1. Introduction: A Strange Situation
As Realism of our time rapidly emerging into one of the prime modes of contemporary artistic expression and since “official” criticism and academia has no ability or desire to examine the process, we find ourselves in the strange position of having to do it ourselves.
The Post Modernist philosophy of Art is dead and the alternative has to emerge.
Firmly believing in a tangible diversity of a true contemporary ART there will be new philosophies based on drastically different if not opposite worldviews and it’s great. The ages of “single-righteous” “art-of-the-day” are long gone - good riddance. Yet, "post-modernism" for what it came to represent is a thing of the past as well.
As our practical and technical abilities grow we simply cannot avoid a host of key theoretical issues left in intellectual limbo since the establishment instead of fulfilling its intellectual duty to examine what is in front of them is systematically choosing to ignore the reality on the ground and continue pushing morally bankrupt “same old” long lost its luster post-modernist creed.
The idea is to outline most significant to our “self-determination” points that require great deal of clarity in order for us, the practitioners, to make that all-important next step in developing our ART and our collective movement.
2. A Very Flawed Basis of Prejudice
In the very short list of the most consequential topics, I consider to be the relation of realist mode of expression on one side and photography on the other. Because of its enormous consequences to a position of Realism as one of the vibrant and viable forms of contemporary expression the understanding of this key topic needs some defined clarity.
There are two important, commonly accepted without questioning sides to this – “pedestrian” and “elitarian” which are laughably identical (and which in itself betrays a level of “official” understanding)
“Pedestrian” consists of a very basic “honey, look its so real, just like photograph”, boooy how many times did we hear that.
“Elitarian” conjuncture is based on same “pedestrian” proposition and with the logic worthy of a first grader goes as follows - “with the invention of photography in 1826 and its subsequent technological improvements there is no more need for Realism. It is an obsolete form fully replaced by photography”.
This is it. There is nothing else really in the theoretical foundation of a great cultural purge of the last century that saw 45 thousand years of humanity’s unique and specific cultural tradition first ridiculed, than gleefully chased out of any remotely “respectable” institution of contemporary art.
The assumption, first clearly stated and lately silently assumed, is that “realism is not art” (really, but of course) and is based solely on this proposition and amounts to nothing less than ideological prejudice of official modernist and post-modernist establishment against Realism that relegated our venerated form of artistic expression to the back of a cultural bus for the last 50 years.
Let me state with most unambiguous and firm clarity - this proposition is factually and evidentially wrong. By continuing to use it and basing their policies on it in the face of the overwhelming scientific knowledge the establishment displays just about same intellectual credibility as inquisition’s insistence that the Sun and the Universe rotate around the Earth and with just about the same cultural consequences.
Here is one of my favorite examples to the drastic difference of Realist Art and Photography: here is the photo of a famous and Chaney-like hugely un-popular at the time super-conservative minister in the czar Alexander III government, Konstantin Pobedonoscev, who advocated Russia being “frozen in time” and who authored some of the most notorious policies of the period. Under the photograph are strikingly revealing live studies by Valentin Serov and Ilya Repin
3. Two Very Different Systems
The systematic capability of human visual perception is untouchable to a technology for an uncertain, perhaps an infinite timeframe. The arrival of bioengineered humanoids might add a certain aspect to this conversation, but that would be an inter-specie issue. As it stands today for all its remarkable advances the most cutting-edge technology compares to human visual capability as a stone ax to an International Space Station.
The evidence is vast and continuously growing as science gains ever more insights into the still vastly unknown territories of inner workings of human perception.
So here some side-by-side and very rough comparison of both systems capabilities.
On behalf of advanced technology here is physicst John Callas Ph. D.
On behalf of human capability, is Dr. Liviu Eftimie.
Lets “shop around” and compare some specs on two systems.
Limitations of Digital Photography
by John Callas
Digital photography has clearly surpassed film-based photography in almost all areas. The ease, immediacy and low cost of digital photography have lead to its dominance and ubiquity. Humans now experience much more of their world with digitally collected images from pocket cameras, camcorders, cell phones, etc. through broadcast media, web pages, social media, etc. Although this contributes to the human experience, digital photography has limitations. (Film photography also has limitations, but digital photography’s dominant contribution to the visual experience today makes it the subject here.)
