“Realistic” Painting

When I was in fifth grade I got a valuable lesson in what makes art realistic. A boy in my class challenged me to a drawing contest: which one of us could do a better drawing of war time, as judged by our teacher. I got out my markers and drew a pretty, colorful cartoonish drawing of a tank and stuff. He drew a scribbled pencil sketch that to me, looked like a huge mess. Who won? He did. The teacher said his drawing, drab and chaotic as it was, represented what war was really like, more so than mine.

Which of these two paintings do you think better represents “war”?

Francesco Goya, “The Third of May 1808”


Watercolor by Kenneth Wootton

People occasionally ask how I get my paintings to be realistic.

Close up of "Dance" by Alyssa McFarland

Close up of “Dance” by Alyssa McFarland


I always say: Paint what you see. The trick is in the seeing.

Let’s look at a so-called realistic painting. What makes it seem realistic?

I would argue it is because most everyone would agree, “that’s what it really looks like.”


Hyperrealistic painting by Patrick Kramer


Now take a subject where the painter has taken a bit more creative liberty. This may be exactly how this painter sees the world, but not with his eyes. He’s filtering what he sees through the lens of imagination.

Noah’s Ark by Thomas Kinkade


What about stuff that doesn’t even look like it’s trying to be “real”? Well then you’ve got a case of the painter perhaps trying to express a new way of seeing:

“Weeping Woman with Handkerchief” by Pablo Picasso


Your thoughts?

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