why my art doesn’t look “just like a photo!”


“Oh my god! It looks exactly like a photo! Wow!”

“Just like a photo! Amazing!”

If you decide to work in a realistic style as an artist, you hear this all of the time. And it’s always intended as a compliment, and I do take it that way.

All the same – it makes me inwardly cringe.

And this is no disrespect to photography. Photography is its own art form with its own set of standards.

But it’s nothing like painting and I hope that my painting is nothing like it.

Somewhere during the last 100 or so years, photography became our substitute for what real life looks like. We view the world through a lens, photographing our memories, our experiences. It’s gotten easier and easier to record our entire lives through the click of a button.

And in some ways, that’s really wonderful. But it’s like we forgot that the world was 3D first and 2D only after we release the shutter.

A photograph happens in a split second – it is one specific moment, captured exactly as it was. (Photoshop aside.)

A painting, particularly a painting done from life, is a record of a series of moments of life. It is a record of moods, of breathing, of slight movements, of the three-dimensionality of the moment. It is not a split second experience, but an experience of days and weeks and months.

I don’t want my paintings to feel frozen, the way photographs do. I want you to believe that my painting could breathe at any moment, that they could get up and walk away – or better yet, dance away.

I want my paintings to trick you into believing that real life is happening within the depths of that canvas. We can’t suspend disbelief with photos – we know what it is. We understand how it happened.

But there’s something about a painting or drawing that allows us to believe for a second that there is something more going on. That maybe there’s a whole world just beneath the surface of that canvas. That maybe there is magic. We fall for the story, for the mystery.

Paintings speak to us in different ways than photographs do. Not better – just different. They speak to the part of us that has been making marks on walls for 30,000 years; that urge to create our own worlds, to tell our own stories, with our own hands.

So I hope my art doesn’t make you think of photos. I hope my art makes you think of life.

(This was first published in my newsletter, which you can sign up for here!)