Super Realism made headlines in the news this week with shows in both New York and London. Even so, the style is easy to dismiss because it doesn’t look like it's made by a human. In one sense, it isn’t. Super Realism is the art of cameras – what their lens sees, not what an artist sees – and who needs a machine’s view? As it turns out, we do.

Camera vision

The value of seeing camera vision is that we get to catch sight of something we normally can’t: peripheral views. By their nature, they go unnoticed. Super Realism fills in the gap; it details with pristine focus things that typically appear to us out of the corner of our eye, almost as a blur.

Not that there isn’t a downside to 180-degree vision. When nothing blurs: nothing moves. All of the picture parts look creepily static – even in paintings of a bustling Manhattan street by Richard Estes, the artist featured in both the NY and London shows. By taking the blurriness of peripheral vision out of the picture, Super-Realism nails everything down stock-still, like pinned butterflies. In that sense, everything can look quite dead.

Light show

But this doesn’t happen in Estes’ work. Giving life to it is the play of light on glass and metal that he captures with his camera and puts in paint. The glistening, shimmering effect enlivens even inanimate objects. Seeing shiny reflective surfaces on even the most humdrum things makes them worth looking at.

Getting photographic information into paint without interference from the human eye takes a special effort. Super Realists make their pictures upside down to avoid their own perspective. But Estes does interfere in one way: he paints from photographs he superimposes in order to intensify the detail and play of light.

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Protest art

Art styles usually rise in revolt against those that came before. After the Renaissance insisted on symmetry and balance, artists turned to Baroque's high drama exaggerations, and after the fleeting images of Impressionism, heavy-hearted Expressionism took its place.

For years now, the pendulum has been swinging back from abstract art, the reigning art style in the fifties, to realism.

Roger Kimball, author of “The Rape of the Masters: How Political Correctness Sabotages Art,” has called realism in painting “the antidote to novelty art.” (Which makes Super Realism a cure-all).

The novelty art that comes immediately to mind is Damien Hirst’s dead animals floating in formaldehyde. With “art” like that, Estes’ Super Realism is practically a necessity to right the ship, so to say.

Even so, in 1974, New York Times art critic Hilton Kramer asked if technical mastery rated being called art. He noted the art world shouting “No” for decades – a judgment, by the way, that he agreed with. No surprise. The art world has been arguing with itself for years over which style is more legitimate – abstract art or realism.

Art critic Clemen Greenberg seemed to know in 1959 when he said that the best kind of art-making is abstract.

I would argue that if realism can organize the chaos that is life without deadening the picture, then Estes' Super Realism is as much the real deal as any other art style.