Thursday, October 25, 2007

RANT of the Week: STYLE

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.


  1. You've given me some interesting insights into things I've never really considered before. Very interesting.

  2. This sounds similar to the argument that all art is abstract. Or in other words every painting or drawing (or image) is an abstraction of reality. Despite one's best efforts to replicate an image perfectly it can never be more than an icon of the reality it attempts to depict.

  3. Hi Sam. It's me Philip, the Calarts student/ wanna be artist. How the heck is everything for you? Hope all is well. You're a smart guy Sam. Love the work and would love to keep seeing more. Thanks for all the inspiration and intellectual art theories. cheers!

  4. I know its a good thing but my head is alway spinning after comin here....
    Something that I will ponder more on but doubt I would be able to come up with a remark that sounds anything close to intellectual sooooo......

    Thanks for always cookin such good noodle soup

  5. Nothing new under the sun, but I agree, and this is a point that must be wrote again and again to make people remember.
    Btw, even who see our drawings are not seeing them in real, they are seeing an image in their brains of the image that our brains made into paper, which is fun..:)

  6. Good point.

    And I agree every representation of reality has to some degree be stylised. Even images in our head, memories. Only reality can not be stylised. I think.

  7. This is a keen observation on your part Sam. I too learned through my last film project, and a very talented designer, that the depth in animation to control every frame of a film to ultimately enhance what the viewer is seeing and feeling is something you should never over look. Every frame you see in a film like Pinocchio or Ratatouille, is done by hand, and thus art directed and controlled in every aspect from color and motion through sound, and shape language. This "stylized" art form has got to be the most insane to attempt to master. Because when it happens, and it is rare, every image contributes to the conveying of a singular idea in every aspect of execution. Wonderful indeed =]

  8. Thanks for the comments!

    Berk, Guillermo: Yes, I know it's not a new philosophy---yet I still hear people making the erroneous distinction between "stylized" and "realistic" art all the time. So if all I do is make more people aware, it's worth a post.

    Philip: Hey there! Everything's going great. I hope you're enjoying school this new semester.

    Steve: Yes, exactly my point! It's not about just realizing that everything is stylized, it's about using that fact to lead your audience along!

  9. I've never thought about it that way, but you're right! It makes me think about how some of the most "realistic" art can also be some of the most stylized. Just shows how complex art is, I guess.

  10. Mmm, true enough. Does the problem stem from semantics? The word itself does express a category, with what word would you replace realism in this context?

  11. Tom: Hmmm, good question. The problem is that there are so many brands of "realism," or so many different ways of achieving the illusion of realism, that it's hard to fit them all into a single category. Is Bouguereau more realistic than Rembrandt? I don't think we could decisively say, and while both of them could be called "realistic," they each use different models of light and color to achieve the illusion of realism.

  12. You know at first, I never thought I had a style until I read this. I always thought I was just a realisim type of guy, but if you think about it. Anything published, conducted, brought to the screen or pad ALL has style. It's what makes each of us so different.

    Thanks for the great read, awesome art and for coming to my page. I love your work :)

  13. Realism vs. Stylism CGI I has made it possible to immulate reality to the point that it is very hard to tell the difference between what is real and what is CGI. But without the stylized input that is unique to human creativity what is the value of this TOOL. All artists, sculptors, musicians, and actors have style. If these talented people where only able to duplicate reality the only way it was previously perceived without injecting their own individual creativity or style all creative work would look, sound, smell, taste and feel the same. Being able to manipulate the perception of reality and control it to expound on a creative idea is powerful. Being able to replicate reality WITHOUT STYLE is monotonous, boring, and mundane. Style is the unique creative blueprint of the soul. In every art class students works are differentiated based on talent and style. Artists who intrested in developing cute children's books tend to have different styles than artists who are interested in Gothic Skull & Bone type work. Even if both artist were able to master realism would either be able to step outside of their style and work in the style of the other artist. Can a aerosol, or airbrush grafitti artist trade styles with a landscape watercolor artist and vice versa. Would their styles still be evident in the new work that they are trying to convey. I would say that if an artist is disciplined and work hard they can learn realism, but I believe what they consistenty express through their work is their style. Ten art students in one class working on the same subject matter are going to have 10 distinct invidually stylized pieces of work. It would be interesting to have a class of art students all draw the same exact photo and see if any of the work comes back looking EXACTLY the same as the original and or EXACTLY the same as the others. Realism VS Stylism. I think both are necessary, but our REALITY would be very boring without STYLE.

  14. I think the differences between realistic (as in similar to real) and stylized (intentional adjustments made to reality or imagination) can be summed up in the pursuit.

    The pursuer of the real is making a full force attempt to perceive all the real information and relay back what the artist can report of that experience. Combined into the report are all of the artist's training, strengths, weaknesses, and the artist's ability to dispense with preconceived notions (mannerist or stylistic solutions) of what is being seen and newly understood. Problems result in realist art when it becomes mannerist, or rather when the same solutions are brought to bear for different or similar problems. This does result in different stylizations of realist imagery. Realistic imagery can not be truly accurate to our actual full sensory perception, but it can be believable.

    The person who seeks a particular style typically deals with subtle (Rockwell) or extreme (Cheeks) characterizations of the real or imagined. Too often style simply means rote emulation of another artist who has developed a unique design approach to their work. Though emulation can be useful as a study tool and for large unified group projects, it often hampers the development of a unique abstracted perspective of design potential. It tends to be easier for stylized work to be mannerist, that is, to return again and again to the same solutions for challenges in design. Stylization is never visually believable, but tends to attract the lyrical unconscious response. A reaction to something that is recognizable, yet novel.

    This is not to say that either precludes the other, or that they can't work in tandem. In fact, pursuing realism in study work (sketches, figure drawings, etc.) can help to deeply inform stylized work. It can help the artist see more deeply and perceive new solutions. It expands visual experience. Understanding stylized work, such as Mignola's comics, can help inform value pattern potentials in realist work. And so, no (obeybook), full fidelity realistic work is not inherently boring and neither is stylistic work inherently interesting or useful.

    In the end though, I think when two examples of art, say an early Picasso and a high end Rembrandt portrait, are shown together, there are few that would have a hard time distinguishing which is realistic and which is stylized. Realism tends towards experience, while Stylization tends toward imagination.

    Let me say that I'm simply wandering in the doldrums of the mediocre neither and that you'll notice I use words such as "tend" a lot in my statement above.

    The artist deals with tools not rules.

  15. Hi sam,
    I think that oftentimes art in general, but especially the cartoonist style is created or manipulated in such a way that intentionally impacts the audience in a specific way. In fact, many people before us, studied all those resources and their effect on the audience.
    In europe, make art in this way is not considered as such. Picasso said:"An artisan paints what he sells, and a artist sells what he paints"

    Another related quote about reallism:
    - Mal Branch: " What we see is not in things, but in our souls

    - Salvador Dalí: "If Dalí copies a photo the result is a Dalí´s work, if someone stupid copies a photo, the result is a stupid thing.

    When Dalí was asked what the difference was between a photo and the exact realistic copy of that picture made by Velázquez, without any stylization. He answered: "Six millons dollars"

  16. Thanks for that. I whole heartedly agree.


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