Visual culture (write an essay) Example

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Visual Culture


Considering the context of visual culture, there exists a conspicuously thin line between realism and naturalism. This is because, while realism refers to the pictorial representations of nature as perceived in the realistic world, naturalism is considered as a naturalistic mode of visual depiction in which certain representations are regarded as equivalents to things as they appear in the real world. Visual depictions and perceptions of the real world have been subject to change over the past few decades as technology advancements have taken centre stage in the various aspects of human life. Pictorial representations have taken a whole new turn as artists discover new methods of expressing their sentiments and perspectives of the real world. The journey from simplistic representations in the form of drawings to sophisticated representations such as photographs is a depiction of the transition between naturalism and realism. This essay seeks to establish the extent to which realism differs from naturalism.


Naturalism took centre stage as the perception of the real world in pictorial representations as a result of the events that took place during the European Renaissance. This brought about significant transformations in the artistic arena as artists adopted the naturalistic approach to expressional representations of the perceived realistic world. The transformation brought about by the emergence of images as a new real made it possible for allegations by art scholars to find their way into the mainstream avenues of education. At the epitome of naturalism, the representations of the real world were considered to be equivalent to the actual things in the real world (Cooper, Löwe and Sorbi, 2007, p.33). Before the emergence of naturalism, representations were made based on the justifications presented by reason. Due to the profound power of color to espouse emotions, artists began to incorporate the use of color in their artistic representations, a practice that was missing in the previous practices of art. The intrusion of romanticism into the world of art brought a whole new difference in the perceptions of the real world through imagery. In essence, emotion displaced reason in the sense that the mixing of colors in the works of art evoked various emotions in the observer. The artist doing the painting was able to choose colors that responded to the emotions he wanted to evoke (Brown, 2001, P.106)).

The invention of the camera revolutionized the expression of representations of things in the real world. Photography came with a more sophisticated method of depicting things in the sense that the artist was given fewer privileges to incorporate the use of color to manipulate the emotions of the observer. This way, images revolutionized the perceptions of the real world as they are capable of depicting things in an actual manner that is almost equivalent to the way they appear in the real world. Artistic representations were transformed by the invention of photography as images and other works of art took a whole new turn (Carr and Correll, 2009, p.42). Due to the representational orthodoxies prevalent in the artistic presentations made in the previous works of art, the nature of naturalistic representations was one that utilized art to interpret life rather than the other way round. In this case, naturalism not only centered itself on the human perspective of the real world but also tried to explain the emotions with which people perceived different pictorial representations at a deeper level. This way, the conventional messages conveyed by the visual aspect of culture was more vivid, thanks to the naturalistic representation of things in a way that was regarded as the equivalent of the things in the real world (Visala, 2011, p.30).

The real world and the perception of the world as depicted in the works of art is a chaotic juxtaposition in itself in the sense that, the two are not in harmony despite the close resemblance as alleged by naturalistic artists. The use of color to evoke emotion is a rather limited source from which exclusive conclusions can be drawn. This is because, emotion alone cannot provide reliable judgment since it is subject to change and it is influenced by external forces. In this case, Moser (2002, p.11) argued that naturalism is a less sufficient approach to the realistic depictions of the things as they are viewed in the real world. As a result of the emergence of naturalism, visual depictions found a whole new meaning as representations were equated to the things of the real world in a more elaborate manner. Consequent to the occurrence of photographic representations, artistic paintings were substituted, necessitating the need to adopt the naturalistic mode of realistic visual depictions. This way, the perspectives previously held about the interrelation between the real and the artistic depictions drew nearer and nearer hence eliminating the need for either reason or emotion to justify a work of art. However, it is worth noting that naturalistic representations are only limited to the photographic depictions as they are the only expressions with close-to-real representations without the influence of romanticism (Durden, 2013, p.106).

Unlike realism, naturalism is characterized by variations brought about by the fact that the interrelation between the real and the perception of the real depicted in the works of art are not in harmony. The lack of consensus evidenced by the contradicting emotional differences among humans. This necessitates the use of artistic representations that incorporate emotion, reason and ideologies inspired by previous literature, which is only available in the realistic expression of representations. Due to the thin line that exists between realism and naturalism, it becomes a bit challenging to establish an appropriate work of art that captures not only the emotional aspect of things in the real world. It should also the actual aspect which is justified by reason and inspiration from previous works of art. Further, Reyner (2010, p.92) argues that an additional aspect of realism referred to as photo-realism is generated by the naturalism of photographs because photographs present less sophistication compared to paintings. While paintings convey a message that is tailored by the artist for an intended effect, photographs are general in nature in the sense that they capture nature as it is without the influence of an artist’s choice of color and source of inspiration. As Boyd (1992, p.133) stated, this implies that as much as traditional methods of depicting representations are realistic, the extent to which they portray realism is far much less than naturalism.

