I recently read a post (linked here) that discussed the differences in realism between old school painting and modern artists - the former of whom generally worked from live models, and the latter of whom had photographs to work with. I encourage reading the whole thing, because it's fascinating, but one of my takeaways is that the difference between real life and painting can also be compared to the difference between real life and fiction.
Instead of rendering every detail in a photorealistic sense, the writer picks and chooses what to highlight, what to blur. Instead of capturing a single moment in time, the writer captures the essence of the subject, suggesting details that cannot be seen with the naked eye. Fiction shows us the world as we think we see it: after all, when we look at a lake at sunset or an old friend, we don't notice each individual tree or every freckle, but we might notice a cluster of birds or new earrings. Trying to portray every detail means the important gets buried ... which is actually a technique used now and then to conceal something that will become crucial later on, like a real clue in a mystery plot hidden amongst the red herrings.
There's a sleight of hand in both paintings and fiction. Verisimilitude is not an exact imitation of the real, but rather something that feels real. We can step back and analyze it, but the mind rebels. We want to buy into the fantasy.
And, of course, a different artist can look upon the exact same scene and create a completely different painting (or story). Our world is filtered through our own personal paint palette.
I'm not much of a visual artist, but I would wager that, if you give five artists a photograph, you will end up with more similar final results than if you set those same five artists loose on a landscape. A photograph forces us to see reality, at least if we stop and really inspect it; a painting or other artistic rendering shows us the world as the artist wants us to see it. It's their reality ... their fiction.