Paintings Are Better Than Photos

Broad statement. A painting is not reality. At best it’s the artist’s impression of reality. A photo, on the other hand, is a direct consequence or recording of reality. That doesn’t mean we can’t manipulate a photo. We can change the lighting, add or subtract light, change the background and improve the film or digital imaging, or just resort to Photoshop and change everything. With a painting or other art work I start from scratch. I don’t actually change anything; I add everything. I choose what I add and sometimes I just make it up. I don’t necessarily add everything I see, so a painting is fundamentally different from a photo.

Thousands of years ago it must have been a great epiphany to climb deep into the earth via a cave, to see animals and hunters jumping off the walls animated with torchlight. Some of the artists drawing on cave walls were very good, and to them the drawings had a much greater connection to the animals and people drawn. I have read some opinions that this may be why the hunters are almost always depicted as stick-men where the animals often have a very realistic quality.

I don’t intend to argue that a painting has a better connection to the real world that a photo, but the fact that I am drawing it and have the opportunity to instill a sense of my perception of the scene does make a difference. As an artist if I can project some part of my experience of the scene then that is more than a photo can do.

As a professional photographer I played with light, apertures and depth of field. I used various lenses to show the scene in the way that I wanted and I enjoyed it but the equipment is expensive. As an artist I can do the same thing but the equipment is much less costly and I observe the scene for a longer time and make changes that I wouldn’t or couldn’t with a camera. It’s these changes that add something more to a scene than a photo. I’m in awe of good photographers. It’s unlikely that I would paint a scene that I knew a photographer waited hours or days to get. But I might use that image plus half a dozen others to put together a scene that I imagine but could not possibly get in real life. I hope and believe the painting says more to an observer than a photo.