“I am not an angel," I asserted; "and I will not be one till I die: I will be myself.”
― Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre
The world has seen the age of realism in all its stark nature with the onset of the movement in the 19th Century. Clawing away at the twee and fancy, realism made it clear that art was to represent truth. Truth is cold and bitter at times, which alerted artists to some morbid and dark subject matter such as Hard Times by Sir Hubert von Herkomer (pictured). Initially, to move away from flamboyant imagery, artists took to the shadows and lines in a new way. The form gradually evolved from showing the darker side of existence to simply complimenting reality with accurate mirror-like painting.
Perhaps by learning how to replicate reality to such high quality was seen as a true artistic homage to nature and form. The expert touch required to create realistic looking art is undeniable, and not all have the ability. Those that do have the natural skill can sharpen it until they are painting such realistic images that it can be seen as a form of worship to the truth.
Fashions come and go, and although realism made real headway during the early 20th century with popular artists becoming internationally acclaimed for the works, times moved on and other forms of art began to make themselves heard. The famous people of the day were commissioning their portraits with the brand name artists, which had an effect of over glamorising the form. Perhaps as photography improved and became accessible to more people, the desire for realistic art also became diluted.
It has seen a new wave of interest however, with the internet rewarding artists with exceptional quality. It can be shown that realistic art is always well received by art loving communities, and the skills are celebrated in forums and websites. This has made a new wave of realism begin to crest in the art world, and this year's Edinburgh Art Festival reflected this with a large array of realism on display.
Plying open the vaults to discover what history has to say about realism has revealed a few swept under the carpet secrets. Propaganda of the time relied heavily on realistic images depicting the political ideal. Social realism from the Soviet Union and Nazi Aryan iconography can all be shown to categorise in this form. This clearly raises questions about the influence that super real art can have. Does the expert skill command a level of authority simply by the nature of its required ability level? It's unsure how much was fashion and how much was political theory, if only we could be a fly on the wall in those meetings where such things were agreed upon.
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