A Snapshot of Art History and Photorealism

Mar 23, 2017

The camera has been arguably one of the most disruptive technological advancements in art history. From the first cave paintings, art was used to tell stories and record historic events. Then roughly 150 years ago, the camera changed the way we captured the visual world. Suddenly art wasn’t the only way to depict historic events, people, and places. The camera was able to capture all of these moments with amazing precision.

Louis Meisel, President and Director of Louis K. Meisel Gallery in New York, tells us that the introduction of the camera coincided with the beginning of the Post-Impressionist movement. He sees the camera as having enabled the Impressionists to evolve their style. Over time, the academic art world loosened its restrictions on what was acceptable in fine art. This explosion of styles continued until we see the Abstract Expressionist movement in the 1950’s. By the late 50’s and into the 60’s, we see a resurgence of Realism. This in turn led to pop artists like Warhol, Lichtenstein, and other now famous artists.

It was the early to mid 1960’s that saw an increasing amount of work being created directly from postcards and photographs. As the work increased in technical detail, the Photorealist movement was born.

This is where the story of the disruptive camera comes full circle. Now painters were using information captured by cameras to reproduce it. But the art world was reluctant to accept this new form of painting. And no art schools were teaching students how to produce Photorealism. Some even considered Photorealism to be the return of artistic restrictions that had been shed away so many years before.

From the beginning, Meisel has always been a supporter of Photorealism – or what he and others call Postmodern Realism. In his recent talk with One Art Nation, he walks us through Postwar art history in a way that is both imaginative and informative. His closing words are those of wisdom.

In a world that increasingly worries about the future value of art, we should instead concern ourselves with what the art actually looks like – and how the work makes us feel. Before the financialization of the art market, and long before the camera, this is how most people saw art.

To hear more from Louis Meisel on Photorealism, check out our video on WHO IS A PHOTOREALIST AND WHAT IS PHOTOREALISM? Watch Now!


Matt Beasant

Matt Beasant is a self-taught Canadian artist and experienced writer, born and raised in Northwestern Ontario. Represented by established Canadian Galleries, Matt has exhibited at the Artist Project Contemporary Art Fair and the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition in 2016. His work is characterized by crisp lines and bold gradients which are applied by hand using many thin layers of paint –...

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