After many conversations with artists about the merits of style in art, I believe that a misconception exists among many artists: the idea that “realism” is outside the realm of style. Most designers I've known tend to categorize designs as either realistic or stylized.
The truth of the matter is that any type of art, no matter how realistic, is only approximating what we see in reality. As artists, we’re interpreting two-dimensionally the response that our eyes and brains have to what we see in life. Images that approximate three-dimensional distance, perceived color, lighting exposure, and visual organization, are really using stylistic modes of representation (like perspective) to approximate a complex visual experience.
This is why I believe there's no such category as "realism" in art. Everything is stylized. Even photos or movies contain only a fraction of the information our eyes and brains unconsciously calculate and organize when we see something. Even the most "realistic" drawings and paintings are still stylized representations of what we see.
Just to be clear, I don't think this means that attempting to give the audience a “realistic” experience is futile, but that we should approach it with this attitude: rather than believing wrongly that we are reaching the impossible goal of realism, we should design with the knowledge that no matter what, stylization of some sort will be the final result. Once an artist understands this, he may use his knowledge of design to manipulate what the audience sees and thereby control how the audience reacts.
Anyway, I'd like to hear what other people think about this idea. I'm still developing my art theories, so feel free to post comments in rebuttal if you see flaws in my arguments.