I’ve come to realize that, in judging realist art, my primary standard has become verisimilitude.
verisimilitude. noun. The appearance of being true or real : the detail gives the novel some verisimilitude.
I’m not talking about a perfect imitation of visual experience—that’s only one possible tool for achieving verisimilitude. I’m talking about looking at a painting (or part of a painting) and knowing what it’s like to be there, looking at the the thing the artist sees or imagines. It’s a sense of recognition, of grokking. Some highly “realistic” paintings have no sense of verisimilitude; some highly stylized paintings have it in droves.
For me, most photorealism is lacking in verisimilitude and therefore doesn’t draw my interest. Making a painting that looks like a photo creates no feeling of recognition. Most paintings by Paul Cezanne, although on one level relatively stylized, have a sense of reality that is completely engrossing. Any painting that effectively creates a sense of verisimilitude is interesting to me. Any painting that doesn’t, regardless of its technical achievement, tends to bore me.
In looking at a particular painting more closely, I often get a sense that the artist has nailed the verisimilitude in some parts of the work but not others. That’s often my sense of paintings by Van Gogh, for example—I see pieces that brilliantly let me see the artist’s viewpoint, while other parts just look like a scribble in paint.
In judging my own work, I find the same thing. Parts of any painting seem to have a high level of verisimilitude, while other parts are just placeholders for what I didn’t have the skill to properly represent. I know I’m done with a painting when I don’t know how to give any part of it any more verisimilitude.