"Wow! It looks just like a photo!"

__This is one of the most common responses to seeing my artwork. I often work from photographs but not always, so why do they often say this? I investigated it a bit and came up with my “Template” theory. It reads as follows.

Toms theory!
Whilst researching my book, I’ve discovered many new techniques on creating photo/hyper realistic art from many very talented artists, others I’ve discovered myself. I’ve tried to analyse what it is to create such artwork and broken it down to essential elements required to fool the brain into seeing something it’s not which was close to the subject of my book: “The Quest for Hyper realism; an analytical approach to creating hyperrealistic artwork.”
In the book, I wanted to try and find the answer to some questions about realism. I wanted to find where the line was (if it exists) between perception of reality and perception of two-dimensional art and photography. In other words the differences between a real peach and a painting or photo of a peach.
In order to answer this, I had to ground my definitions of reality and of art.
What is art? By this I mean, what is it physically? Well, it’s marks on a surface placed in such a way that when we perceive the patterns with our eyes, we recognise them to symbolise objects seen in the real world.
From only a few months old, our brains learn to perceive the world around us. We learn how light falls onto surrounding objects and shows their form. We quickly understand for the sake of self preservation that a large dark shape on the ground with no obvious objects to cast the shadow could mean it’s a deep pit we could fall into and hurt ourselves.
As we grow older we gain a better understanding of how things are in order to gather the best information of our surroundings. For example, we see a peach. It is roughly spherical, has a smell, taste, texture and colour range distinct from other objects we find. We log in our brain that all of this sensory data can be made into a TEMPLATE called “peach”. When we come across some of these elements that make our “peach” template (initially visual ones like shape, colour, size) or brain scans the library of templates to find a match. In the example of “peach”, there can be a mismatch if it happens to be a “nectarine”. But if we have no nectarine template, we soon notice that the texture is not a match and perhaps create a new template “nectarine” once we know it to be so.
But how then do we “see” a peach or nectarine in a painting? Well, we can match several of the visual elements to our template. We can also see that it is not real, so another new template is formed “painting of a peach”.
What about the difference between a photo and a painting? Why is it when people see a realistic painting do they say it looks like a photo and not the real thing?
This is quite simple to answer now, it’s because the two templates “painting of peach” & “photo of peach” have more matching elements than either have with the template “peach”. The fact that people mistake a painting for a photo lies in the fact that they both have close similarities, especially when it is a photoreal painting.

(painting by Julian Merrow-Smith)


A wonderful walk-through Tom. I too think that we have “templates” —but not like a file folder per se as some may think (to avoid climbing into bed with the semi-problematic but long standing brain-is-like-a-computer metaphor) but are rather a collection of reflexive responses elicited when particular groups or populations of neurons exhibit particular firing rates—giving rise to a particular set or string of “brain-states.”

It’s fascinating to explore the arts in this way and, I believe, the most effective way to offer real insight into the art experience. I am really looking forward to reading your book. :smiley::smiley::smiley:

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Thanks, Anthony. My book has now transformed into a potential documentary(s) instead. Which is more my thing coming from a tv graphics background.