Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Art and Realism

OK, so I can post this here and be sure nobody will ever read it. Great.

First of all, you, my entirely imaginary reader, might ask yourself, "Why is Colin writing about art all of a sudden after abandoning the blog for the last six months?" Well, over the past year or so I've found myself interested in art again. I've been trying to first get back to the point I was in high-school, where I could draw a half-decent picture sometimes, or so I thought.

That's a sketch I did in March. Here's an image I did more recently:

I think I'm getting better.

Anyway, today on Boing Boing, there was a link to this post about the world's most photorealistic art.

It is amazing. However, the comments thread below that reveals two camps among the readers. First, there is the "OMG that's amazing!" camp, which is an understandable position. The second is the "this isn't art and it isn't impressive" camp. The second camp was shortly being criticized by the first as a bunch of jealous haters. Maybe some of them were, but they have a point.

The point is brought out by this comment. I quote:

Once you learn the technique of using gradient mesh, you find out how easy it is to do if you have great patience. Bert Monroy doesn't use gradient mesh so his works are raster rather than vector.

for those who can't believe these were done in a vector application, see what I did in less than an hour using Adobe Illustrator mesh.

The link goes to a pretty good initial rendering of a red pepper. Here's part of it:

Most of the images are basically traced from a photograph using the mesh tool in illustrator. It certainly takes skill, but not quite as much skill as you might think.

I worry that a lot of people, people who are amazed by those pictures, come away with the idea that the artists are superhuman, mad talents. They say to themselves, "I could never do something like that." This is a shame. The artists are talented, but most people have artistic talent if they can learn how to access it. Most people could do a pretty good job of "something like that," with the right tools and enough practice. Maybe not quite so good as the artists showcased in that post, but better than they might expect.

It seems to me that most people don't get into art because they are discouraged and frustrated by their initial attempts. We all want to draw something as real as a photograph, and we are disappointed when we can't. The same people will look at those pieces of photo-realistic "art" and not realize that the realism is the result of a normal, human skill level coupled with a good piece of software.

The other thing they might not realize is that achieving realism like that is impressive, but it's only the beginning for an artist.

Realistic drawing is a starting point, a basic skill (difficult, maybe, but still basic). The problem with most of these pictures is they don't go much beyond that. Some of the people are beginning to take it further, by simplifying and modifying as a traditional painter would do, but a lot of it is too slavish to the original material for my liking.

My painting, above (done in Photoshop, by the way, but painted on a blank canvas), was done while looking at a photo, but it differs from that photo in many ways. Some of those ways are limitations in my skill, but others are deliberate. I didn't want a picture that looked exactly the same as the photo. I wanted some of the things that paint can do, which includes a certain amount of randomness and near-randomness, as well as an interaction between the artist and the subject. The process itself is part of the picture. The process is part of the picture in the Illustrator mesh copies as well, but I think the process is cold. Too cold for me, anyway.

If I get to the point of being able to do pictures which look like photographs at some point, I like to think I will use that skill to make pictures which could never be photographs.

I'm not there yet. Obviously. But that's part of the process too, eh?


Splitcoil said...

Well looky here. A secret blog. No secrets among Channelers, sir!

And need I remind you of my staggering inability in the visual arts? Maybe everyone has access to some kind of artistic talent, but mine has nothing to do with drawing, painting, etc.

ArkanGL said...

Welcome back, Colin!

colin said...

It may be that you are one of the few people who really can't draw, SC, but actually I'm not convinced. I've been reading Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain recently, and the examples she give of progress by people who took her course are astounding, or rather, would be astounding if I didn't already believe that most people can learn how to draw.