Hey "Arachosia" (sorry, i don’t know your name)
OK, here goes...remember: YOU ASKED FOR IT ;-))
I don't take offense at that question when it is asked (as it seems you have) in the spirit of genuinely trying to understand the value of photorealism. I take offense when people feel the need to denigrate the accomplishment of the photorealist in order justify other forms of art that require less technical proficiency.
The SHORTEST answer is: Why not?
The ‘short answer’ is: There is no inherent value in ANYTHING…art or otherwise…therefore, if it has value and merit to you, then THAT is the value of the piece. If enough people feel the same way, then it can be argued that something has value.
I think the crux of your question is: "where is the individual expression of the artist when he has slavishly copied every last detail from a photograph?" To a certain extent, I agree with you, but often times though, what masquerades as “artistic expression" is nothing more than the artist getting it wrong.
If an artist inaccurately renders the contours of a person's nose, or misplaces an eye by a few millimeters, is that artistic license or just shoddy workmanship?
Isn't the larger question: What is art?
If Damien Hearst is an 'artist', then why not the editorial department at "The Onion"?
I always marvel at WHY
the question of 'WHY' is so often directed at photorealists. Why not ask 'WHY' David Hack-ney has been so successful...or ‘WHY’ Martin Creed gets an entire room at MOMA for his installation "lights going on and off".
One artist (who shall remain nameless...cuz' i can't remember his name )
was working on a series of canvasses which were each painted in a single color. The artist was very clear that he didn't use a roller or spray paint on each canvas, but instead, used a small paint brush, and built up the color using as many as 20 glazes
. He called these canvasses "Color Portraits" (as in: portrait of the color blue, etc.).
Since I did roughly the same thing to my bathroom walls in my NYC apartment, I wondered why he is considered an 'artist' and not a ‘craftsman’. Where is the 'WHY' associated with HIS work? His artist's statement was FIVE PARAGRAPHS LONG and referenced Masters like Sargent and Vermeer (...uh…I think he forgot Sherwin Williams ;-))
In my mind, a photograph and a photorealistic painting or drawing are completely different things. One requires virtually no more effort than pressing a button while the other requires (sometimes) MONTHS of hard work and close observation and a deep understanding of the 3 dimensional REAL WORLD attributes are of the thing or person one is rendering. Photorealism also requires the artist to understand photography, photographic lighting, and the limitations of the camera and lens...and printer...etc.
As you may know if you have ever tried to photograph your own artwork, by merely tilting the camera up or down a millimeter or two, you will change the shape and proportions of the object you are photographing. The same rule applies when photographing a person.
Depending on the lens chosen (24 mm produces vastly different results than 70mm) a photograph of a person may make the nose appear larger and the ears appear smaller. There are also limitations having to do with tonal range and color shift, etc...The limitations are limitless!
I am not a true Photorealist or Hyperrealist, in that I am not concerned with mimicking things like the color shift that takes place in the printing process. Although I have (at times) borrowed the illusion of 3 dimensionality that comes from a shallow depth of field, this has been out of necessity more than personal preference. Instead, I use photographs (shot from many different focal lengths) to help me to understand the contours of the thing I am rendering, so that I can create the illusion of 3 dimensionality. In that process, there are countless decisions and artistic judgments that are made. In other words: I am not just a human Xerox machine. One could argue that I am a Trompe LOeilist…but that is not an issue I need concern myself with.
I am familiar with Chuck Close and greatly admire him as an artist, although he and I are trying to achieve very different things. His paintings often seek to explore the illusions of the camera that we take as the gospel and the nature of optics (a lesson well worth listening to).
If it were necessary for mankind to evacuate the planet and move to Mars (...uh...can’t we go someplace with a beach? ), and there were only room on the spaceship for either Chuck Close’s portrait of his wife , or Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain”, which would YOU choose?