintings might be “photographic” in looks, the comment simply states the obvious and praises at most the technical ability of the painter.
It doesn’t take into account its expressiveness nor all the other aspects that the painter carefully put into his craft.
No matter how realistic a painting might be, it’s always a selective operation of synthesis. Every single color and form is deliberate.
That’s very different from taking a photo.
Are we still surprised that after the rise of photography as an art-form even the approach to painting changed, from the fragmentation of cubism, to expressionism, surrealism and so on?
There was the need of reclaiming the uniqueness of a brush stroke and portraying a world that is as much “inside” as it is “outside”.
But even a realistic painter portrays both worlds.
Complimenting “realism” for its own sake seems to reduce the experience of art to an eye-trick or a gimmick. As: “It looks like something else and yet I know it’s not.”
That’s what tricksters and illusionists are concerned about, but what about artists?
While it’s true that art plays with the “imaginary”, here I’m mostly alarmed by the vacuity of those spectators who are so detached from the holistic experience of art (and perhaps life) as to noticing only esthetic similitudes.
Even looking at a natural landscape can offer something deeper if we are sensible enough. Otherwise we can intellectually reduce it all to dead rocks.
If art has a function perhaps it’s this: to put us into contact with the “spirit of things”. Or, in other words, with the “beauty of experiencing”.