The human eye is a magnificent device seeing a broad and continuous ranges of colors, shades and detail that is not capture by photography. Although we may remarks at the color and detail of a color image, much information is missing. In fact, our own brains deceive us by filling in missing information from our own previous visual experience. So we perceive detail and color that is really not there.
Digital sensors in cameras do not “see” (detect) colors. The picture elements (pixels) in a charge coupled device (CCD) or CMOS (complementary-symmetry metal–oxide– semiconductor) image sensor of a camera detect only total light, not which colors. In other words, these digital detectors see only in black & white. Color discrimination is achieved with the use of selected color filters that transmit only one band of color to the detecting elements (pixels). Due to the need for simplicity, cost-control and efficiency, compromises are made on the detection of color.
2x2 Bayer Filter
Most digital cameras use a Bayer filter (named for Kodak scientist, Dr. Bryce Bayer) on top of the imaging sensor to permit the collection of color information that is later used to render the color image. The Bayer filter is a 2x2 filter arrangement that covers 4 pixels at a time with one red, two green and one blue filter (see figure above). The green filter is used twice as much because of the human eye’s dominant sensitivity to the color green. So each pixel sees one specific color. Full color is then achieved by processing (combining) information from adjacent pixels. However, this contribution to color from nearest neighbor pixels sacrifices spatial resolution for color information. But even with this trade of spatial resolution for color, the spectral (color) information is incomplete and limited. Even adding more pixels, as camera manufactures do to improve spatial resolution, cannot compensate for the limitation in the spectral response. The color limitation of digital cameras is inherent to the monochromatic response of the sensors, their limited range of intensity sensitivity and the limited number of filters used for color rendition.
The human eye is sensitive to a broad and continuous range of colors from the red (approximately 700 nm in wavelength) to the blue (approximately 400 nm in wavelength) with all shades in between. (People with color blindness sense a more limited range of color). The digital camera only sees three colors (“red”, “green” and “blue”), representing each as a single number. In reality, it would take hundreds of numbers to fully characterize all the colors the human eye can see. Even though the three color filters together can cover the spectral range of the human eye (some cameras don’t even do that), all the colors seen in each filter is reduced to a single number. This is like recording the music of a symphony orchestra with just three notes, then trying to reproduce the music of the orchestra with combinations of just those three notes. This might sound implausible, but this is where the trick comes as camera manufacturers use their proprietary algorithms to interpolate the limited color information to produce “pleasing” results. Not only are the colors of the photographs not “real” in our perceptual sense, they represent consumer oriented “commercial color” choice. The brain has “reprocessed” the specific red, green and blue values from the observed color in the digital image using previous experience. For example, when we see the “approximated” digital colors of a facial skin tone or a flower’s petals our brains perceive what the actual color detail should be, not what is really there.
Further, there is a limitation to how dim or how bright the image sensor can detect, a characteristics called dynamic range. Very bright signals will overflow a pixel (saturate) and even spill into adjacent pixels (blooming), while very dim signals are not detected at all and are recorded as black (or black with some noise). So a very intense red may be recorded as just a moderately bright red and a subtle shadow may be lost as totally black.
It must be understood that when viewing a digital image, you are viewing only a fraction of reality, that your own experience is providing the missing information. Your brain is converting the limited “paint-by-numbers” (color by numbers) palette of the digital image into the full color spectrum. And you are accepting the limited intensity variations and spatial limitations as an approximation of reality.
A very rough overview to a Human Architecture of Perception
By Dr. Liviu Eftimie
1. detection of electromagnetic spectrum 400 to 680 nm (visible radiation)
2. truly mind boggling range of light levels of astronomic numbers, up to sixteen powers of 10, it is a range represented by a whopping 17 figure (!!!) number; with after dark adaptation of 35 min humans being capable to attain 100,000 times more sensitivity, capable of sensing from billions of photons to a single photon with rods capable of making a differentiation, there’s some ISO
3. electronic impulse going to a cell taking 1/24 sec to replenish or reload itself, hence we can discern 24 frames per second as a continuous motion which Lumier brothers discovered empirically and which is the basis of the movie technology, so 1/24 sec is our “shutter speed”
4. the Duplex Retina has two forms of vision a) Scopatic for low-light perception with spectral sensitivity in the region of 507nm and performed by rods b)Photopic for bright light perception with Spectral Sensitivity in the region of 555nm and performed by cones
5. there are 120 million rods dedicated to Scopatic Vision and 6 million cones dedicated to Photopic Vision
6. Scopatic Vision is responsible for tone and grey scale reading and Photopic Vision is responsible for color evaluation
7. Cues to the depth perception: both monocular and binocular with Monocular perception including Motion Parallax, Accomodation, Pictoral, Angular Declination, Relative Size, Linear Perspective, Texture, Interposition, Clarity, Lighting and Shaddow and binocular perception including Retinal Disparity and Convergence
Yet the key difference here is how this actually pretty lean and remarkably efficient hardware is being used.
