I think Chris Bennett got it right with the movie analogy.
I don't mind ultra photo real imagery, it has it's place but, when I see the mass of the fantasy and science fiction publishing market (and I am not talking about RPGs and card games here) being dominated by the ultra realist painter, who if you ask me is probably masking other shortcomings under the awesome rendering skillset, I worry, because it's not that kind of art that makes you want to read a story much less be a painter.
Add to that the fact that it makes the transition to photo manipulation and graphic design easier (and will be cheaper eventually, I think the article here http://theartorder.com/2012/02/06/my...-based-covers/ is a little far fetched with all the crap about make up artists and hair stylists n stuff, cost wise) and it's easy to make the assumption that maybe, just maybe this high quality art (and it IS high quality no question about it) may be doing a little damage to the profession. Let alone that I consider an artist who spends half his commission fee and 200 hours painting a huge ultra real canvas a sucker compared to his colleague who may be working for the same clients, make the same money, yet go a different more personal route and at the fraction of the cost/time.
In a business where you hear so many professionals advise us to focus our work on the market we want to work in, it seems peculiar how you have people who want to work in the animation industry produce the horrid 3d covers, the people who want to shoot models for magazines make pictures for fantasy books, and the people who want to paint the Prince of Zamunda's portrait do science fiction posters!!!
Still, it's all good fun.