The limitations of hyper realism

The limitations of hyper realism

My views and opinions on the subject of hyper realism.

Art is in my opinion a unique field of creativity, in that through the artist we can be given something which can not be expressed in any other way. The job of the artist is to convey, and by that I mean in terms of emotion and meaning and food for thought. But when I see such works which are indistinguishable from photography it seems to me at least that art as a field of creativity loses some if not alot of the very reason it was invented in the first place. Also it is good to involve the viewer and even allow the viewer to participate in the act of creation. Hyper realism seems to me to deny this kind of collaboration between artist and viewer and I mean this in a critical way. It shows immense skill to show a scene which appears like a photo, but there are drawbacks as there is with all things. I have seen many hyper realistic works and in my view they all have at least one thing in common which is almost like a common failing. They more often than not depict scenes which are actually very mundane and if they were photographs they just might be judged as mundane as photographs aswell. Having the knowledge that what I see is in fact a painting does not suddenly make the image ascend in my mind to a level of greatness. Why? Because the image is the image whether it is a painting or a photograph. It is what the image conveys in terms of meaning, that is what makes art and the artist interesting. I personally feel and think that the greatest artists had another common denominator, which is that they conveyed something which did not exist in the eye in the real and natural world. Through art they conveyed things which spoke, to the intelligence but also to the heart and to the soul. They also involved the viewer. I will take three artists to represent this kind of conveyance of meaning and expression and things which do not exist on any other level or in any other form. Rembrandt Van gogh Picasso These artists conveyed much and knew what they were supposed to be doing as artists, which is to convey expressively, and to convey meaning and food for thought. For example the starry night by van gogh. This is a masterpiece because it involves the viewer and the artist is central to the picture. It manages in one image to convey meaning as a painting, as a commentary on starry skies, but also conveys what is at work in the heart and soul and mind of the artist. All the things I've mentioned which in my view constitutes great art is what does not appear in hyper realism. I'm not saying that hyper realistic artists are not capable of conveying, what I am saying is I've not seen one yet.

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Hyper-realism seems to me to offer very little scope for interpretation - although it is often extremely skilfully done: well, it needs to be, or it wouldn't be hyper-realistic. But I dislike it, particularly in the field of portraiture - of course, you have to get the details of the face right, so that the subject is recognizable: but there seems to be a current fashion among portraitists to include every single detail of the subject's surroundings - the ornaments, the chairs, the view from the window.... why? A photograph could do that; maybe it wouldn't do so as attractively; maybe the paint adds something; but I find them intensely boring as portraits - they shift the focus to narrative painting from the subject, however accurately the subject may be rendered. I don't see that they succeed even as academic works, though many of them are - large portraits, to be hung in a lawyer's chambers, or a company board-room. No doubt John Berger had something to say on this, in his book on portraiture: and as I've just received a copy as a gift, I shall now go and read it.

You say that 'a common failing' of hyper-realist paintings is that they 'more often than not depict scenes which are actually very mundane'. I believe that this is often the essential point of such paintings. The history of subject matter in painting can be seen as a slow evolution from 'lofty' mythological, religious and historical subjects through aristocratic portraits, bourgeoise interiors, genre subjects and impressionist scenes painted en plein air to the everyday subjects of kitchen sink, pop art and so on. I see this as a kind of democratisation and have a lot of respect for that. It also seems to me that hyper-real paintings reject anything obviously interpretive in order to present of a kind of documentary, 'dead-pan' realism. That they are a painting, often to an enlarged scale is, I think, meant to overwhelm and absorb or shock the viewer, heightening their focus on detail and the strangeness of things. Some so real that they become surreal.