The following is my own opinion and something you're not likely going to find at an art school. Feel free to publicly disagree with me in this thread, but if you do, please present argument and evidence rather than simply calling it B.S., and be prepared to defend your position.
Do you ever think about what light is and about how we see? As an artist or illustrator you should. Even modern and post modern art is concerned with how works are perceived by their audience. How much more so then should we who create "representational, visual art" strive to understand how it is we see.
As people who grew up in the "modern world" (post 19th century) we do have one advantage that people from earlier times did not: Scientific Understanding. While science hasn't quite yet figured out the last links in perception, physic can tell us that for all practical purposes light is a particle (photon)...a particle that leaves it's source and travels in a straight line till it hits something, where it's either absorbed, transmitted or reflected. If it's lucky enough, it (along with it's countless brothers) hits our eye(s). Biology then tells us that our eyes are machines that consist of a lens, an aperture and an interface that turns light particles into bio-electrical signals that travel along the optic nerve to the brain. What happens there, no one is quite sure...yet, but the brain somehow turns those signals into representations that allow us to understand the world around us.
If, as artists, we don't understand the process of seeing, we're bound to make mistakes and wrong assumptions. Before the 20th century, the best guess was that light either was, or traveled as waves through, a medium called "ether". As those waves struck an object they caused the object to become illuminated. This idea sent the impressionists on what I call, "a mad quest" to capture light as it traveled through the ether...something that we know doesn't actually happen.
Until the advent of the camera, artists really didn't have a very good idea of how the eyeball functioned, either. It's easy for us to say that as we look at something, muscles pull the cornea into shape to cause what we're looking at to come into focus, and how, because of that, everything we're not looking at goes out of focus.
Focus: that's the point of this editorial.
Suppose you're a 16th century painter in his studio. You've sketched out all the elements you want onto your canvas and now you are ready to paint. One of the elements is a chair that's in your studio. You look at that chair, and paint it onto the canvas. Another element is a table. You look at it and paint it also. A broom in the corner...a potted plant...a piece bit of drapery...all these things you look at and paint. Your brushstrokes are good. You have an eye for detail and can accurately paint anything you see. Yet when you're finished, something is wrong.
Everything you've painted...you've been looking at. Each element was in perfect focus while you painted it, and that's the way you painted it. Because you don't know how the eyeball works, you don't realize that when you look at something, the rest of the world is a blur, and the further something is from what you're looking at, the blurrier it becomes. All you know is that the chief element of the picture doesn't stand out from the rest and the whole painting looks confused and cluttered.
Focus. You don't know about it, but you do know about color and contrast. So you tell yourself that the main element needs to be brighter and the area behind it needs to be darker...or is it the other way round? Maybe the element needs to be one pallet of colors and the area behind it a contrasting pallet?
Welcome to the world of painting as it was practiced from the 15th century to the middle of the 19th. A whole world of tricks were developed to deal with one problem: Focus. Only, all the tricks were wrong, because no one knew how eyes focused, and everyone thought it was a problem of light. All the careful composition and lighting, all the contrasting coloring, all the washes with thinner to make the background fade out...they were all wonderful, and clever, and treasured...and all completely wrong. (perfect example is Rembrant's "The Anatomy Lesson" upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia…
Where is all the light coming from to make their faces so bright? Isn't it nice they all wear dark clothing to contrast with their heads? Someone should tell them that their back wall is fading away. Is that corps actually glowing?)
By the middle of the 19th century, artist realized the tricks weren't working. The first to rebel were the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, who's motto, "True (or truth) to nature" simple meant discarding the bag of tricks and going back to painting what they saw...with predictable results. (see: John Everett Millais's "Christ in the House of His Parents" upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia…
The same flatness. The same cluttered feeling. Everything is so equally in focus that the sheep in the background are just as sharp as the boy Jesus in the foreground.)
Another school of painting to tackle the problem of focus was that of 19th century realism. (not to be confuse with realism trends in the 20th century) Their solution was to paint the center of focus in great detail (like the academic painters who came before them) while painting everything else with broad, quick, simple strokes. (like the impressionists who came after them) This technique achieved a sort of "poor man's blur". (see Julien Dupre's "Glaneuses" upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia…
Look at the detail of the two women in front compared to the boy in the background or the huts in the distance.) Ultimately, 19th century realism with it's "pseudo focus" failed to garner the support it needed to become dominant, and after that came impressionism...and everyone just gave up.
So...what does all this have to do with us? Well, we have all the knowledge they didn't and we have computers! 3D renderers all have controls that can mimic actual camera functions. Photo editing software allows for all sorts of blurring. We can accomplish in our art what they never could .
But do we want to? We still have all the tricks the masters left to us. We can still use them if we want. All we have to do is...
-Stephen Turk, (March 15th, 2016)