In about four billion years our visual system evolved to match a very specific range of sunlight “site specific” to light conditions of Earth atmosphere and particularly important to our survival, if we had, let say a mainly radio wave emitting sun in our solar system we might have had a different parameters of perception just as bats who don’t need the eyes, but use sonar, a sound based system. Yet, we are light based organisms or we might say “creatures of light” and so the visible to us range is perhaps the most critically important to us and that’s why we don’t see the infrared or ultra violet parts of the spectrum.
One of the key functions of overriding importance for our system is Depth perception. Even mole has two eyes even though they serve a rudimentary function. Scarcely few animals on earth have only one eye.
Human Visual Perception is a purpose built /developed by the evolution continuously evaluative dynamic system, and a depth scanning apparatus. Our visual system is by default making judgments, the camera does not.
This difference results in a stark difference of parameters in taking a shot with the camera with the way our brain evaluates an image. All much touted upcoming improvements not withstanding, the camera is still only capable of taking a single frame at a set exposure, aperture and ISO. A human brain is weaving an image out of what seem to be an infinite individual “exposures” and “apertures” with an enormous "ISO" range across the entire field of view and within each instant, all resulting in specifically human depth of field.
In addition we have to constantly make a choice of picking what is important to us in a field of view due to incomparable live scale of objects that we are surrounded by. The live size mountain is perceived and forcibly judged much differently than its shrank and flat photographic rendition.
Our empirical perception processed and cross-referenced through our ideas and concepts together create an experience. Our perception system is experiential in its structural design. That is what makes painting an experiential medium.
This is the system, which is producing our kind of ART – to dismiss this whole area of human activity wantonly is just as dim-witted as it is unconscionable.
Proposition: Realism is not ART
Argument: Photography made it irrelevant
As the argument is wrong, the proposition is false
Key Point: Technological capability is infinitely inferior to a capability of a human perception. Realism is a product of a highly developed human perception that cannot be replaced by any technology.
The policy which is based on a provenly false proposition is a fraud. Iraq’s WMDs or derivative based “new economy” come to mind. Continuous marginalization of Realism by the establishment, based on a false policy is an “institutional prejudice”.
It is an inseparable part of a systematic corruption in power structure of our society that brought us to a current crisis and in some sense led to it. It is why dissecting all underlying structural fractures are key to containing the damage.
Realism is a practical science of developing this particular set of human capabilities in a system that itself was developed through a continued 45,000-year long lab test.
“Adele” by Richard Schmid
A great and influential example of American Realism you won’t find in any “serious” museum collection
4. Relevance to Art Education
Now, what does all this scientific mumbo jumbo really has to do with us the artists, the practitioners? An excellent question.
It is an object and goal in a long continuous tradition of our curriculum in artistic study of nature to develop those natural mechanisms and abilities of our human system to their fullest potential.
Understanding their inner workings contains a huge relevance to our entire process and a great insight to what we need to improve through our learning.
a) color – value
For example, understanding of our Scopatic/Photopic separation is essential to our understanding of mechanisms of perceiving tone and color.
As there are 120 million rods to 6 million cons, we have twenty times more capability of reading value than reading color. This is our biology talking. For each measure of color we have to have twenty measures of value to fulfill our system’s visual requirement.
The implications of this understanding to our process are enormous. Does it mean that color is twenty times less important?
I would argue exactly the opposite that for the color to work in such drastic proportion it would have to be twenty times as effective and accurate as our eye probably seeks the color as a much more rare and enormously cherished commodity. Yet, the importance of values obviously cannot be overstated for any meaningful color interpretation.