Both realism and naturalism depict an expression of representations as perceived to be in the real world. However, naturalism is more inclined to the notion that these representations are equivalent to the real things of the real world. This is to say that the works of art created whether by work of hand or through technology equipment have the potential to convey a message to the observers in an undoubting manner. Thus, the representations ought to depict not only the present but also the past and the future. The past is where the artist draws the inspiration and the future should give the artist an overview of the observer’s expectations upon viewing the depiction (Cochrane, 2008, p.65). Nevertheless, it is of paramount importance to note that no matter how realistic a depiction might seem to be, it will remain to be an illusion of the real. This is because both realism and naturalism depend on human input in the creation of a depiction. Rosenblum (2007, p.38) argued that while paintings on one hand portray a depiction with the influence of the artist’s choice of color and source of inspiration, photographs, on the other hand, are as a result of human input to invest in innovation. The innovation whose result is the reproduction of images that is more or less like the real things as they appear in a realistic world.

Unlike naturalism, realism is said to be devoid of romanticizing and idealizing. As such, it is based on utmost truthfulness since representations are portrayed as they are in the realistic world without the influence of emotions. This is to say that, whereas naturalism is based on the comparison between the portrait and the real, realism is about a photographic representation in which no additional color, inspiration or ideology is involved. The difference between realism and naturalism in this case is as a result of the emergence of photography, which is not subject to romanticizing and idealizing as is the case with paintings from artists (Strassler, 2008, p.395). The inspiration of realism is drawn from various sources. For instance, since realism tries to portray life as objectively as possible, social and political unrest that was prevalent during the 19th century catalyzed the adoption of realistic representations in a manner that later culminated into what is today referred to as the media. This development was as a result of realism’s response to the political and social unrest. This implies that realism not only tries to depict the realistic world as it is, but is also inspired by the quest for justice in society and politics. This is contrary to naturalism, which is more concerned with the perception of the observer on the real world (Ruhi Yaman, 2003, p.109)

Following the political and social unrest in the 19th century, realism artists took it upon themselves to use art to depict the everyday lives lead by the people. In doing so, it would portray a message of dissatisfaction, which typically, would be followed by affirmative action. The desire for natural justice in society and politics was an inspiration to the realism artists who were obligated to produce artistic works that were more ideologically focused in their realism. This is to say that, while naturalism is focused on general depictions, realism is based on what the artist can see. Duvernoy (2012, p.192) stated that imagination and inspiration alone are not enough to provide the artist with content. Realism artists are driven by the desire to make a difference in society by drawing inspiration from sources around them. In this regard, it is not as easy for a realism artist as it is for a naturalism one to draw an angel. This is because realism artists only depict what they can see unlike their naturalism counterparts who draw inspiration from imagination and previous works of art. Consequently, the extent to which realism artists can solve current social problems is way higher than naturalism artists. Both realism and naturalism are based on the expression of representations in a manner that is either similar or equivalent to the things in the real world except that realism is more dependent on the present vision than naturalism (Delapp, 2009, p.13).

Realism is based on the principle of abstraction. This is where an artistic work only presents the outer meaning and implications of a phenomenon in the real world. It is limited to the surface of observable facts in the real world. In this respect, realism art is said to be oppressive. Thus, it is necessary to develop a method of depicting representations in a less oppressive way. This is catered for by the introduction of symbolism. Symbolism was permeated by the desire to focus on the inner mind as a source of artistic representations. This way, abstraction will be separated from realism, hence pave way for in-depth artistic representations (Folger and Turillo, 1999, p.743). However, during the first half of the 20th century, there emerged a new adoption of realism, surrealism, in which modern culture and inspiration from the unconscious mind were involved. This was to go hand in hand with previous assertions that confirmed the superficial nature of realism as a tendency of depicting representations. Surrealism was expected to reinforce the use of abstraction in realism, which was a retrogressive trend as far as art is concerned. Realism advanced the sentiments that art and life are on a straight line, one depicting the other. However, this notion was dismissed towards the end of the 19th century when it was unanimously agreed upon that life followed art and not the other way round (Reeves, Duncan and Ginter, 2001, p.139).

Realism and naturalism are both expressions of depictions as perceived to be in the real world. In this case, they both act as a mirror or a reflection through which society forms its perceptions. However, naturalism is more of the imaginations and ideologies of the artist portrayed to the observer and do not necessarily depict the realistic representations of the real world (Rothberg, 2000, p.183). This is because of the fact that these depictions are influenced by the preferences of the artist in terms of color and situation. Further, the circumstances under which naturalism artists depict realistic representations are based on the emotions experienced at that time. This is not the case with realism representations because their inspiration is drawn from observable things in the environment (Helmreich, 2011, p.1242). The limitations evident in the naturalistic depictions forms the basis of our argument realism is more liberal compared to naturalism considering the sources of inspiration and the circumstances for the two. In addition, the transformation brought about by the invention of photography not only advanced the realistic and naturalistic perspective of depictions but also widened the rift between the two. This is because of the fact that the representations made through photographs are more naturalistic when compared to painting, whose representation is dependent on the choice and manipulation of different colors (Roark, 2003, p.203).


In conclusion, both naturalism and realism are perspectives from which things in the surroundings are depicted in representations. Realism is when the representations in the work of art is done in a realistic manner that resembles how we view things in the real world. Realism is prevalent in pictorial representations while naturalism is common in paintings. However, it is possible to find realism in paintings as well as naturalism in pictorial representations. Naturalism in depictions is inspired by imaginations whereas realism is influenced by observable phenomena.


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