Although I was being a little bit facetious with the title of this article, I thought that I’d talk about things like realism, visual detail etc.. in art today. And how important they actually are when you are making art.
If you’re a regular reader, you probably already know my attitudes towards “graphics” in computer and video games. Basically, since I can count the number of years in which I’ve been even vaguely “up to date” with mainstream gaming on the fingers of one hand, I generally tend not to care whether a game looks ultra-realistic or not.
In fact, I’d actually argue that less realistic graphics are better – since they not only make the audience use their imaginations more, but they also mean that the people making the game have to impress the audience by actually making the game fun, interesting, creative, compelling etc… instead of just dazzling them with almost photo-realistic visuals.
So, I wondered… is the same sort of thing is true with traditional/digital art?
The simple answer is yes… and no. Although art might appear to be literally nothing more than “graphics” at first glance, I’d argue that there are a lot of underlying things that are equally important as absolute technical perfection.
These include things like the artist’s use of things like colour and lighting, the composition of a drawing or painting (eg: where everything is placed in the picture), visual storytelling, having a unique style (developed through practice and taking inspiration from lots of different things), subject matter, humour, atmosphere etc…
To give you an example of this, here’s a preview of a digitally-edited gothic horror painting of mine that will be posted here in a few days time.
On a purely technical level, this isn’t one of my best works. For starters, the woman by the window has an eerily long neck and ridiculously long arms. Likewise, some of the shadows are probably in the wrong places too.
But, I tried to compensate for this by creating a gloomy, gothic and ominous atmosphere through the use of things like chiaoroscuro lighting, old fashioned location/fashion designs, an imposingly tall background and a slightly unsettling variation on a yellow/purple complementary colour scheme.
Likewise, I’ve added some mysterious visual storytelling to the picture by drawing the woman looking out of the window at something. Even though this picture was terrible on a technical level, I actually quite liked the finished painting.
So, if you’re even vaguely ok at using underlying elements like the ones I’ve mentioned, then your audience will probably be more willing to overlook any technical shortcomings in your art for the simple reason that they’re either more interested in the overall “look” or “atmosphere” of the picture, or what is happening in it.
A great example of this sort of thing can be found in regularly-updated webcomics and syndicated newspaper comics. Since they to be made in a short space of time, the “graphics” tend to be a lot more basic and minimalist.
Yet, this doesn’t matter in the slightest because the audience is more focused on things like the characters, dialogue and humour. The classic example of this is the webcomic XKCD – the characters are literally stick figures, yet it is rightly one of the most popular webcomics on the internet because of the clever humour, writing etc…
But, at the same time, “graphics” still matter to a certain extent if you are making art. After all, in order to express yourself visually as well as possible, you need to put in the practice and learn the basics.
You need to learn things like the rules of perspective, colour theory, the basics of drawing people, the basics of realistic lighting etc… So, yes, some level of technical skill is still needed. Not only will gaining more technical skills will allow you to draw more stuff and it will also help you to impress the harshest critic of all… yourself.
I mean, when I decided to start practicing every day in 2012, my art looked a bit like this….
And, no, I’m not going to say how old I was then. Other than to say my art looked like something someone half my age could have drawn. But, I kept drawing (and, later, painting) because I enjoyed making art and I wanted to be an artist. I wanted to make art that looked cool.
So, I kept putting in the practice and gradually, I got better at it (to the point where the art I make actually looks a bit like the scenes I’m imagining when I draw or paint them). I’ve probably still got a long way to go, but learning technical skills through lots of regular practice really helped a lot.
So, yes, “graphics” do matter when you’re making art. However, they aren’t the only thing that matters. Things like personality, clever design decisions, visual storytelling etc.. matter just as much as technical perfection and/or realism do.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