Battlepanda: Digital realism


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Digital realism

No, not the geopolitical kind. I'm talking now of representational realism. At the risk of oversimplifying the creative impulse, I think it's fair to say that capturing the world visually was a tremendous impetus behind a lot of artistic creation before the advent of photography. Now, near-literal realism is available to all of us with a camera, at practically zero cost if it is a digital camera. Where does this leave realism as an artistic endeavor?

I believe we have come full circle with these images done with Adobe Illustrator that might as well be photographs. In many cases working from photographs, artists painstakingly recreate images from scratch using the building blocks of the program until they achieve a disconcerting degree of convincing verisimilitude. Although they consider themselves artists, these creators of images are outsiders in the mainstream art world. This makes it all the more fascinating to me that the Adobe Illustrators makes art that is so stylistically simiilar to many of the photorealists working within high art, most notably Chuck Close. Compare the two following images...

These images come from completely different paradigms -- the first, "angel" by I-evermind, is a pin-up-esque image enlivened with an unusual figure position; the other, by Chuck Close, is an example of the ever-popular genre of artist's self-portraits. Despite their different intents, both images seek to signal merit in the same way -- look at me! I am absolutely artificial. I am absolutely genuine. You know this by comparing me with reality.

Notice the absence of a background in both images and the dominance of a single figure in the foreground. Exquisite attention is paid not to capturing the gesture or essence of the figure, but its physical nature, its surface textures. The grain of the skin, the wisp of the hair, the way light would hit the figure or the face are all captured with brute clarity. Why the artist would want to depict such a figure is all but forgotton as we revel in their virtuoso display of skill.