Last Saturday, I visited a Western art show that I've participated in a few times but, for the most part, I just visit to see what's new, talk with the artists I know (especially those I don't see any other time) and to try to get a feeling of what's selling and what isn't.
My own art has been evolving over the years, especially when it comes to my slowly increasing knowledge of how the Old Masters worked. One thing I've learned is the concept of selective focus. This idea first came to me by way of artist Virgil Elliot who pointed out how the Old Masters tended to paint a small area with sharp edges while softening or blurring the rest of the edges. This partly makes the viewer want to look at the sharper area (which is often the center of interest) and also actually makes the image look more realistic. After all, whatever we look at directly appears the sharpest to us while the rest of the view falls into our peripheral vision, where edges are -- guess what? -- less sharp. Next time you're in an art museum, look at some Old Master paintings and see what I mean.
Selective focus popped into my head a lot while I was looking at the paintings at the show. Except for watercolor paintings where everything was a little blurry, most paintings had lots of details which were uniformly sharp from side to side and top to bottom. Even distant features in the paintings seemed sharp. In short, the artworks seems to possess a sort of hyper-realism: realism that somehow wasn't. The paintings were sharper than photographs.
Another related thing I've learned over the years: it isn't necessarily hard to develop the technical skill to render objects realistically. But it IS harder to put some thought into one's art that raises it above the commonplace.