Tag Archives: realism

Defining Realism and Adding Style


Realism is a word that is often used to describe artwork.  And, for whatever reason, if something looks realistic, the work is considered good.  But, what is realism exactly?  How should we define it.  What do people actually mean when talking about realism?  And how does style come into the equation.

I think first we do need to define what we mean by realism.  I think when most people talk about realism, they are talking about photorealism or hyperrealism.


“Kandy Kane Rainbow” by Charles Bell


“Golden Thoughts” by Mike Dargas

I think this distinction–so realistic it looks like a photo– when using the term “realism” needs to be made, especially when we are teaching our students about artwork and how to talk about artwork.

The next word we need to define is style/stylized.  For me, this means the artist’s personal “twist” on how they present their work.  They can make their work look realistic…proportional, recognizable, three-dimensional…but they’ve added themselves in how they do this.

Most artists work with a sense of realism, but they add their own personal style to their work.  Some artists are very tight. Others works are very free and flowing.  Then you’ve got those that work in a sketchy-like manner.  Style can add interest and evoke feelings in ways that maybe a photorealistic work can’t.  Style is what makes an artist unique.



Realism, Contests, and Contemporary Art


This past Saturday, I drove the long 4 hour drive from my house to Galveston to attend TAEA’s (Texas Art Ed Assoc.) 2015 state conference to present about TAB in my classroom for the HS Division Meeting.  It was a long and tiring drive, but I made it on time and rocked my presentation.

After the meeting, I went to a couple of sessions.  I am sad to say I only attended 3 sessions because most of the sessions didn’t really interest me, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t get anything out of the conference.  In fact, I was left with some burning questions regarding what we, we as art teachers, art supporters, administration, and society, deem as “the best of the best” in student art.

If you have ever been to a state conference you know there is a large expo area with vendors peddling their wares to all who pass by.  At TAEA conferences, there is a section of the area where student art is displayed.  In this display are the gold seal winners of the Texas state VASE contest. (Visual Arts Scholastic Event).  As I wandered around the padded display panels and looked over the 2-D art, I began to notice something that started to bother me.  All the winners were “the same”.  They all were highly rendered, realistic looking, self-portraits that were cropped closely and usually had some sense of foreshortening.  There were a few prints and expressive pieces sprinkled in, along with some photographs, but at least 80% were these self-portrait drawings.

A few hours later, after a wonderful keynote from Roy Wooley, I attended one last session before starting the long drive home. This session was about creativity.  Within the first 5 minutes, the presenter, Samuel Thomas, had me hooked.  He brought up something I had been contemplating earlier that day…the highly rendered, realistic portraits that win these contests and their complete difference from what art is being made and shown in galleries today.  Todays artists are pushing the boundaries and thinking in the most abstract ways, bringing in unusual/non-traditional materials to create these thought provoking artworks.

This session left me with more questions. Why do we not see these types of drawings that are winning our contests in galleries?  Why do we value these kinds of artworks from our students and not push them to think differently?  Why is being able to specifically point out and talk about the elements and principles in VASE interviews so important? (This is something I learned in my first session of the day about preparing for the VASE interview.)  Why are teachers pressured to enter these contests that really focus on this type of artwork and not commended for having their students think and making provocative work?

As an artist, teacher, and art audience member, I was more impressed and more interested in the sculptures that tackled issues and created conversation, and the paintings and drawings created with expressive marks.  While  I appreciate the skill and patience that goes into these drawings, I think highly rendered realism is overrated, and a bit boring.  Just take a picture.

I am curious as to why this is.  Why is realism so celebrated?  Why are we not “pushing” are students in a different direction? Why the disparity between high school art and contemporary art?

I do want to close by saying that I am hopeful that a change can happen.  Remember that creativity session I went to?  The presenter did mention this artwork that was submitted in an AP.

Mateo Nava DESIGN AND ARCHITECTURE SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL Miami, FL Site-specific performance; soil, muslin, wooden pedestal, shovel, shirt, pants untitled Dimensions vary with performance and installation phase

Link to more images of Mateo’s piece.

Granted it was a 3-D piece, but still…..I am hopeful.

**Added Addendum**

It has come to my attention that my piece is attacking on VASE and the teachers whose students win this contest.  That was not my intention. I sighted VASE and their winning artworks because that is what I saw at the convention and what caused the questions I left the conference with.  For quite some time I have had issue with realism and society’s celebration of it.  I do apologize for offending anyone or their art program that has won awards from VASE.