“Skyler in Blue” 16” X 12” by Jeremy Lipking
b) depth perception
Another hugely important area is a relation of our enormous grayscale reading capacity to our perception of depth and the understanding of vital importance of depth-reading for our survival. In that sense our entire visual perception is an evaluative depth scanning system.
Which brings us straight to a purely classical, academic tradition and its singular focus on Form in a dimensional sense and its entire objective of development of an active Spatial Vision.
Il Comico Divina. 40” X 30 “ by Tony Pro (Fragment)
c) NOVOREALISM and new stage of visual evaluation
The visual acuity matures by the age of 8 years old and than permanently keeps developing and adjusting – a key to our concept of learning. Our perception is a permanently improving and updating system and our way of relating and adequately judging the visual reality is different than ever before, hence our realist expression is different as well.
Novorealism is about developing most current human perception system marked by advanced capabilities in visual evaluation of form, tone and color based on our most current stage in our constantly evolving visual perception.
NOVOREALISM stands on “Human Perceptualism” - as a highly developed human ability to see and judge visual information through a complex system of live training advanced and refined through centuries of classical visual tradition to our current level of perceptual development. From Greeks and Leonardo to Russian School and Richard Schmid – who developed perhaps the most powerful practical realist art theory of the 20th century.
The Seagull. 20” X 65” by me (Fragment)
What is the main conclusion of this understanding of our system? The inseparable unity of Form, Tonality and Color for our comprehension of the Visual Image. Ability to master this unity is what made every great master truly great.
I am talking about developing of a basic visual functions. The visual abilities that could only be developed through a continued and persistent live drawing and live painting practice by making a brain to continuously confront a task of converting “life size” three dimensional objects into their two dimensional interpretations. This is the function directly opposite to a two-dimetional – to – two-dimensional copying of the flat image.
Important Note: Let me also be abundantly clear, I am not talking about “criminalizing” the use of photography as such within the process of realist art making, this is an individual choice and preference of an artist, it is just a tool and we are talking about the capabilities of this tool. There is nothing wrong with the hammer, as long as it is used to drive nails into a wood and not to clean dishes when the result might be somewhat different.
Plainly put it, just by copying a photograph one would never learn to create a realist image.
This is a capability developed through a long and repeated practice. It is largely due to what is known as “plasticity” of human brain. The brain can learn things, but it takes long, repeated practice and once set, the learnt abilities are hard to “redo.” If predominating “default” mode of image processing is “live”, then for any input image the brain will interpret as a “live” image, be it flat photographic, a drawing or even a thought or someone’s description, as our imagination and memory makes the input image “live”.
Artists who primarily work live have a vastly different way of perceiving visual world than artists, whose prime and often only source are photos.
There are countless areas in which “photographic” image differs from “realist” and in every vital to it category. It is limited in value reading and definition, it is unsubstantiated by the understanding of underlying dimensional volume in a defined form, it does not evaluate distances, its is arbitrarily limited in artificial color extrapolation, it is void of a conscious and sub-conscious choice and does not make judgments in facing overbearing quantities and scales.
5. Scotopic or Photopic ART forms: Post-Modern De-Evolution of Senses
It could be argued that with the emergence of impressionism the Photopic System emphasizing bright color in bright light started to gain emphasis over the Scotopic System of tonality. This led eventually to a complete abandonment of tonal differentiation of form by post-impressionism and modernism.
Suppression and rejection of tonality led to emergence of ever more basic and chromatically simplistic primary colors that permeated society through product design and brand advertisement in a trajectory from Velazquez’s Las Meninas to red and white Andy Warhol Campbell Soup can. In some sense modernism and post-modernism could probably be called a "Photopic Period".
Suppression of Scotopic sensory system and of a fine evaluation of tonalities leads to inability of discerning the multitudes of fine temperature and chromatic shifts much in a same way the growing up listening to saturated with repetitive rhythm loud pop music shuts down the ability to discern the sound dynamics in classical music or in a same way as people hooked to food high on sugar, salt and fat never have the opportunity to develop the taste for fine cuisine and organic flavors.
As visual processing occupies major parts of the brain, the denial of its adequate and full development most likely spills over to underdevelopment of other areas.
