Bouguereau and Photoshop

I want to look at a caveat from the great master painter William Bouguereau, who I regard with awe:

“I detest realism” he told us, “for it is nothing but photography, neither more nor less! Well, if you are a painter it is so that you can do better than photography, so that you can beautify nature! So you see, I soften angular gestures, I diminish foreshortenings that are too abrupt and I add beautiful colours. That’s our job!”

458, Bartoli, Damien, 2010. William Bouguereau, His Life and Works. Antique Collectors Club.

How does this comment read in the age of Photoshop? Everything Bouguereau talks about can now be achieved in the computer. Because in the 21st Century a photograph itself is endlessly manipulable, does this mean that the efforts of the painter are redundant? Is painting to be declared dead again, this time by the hand of technology?

No. If millennial painters work to produce images that demonstrate exceptional technique to the highest standards their works will transcend the everyday, emphasizing that individuals are capable of remarkable feats of connoisseurship and great mastery. Their paintings will be regarded among our highest cultural achievements. We celebrate extraordinary feats of human skill and ability; we will certainly rejoice when we see the delicate touch of a master painter whose trained hand has produced sublime beauty that uplifts the human spirit and tells the story of the people of the new millennium.

A great painting by a true master like Bouguereau still touches the soul because it possesses layers of glory – first the glory of the artist’s achievement in transcending ordinariness through magnificent technique, then the glory of an image that is contrived to lift us from the muddy tedium of everyday life.

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