Simply put it is when a painting gives the illusion of being real. I don’t get this feeling when I’m looking at a photograph.
I’ve been thinking about this for some time now. I recently saw a YouTube video that may have something to do with it. I’ve noticed that the illusion is often more apparent when a painting is first looked at. I can look carefully at a painting all day and it looks like a painting but if I look away and back, suddenly the painting looks real. If the reality illusion doesn’t last long and if it’s mine I usually equate that short time with more work required.
The YouTube video I was watching was:
So in the video the question of update speed comes up. How quickly do our eyes update? I should actually be asking the question; “How quickly does my brain update?” Clearly our internal reality visualisation does not update fast enough to see what is happening in the video. I saw another video that discussed how our brain processes visual information. There is a lot of back and forth visual information processing going on in our brain. The reality illusion may result from a disconnect between our eyes and brain resulting in a comparison of what we presently see (a delayed flawed and incomplete version) with our internal visual idea of reality.
If I’m looking at a painting and it looks real, I normally equate it to the painting resembling my internal image of reality. Sometimes I don’t think the painted image is particularly accurate but it can still create the reality illusion. I think that’s because the painting resembles my internal visualisation of colours and shape and this alone can trigger the illusion. This particular video also talks about visual persistence (look at 5:46 on the video). When I look away from the painting its image persists for a short time and that is what my brain is comparing with my internal visualisation.
So I’m looking at a painting and it’s creating an internal visualisation of it in my mind. I’m comparing that with my internal visualisation of reality. Neither one may be particularly accurate but if they happen to agree to some extent I experience the reality illusion. So I’m comparing two flawed visualisations of reality that result in the reality illusion. Doesn’t say much for my grasp of reality, does it?
I’ve noticed when in the bush, I see animals by quickly glancing around. If I notice something interesting I often have to sit down and stare at it for a few minutes before it materialises into a moose/bird/squirrel.
As an artist I’m looking for ways to make the reality illusion happen better and easier. It would be nice if I could reduce or at least focus on the main requirements. I just don’t know what they are. The painting I’m presently working on is at the stage that if I look away then back, certain parts of it start to look real. It needs more work. I’d decided I had finished Pebble Beach (a different painting) and was actually ready to discard it because it just wasn’t working out, but decided to add some final highlights. The highlights made it pop and it’s actually one of my best but also very unsatisfying. Why didn’t I notice that things were going well sooner? I don’t know exactly how the reality illusion works but sometimes it just takes a little more paint.