Having been a model railroader for a long time informs my perspective on detail.
For example, there are people who build super-detailed model railroads where every square inch is filled with some kind of "thing". Clutter, figures, mini-scenes. These layouts are like Where's Waldo pages. You can never stop looking at them, there is always more to see. Here is an example:
There are other people who build layouts which are realistic but sparing with detail. They use empty space and careful focus to draw the eye to specific things while allowing the brain to fill in the rest. Like this:
I am of the opinion that too much detail can be counterproductive. I feel that the eye has a natural tendency to fill in missing information, and that part of the art of modelling is to fool the eye into seeing what it wants to see. I much prefer the latter form of model railroad, because it tends to look more realistic to me.
The former may actually be more realistic in terms of the amount of visual clutter in the real world, but my eye at least sees the modeled version as "too much", whereas a spare but careful use of accurate, quality detail looks much more realistic to me overall. The eye is very, very good at picking out things that don't belong, whether it's details out of scale, plasticky-looking figures, etc., but also very good at filling in empty space.
I agree with those who list priorities, and skill, as important factors. If you like making super details, and can use them in a consistent way, go for it. A good example of excellent super-detailing is the Bounty Launch by matt.s.s. which I recently followed to completion. It has superb detail without overwhelming the visual impression. But you can also eliminate many details and allow the viewer to fill them in naturally (or not notice their absence), through the judicious use of proper detail.
In literature, one might call this the difference between Dumas, Dickens, or Hugo (extremely detailed but sometimes ponderous) and Hemingway (precise but spare). I actually enjoy all those authors, but tend to be a Hemingway when modelling. Yet to each their own, as long as you and your intended audience are pleased with the process and results.
Edited by Cathead, 01 July 2015 - 06:50 PM.