February 17

Is Painting dead?

In the 21st century…probably. I’ve given this plenty of thought over the last 20yrs or so and at the least I would say, it doesn’t make a difference anymore. First day of my fine art degree (the pinnacle of art for art’s sake) we were reliably informed by Dr Carolyn Wilde (cultural studies) that as of post-modernism painting was dead. That came as quite a shock in 1990.

The gifted artist genius in their garrett was an urban myth, more a romantic fantasy than anything else. If we had such delusions that ‘daubing’ was in anyway divine or spiritual…the door was open for us to leave.

So there we all were…some amongst our group new that; I later discovered. What do we do now I thought.

Technological innovations change the world. Out with the old and in with the new. In this case the digital age had arrived. It was going to sweep away whole sections of the working world. Everything I had learned about graphic design, and film based photography was to be resigned to history. The job of ‘draughtsman’ disappeared overnight!

What was more revolutionary was that now anyone could create art that looked like ‘traditional’ art. And with that liberation came millions of enthusiastic wannabes and their computers/cameras. I’d always felt that the famous and successful artists weren’t necessarily the best, just that the vast majority of people weren’t in a privileged position to follow their dreams. For every Picasso there are probably 1000’s who could have put him to shame artistically…had they not had to work for a living. It always makes me laugh when people say, ‘cream always comes to the top,’ it is more accurate to say scum does…because it does. And that definition could be more profound.

The digital age, social media, technological development took the magic out of the box. The process of making art was no longer artistic alchemy. The age old Process was no longer necessary to make art. At the top of the art pile sat oil painting, on the throne of inspired creation. In reality a medieval process of creating visual imagery who’s position looked most under threat.

Visual revolution had arrived. The tailors of the Emperor’s new clothes were no longer the select few. Anyone could have a try.

The end had been coming for some time anyway, the end of the ‘ism’ was nigh. It had stuttered since the 60’s and Pop art, Op art, Ultra realism then Process painting. As many art critics wrote, when painting has to look to itself for meaning, it has nowhere else to go. Societies were fragmenting into multicultural collectives. The global village was upon us and no one set of images defined anything. Everything in flux  no ideals to hang on the wall. Even if there were they change faster than oil paint can dry.

As a fine artist myself, I’ve always maintained how I produce art isn’t important, it’s what I say that matters. If I want to speak out loud I need an audience. That audience has to be those I need to influence.  What I have to say is about ‘the now’ so it has to be said with the best communication devices I have. Current signifiers and references are the motifs with which to speak. Art is only of any relevance if it has a ‘better song to sing’. Personally I gave up on negative art a long time ago, criticising society is worthless unless you have something better to put in its place. It may well get you a feature in the Guardian and  a bohemian following…but it is incestuous and changes nothing. We all know the world is shit…so what do we do about it, give us a positive rational alternative!

I would say the role of the artist is redundant. Like the pigeon post and horse driven transport. Perhaps I should modify that a little to say painting is redundant. It can’t say anything important that can’t be said better another way.

I still paint, but because it is in my blood not because I think it will change the world. I left all that pretension behind years ago.


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Posted February 17, 2020 by paul in category "