The overall trend could be described as post-modern society’s de-sanitization and de-evolution of senses.
Yet, we firmly believe that artificial suppression of naturally existing biological systems and of their function only leads to its scarcity and desirability.
We are the voice of the species and of its human nature. We are representatives of the full system that refuses to be shut down internally like Stanley Kubrick’s “HAL”.
NOVOREALISM is aimed at finding an area of interaction and correlation between both Scotopic and Photopic systems in a form of Mesopic Vision, bringing both to a new level of unity and sensory development.
Pretty extreme examples of “Photopic” visual interpretation in Matisse’s Tristel and of “Scotopic” in Pieter Fransz de Grebber’s “Christ at the Column” in S.F. Place of The Legion of Honor
6. On NOVOREALISM and Photorealism
Here we step into another vastly important theoretical and practical consequence of this fundamental difference between human based and technology based systems that shapes the view toward the relationship of Realism or in our case NOVOREALISM to Photorealism.
Important Note: I would emphasize again and again – there is nothing wrong with either one, it is just that they not only different, but opposite in their objectives, applied perceptual mechanisms and the outcome. Photorealists’ works not surprisingly “look just like photographs” and this is their purpose; “realist” works – do not. Again either one is fine and there is room for both, but the difference has to be clearly noticed as the criteria applied to each is vastly different, if not opposite.
I will repeat exhaustively – this is NOT the case of which one is “better” or “righter” – it is a case of clarity in definition of the unique and valuable aspects of each of them and a necessity of judging them according to their own rules.
By no means shall it be interpreted as a judgment of artistic or cultural merit based on the tools used, including the camera, or much less advocating a superiority of one ART form over another. We are talking strictly of inferiority-superiority of two vastly different systems, one based on technological revolution, another – on the biological evolution NOT the ART forms based on each of them. But it surely has to be interpreted as clear separation of one from another and as a clear differentiation of each distinct features.
Photorealism captured and reflected a genuine fascination of humans with newly emerged technologies of the last century. Photorealism is aimed at faithful and proficient recreation of technological rendition of reality.
Photorealism – as a recreation of technologically based rendition of reality – is a very important, generously recognized and widely represented part of post-modernist counter-aesthetics of the second half of the last century. (I would personally tend to believe that ever since techno-gadgets became disposable, useful and annoying consumer products “that” level of fascination is long gone much like admiration of OMG, running hot water or personal telephone at the beginning of last century, but that would be just me)
NOVOREALISM is a re-creation of realistic objects based on rules and instruments of human cognition
NOVOREALISM as method is always perceptual and is based on personally interpreted objective rules of human cognition and processing of visual data through highly developed and individually refined sets of individual shifts and preferences in human sensory systems
NOVOREALISM is different, if not the opposite, in its basic principle to Photorealism.
Key Point: No, the real world does not look like a photograph. If its “looks like a photograph” it does NOT look like the real world and therefore it is NOT Realism, but Photorealism – something that intends to look like a “real photograph” and not like the “real world”.
Proficiency of copying the photograph is “photorealism.” Proficiency of perceiving the form based on live experience is “realism”.
Whether “realism” or “photorealism” – they are good for what they are, not for what they are not, an apple cannot take offence for not being an orange and can never be judged by an orange as their standards are drastically different, yet both of course could be ripe or rotten and the same is with ART.
Every art form has its own ripe and rotten, yet they shall only be judged by their peers and according to their own rules and this is the main point of my argument.
Here is a great example of photorealism at its best in Chuck Close, Inka 2003 oil on canvas, 102 x 84 inches and realism at its best as practiced by a wonderful artist Susan Lyon
Realism in contemporary ART:
serves different function, it is based on different principles and presents a different phenomena than photography,
reflects and is based upon a highly sophisticated human perception system,
is uniquely different from “photorealism.”
Claiming that realism is outdated as it is replaced by photography constitutes gross counter-scientific superstition, militant ignorance and blatant prejudice.
If such notion is ever again mindlessly repeated by any supposed “art authority” its shall be firmly refuted as either grossly incompetent or purposely deceptive.
The continued marginalization of realism by the establishment based on this un-true proposition is an equivalent of an inquisition insisting to Gallileo that sun and the universe are rotating around the Earth.
In ART we trust!