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A question of concepts — realism, naturalism, hyperrealism, surrealism

Realism, Naturalism, Hyperrealism, Surrealism

When people generally talk about art that represents something as realistically as possible, they often use words like "realistic," "natural," "naturalistic," or even "hyperrealistic." Viewers often mean the same thing by these terms without being aware of the actual differences between the terms.

In the following, these terms are briefly explained and compared.

What is realism?


The term "realistic" describes an accurate, detailed and unvarnished depiction of nature or everyday life at the time of creation. This excludes fantastic elements and the idealization of the depicted, as was common in classical art. Instead, the focus is on the precise observation of the external appearance of the depicted person.

Realism emerged in the mid-19th century and originated in France, an artistic movement that rejected Romanticism. Artists preferred to depict the truth rather than expressing emotions. They therefore showed people of all classes in all (life) situations - although at the time it was almost scandalous to make hard workers the subject of a painting, for example.

These artists included Gustave Courbet, Jean-Francois Millet and Honore Daumier .

Realism deliberately aims to depict reality, including its unpleasantness, in order to portray the actual situation as accurately as possible, often with finger-pointing.

What is naturalism?


“Naturalistic” means the lifelike reproduction of nature with as few modifications (such as through idealization) and interpretation as possible .

Of course, the artist still has to make small changes to the image in order to create an impression of a natural image for the viewer. In the best case, the work of art has almost photographic quality .

The earliest form of naturalistic art is usually attributed to the Greeks, whose statues were very lifelike from a very early stage, while the first naturalistic painting is attributed to the Egyptians.

Naturalistic figure painting made further important advances in the Renaissance, while landscape painting was still considered too unimportant to justify such efforts. Its representatives included masters such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Albrecht Dürer and Caravaggio .

Modern naturalism later developed from English landscape painting and then spread to France and other parts of Europe.

Realism vs. Naturalism

There is a fundamental difference between realism and naturalism:

While realism is more concerned with the content (who or what), naturalism is more concerned with the way in which the painting is done. Realistic art is often intended to create some kind of social or political awareness in the viewer - hence, for example, the unsparing depiction of hard work during the Industrial Revolution as a criticism of the poor conditions in which many people lived. Realistic art is therefore often painted naturalistically, but the manner of depiction is not the actual aim of the work.

What is hyperrealism?


"Hyperrealistic" refers to works that create a lifelike replica of reality using extremely high-resolution photo references. The final product is indistinguishable from the reference. In the case of sculptures, the final work sometimes even shows more than is actually visible to the naked eye .

The aim of hyperrealist art is often to create a kind of false reality . Even just creating a "perfect copy" of reality requires a great deal of artistic skill, but these works of art go a little further: they are practically a qualitative "improvement" in which shadows, lighting effects, surfaces and textures are represented more clearly than they are actually perceived. This evokes different emotions in the viewer than the "original".

Hyperrealism emerged from photorealism, as a countermovement to minimalism and abstract expressionism. It reached its greatest growth in the 1960s and 1970s, promoted by a group of American and European artists. Famous representatives include Chuck Close, Gottfried Helnwein, Lee Jong-gu, Roberto Bernardi, Ron Muek and many others.

Realism vs. Hyperrealism

The main difference between realism and hyperrealism is that the former reproduces an image, while the latter is intended to evoke certain emotions in the viewer .

What is surrealism?


Surrealism is opposed to rationalism and uses art as an escape from present reality. This art movement is characterized by fantasy and dream images , the representation of which is both eccentric and symbolic .

Usually there are two different types of painting:

On the one hand, there is the hyperrealistic representation of objects, where oversaturation or monotony of color make it clear that they are surreal; on the other hand, artists use what is known as automatism, a representation of the subconscious (in collages, frottages, etc.). However, surreal works using these techniques can also be found in photography and film.

In the case of sculptures, there is usually an alienation of the object , a removal from its original context, which indicates that this situation does not belong to “normal” reality.

Surrealism originated in France in the 20th century among a group of writers, who were later joined by artists, including Yves Tanguy, René Magritte, Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró and Max Ernst . Their aim was to express the "unconscious activity of the mind".

Realism vs. Surrealism

Realism and surrealism are essentially only similar in name, with the exception that some surrealist works also include the lifelike depiction of objects. Both the methods of depiction and the goals pursued with each art form are very different: while realism is intended to make the viewer aware of reality, surrealism deals with the unconscious and the otherworldly .


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