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The verisimilitude test

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.

Posted in art technique, painting.

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  1. Anwar says

    I think I know what you mean. Every Rem­brandt I can remem­ber has that “V” in every part of the pic­ture. Yes, Picasso’s too….mostly. The Mona Lisa seems to have that in some parts and not oth­ers but one part melts into the other so sub­tly cre­at­ing some­thing rather eerie. It is as if we are watch­ing life come to one part and die off in another simultaneously.

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