Realism Art vs Photorealism vs Hyperrealism

Dream 103 by A.D. Cook

Dream 103 by A.D. Cook, 2016

Getting Hyped on Realism

Recently, while at the National Corvette Museum for the Gala and unveiling of the LUSTER: Realism and Hyperrealism in Contemporary Automobile and Motorcycle Paintings, the attending artists and I had the pleasure of sharing our art and insight with the museum’s marketing team and docents.

One of the big questions that often arises from collectors and museum docents is, “What is the difference between realism and hyperrealism art vs. photorealism art?” I love that question because it involves distinct differences, often blurred and blended.

Museum docent is a title given in the United States of America to people who serve as guides and educators for the institutions they serve, usually as a volunteer (unpaid) position. The English word itself is derived from the Latin word docēns, the present active participle of docēre (to teach, to lecture). Cognates of this word are found in several extant Romance Languages (and languages influenced by Romance languages) and are often associated with university professors or teachers in general. For example, in Spanish language, the word "docente" (from the same Latin root) means “teacher.”

A Different Reality

INTREPID pastel artwork by A.D. CookREALISM ART uses many forms of media to create the illusion of something real. It is often referred to as representational art because you know what it is when you see it, but you also understand that it’s art. It is realistic but not photorealistic.

Realistic art might include portraits of any medium that look real enough to identify the sitter or illustrations of a car, home, animal, or whatever. If it reads as believable, it is realism art. The artwork can be in full color, black and white, or even bold, expressive colors, so long as it is realistic in style.

A good example is figurative statues, which fall into the realm of realism art because they are realistic but not photo-real because they are three-dimensional.

FOR SHOW motorcycle painting by A.D. CookPHOTOREALISM ART is precisely as it sounds. The artwork is created to fool the eye into believing a painting is a photograph as precisely as possible. The discipline of photorealism art is an exacting process of creating a believable illusion, and when done well, it engages the viewer to look closer at the art and see what the artist sees.

Photorealism art can be any subject and painted in color or black and white, so long as it looks like a photograph, even up close.

HYPERREALISM, derived from hyperreality, depicts the evolution of our perception of reality, creating confusion between signs and symbols that represent reality. Hyperrealism creates a blend of fact and fiction, making it difficult to distinguish where one ends and the other begins. That makes creating art more fun for me.

Most of my artwork leans more toward hyperrealism, combining realism and added hidden treats (or Easter eggs). I like creating realistic paintings but don’t adhere to photorealism standards. I want to have fun with my paintings, so I play with my imagery to make them more than just a well-executed picture. While I trust my photo reference images for a massive part of my art, I often stray from that reality to tell a story, adding little nuggets of fun to engage the viewer. So, while I adhere to the photos I shoot for my art, at a certain paint I set my reference pics aside and embellish my story.

Hyperrealism is about something more than technique. While photorealists distance themselves from adding emotion and intent into their work, hyperrealism artists insert narration and feelings into their paintings.

Momentum paintings by A.D. Cook, 2024

My recent painting, MOMENTUM, features two Corvettes, a 1953 and 2023, celebrating their seventy years as America’s sports car.

There are hidden gems and some not-so-hidden, like the large flag spanning the skyline, the Hollywood Video mountain and beams of light on the far left of CREATION (the ’53), or the VIN hidden in the car’s grill. It’s more for you to find them than for me to reveal them all here. Learn more about my Corvette diptych here.

Sometimes, I like to hide things in plain sight, like the one-hundred-and-three skulls hidden within the soapy bubbles in my DREAM 103 painting. Some people tell me they don’t see the girl in the bikini at first until they see her, and then she’s always there.

LUSTER at Corvette Museum 2024

National Corvette Museum official logoThe LUSTER Exhibit mentioned earlier features a stunning collection of realistic artworks at the National Corvette Museum, on display through January 5, 2025. Each of the fifteen featured artists is a master of creating an illusion in the studio, and I am honored to include five of my paintings among the sixty on display

While visiting the museum, I could not help but be drawn by my fellow artists’ amazing attention to detail in their art. Exhibitions like this are the best place to view these pieces from a distance and up close. There is no better way to experience real artwork as intended by the artist, and the Corvette Museum is first class.

LUSTER Exhibit at The National Corvette Museum, 2024. See more exhibit pics.


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