Painting is one of art’s oldest and most traditional media.
It’s right up there with drawing and sculpting. But, for some reason, it just can’t seem to shake off the idea bandied around some art circles that its days are numbered.
Is painting’s popularity on the decline? Or are artists merely refocusing, channelling and streaming this art medium into a series of alternative art practices? Will painting’s classic traditions continue to stand the test of time or, will it, as it’s traditionally known, wither and die?
Artists have been dabbling in paint (or some form of it) since the beginning of humankind. Painting is the result of an age-old raw, basic, instinctive human desire to create. To use paint (or an early form of it), to blend, smear and tell a story with it.
Some of the oldest works of art in paint were created by Neanderthals, as evidenced by 42,000-year-old paintings of seals found in Spanish caves, and the discovery of the outlines of human hands on limestone cave walls in Indonesia.
As one of the earliest forms of human expression, painting began as a way of sharing and communicating – of depicting the world we saw around us.
Artist: TLC Advanced Diploma Student Robert Rangikauhata
Most of us can remember starting out finger painting as children at pre-school. Those of us with overly enthusiastic parents were introduced to the wonders of paint even before we could talk or walk. Nowadays, as technology rapidly changes, will toddlers still learn how to paint with their hands? Or, will they instead turn to the tablet (or yet to be invented and favoured, alternative digital art form)?
Painting has so far survived the evolution of humankind – but will it continue to survive beyond the 21st century?
Throughout the history of art, painting has maintained its hold on artists. While symbols, colours, the technical makeup of paint, subject matter, themes and painting techniques have constantly evolved throughout the centuries, painting as a form of expression has emerged relatively unscathed.
But it was new techniques and approaches in painting, and the embrace of other alternative art forms, that quickly moved the art world through a succession of art periods and movements*.
The Salon and Royal Academies of Art, at the time, dominated the art world and popular public opinion as to what was (or in their mind, should be), considered art worthy. Several art movements quickly grew as a response and as a reaction to this as rejected artists rebelled against what was considered by the ‘experts’ as appropriate subject matter and the more traditional and correct way to paint.
Even today, artists continue to push and test the boundaries of paint as a medium both in subject, theme and in application. But one lingering question that steadfastly refuses to go away and continues to hang around the art world and inner art critic circles is the outcry that ‘painting is dead’ or dying.
It was actually academic French painter, Paul Delaroche, who, after encountering a daguerreotype** in 1839 first declared that painting was dead. Obviously it wasn’t. But the question lingers and continues to spark passionate discussion and debate.
So why won’t this idea go away?
In the beginning, painting was a way for human beings to depict the world as we see it. It survived the birth of photography – an art form that produces images instantaneously, and certainly faster than any artist can paint – merely growing stronger, and cemented its position as one of the more popular forms of artistic expression.
But can painting continue to survive the internet and the digital art movement? What about Photoshop with its paint-mimicking toolsets?
I spoke to New Zealand artist Freeman White, who specializes in oil painting, and here’s what he had to say;
“That painting is ‘dead’ is a concept I had rammed down my throat when I was an art student back in the late 90’s.
This is something that really could not be further from the truth.
We live in a time where we have access to so many different media: film, video, internet, online blogs, Instagram and Facebook.
It is ironic that these different feeds of information that were heralded as bringing about the so called ‘death’ of painting have, in fact, made it even more accessible than ever before.
These days one has to merely log onto their Instagram account and search #modernpainter or #oilpainting for example, to gain access to images of paintings in all sorts of different genres that are being produced by contemporary artists on a daily basis all around the world.
Painting is far from ‘dead’. In fact, painting is still one of the most accessible and collected forms of art in the world to-date.
I have always thought that the idea of any one medium bringing about the ‘death’ of another to be hyperbolic and rather short-sighted.
Fads and fashions come and go. Painting is a medium unlike any other that is globally recognized and practiced by tens of thousands of artists all around the world.
Paintings, both antique and contemporary, are being bought and sold for record amounts in auction houses and galleries all around the world on a daily basis.
As long as people have walls they will hang paintings on them, they will make marks on them, they will decorate them with liquid media that will harden and become indelible.
People will always seek to enrich their environments, to express their own sense of style to show others, and to remind themselves, what it is to be human.
As long as this continues then painting will always be with us.
Painting is not exclusive to fine art galleries or prestigious art collections. Painting is a vehicle for expression.
As long as human beings exist, painting will exist.”
Artist: TLC Diploma student Linda Smith
I also spoke to gallery owner Jenny Neligan, of Bowen Galleries in Wellington and she summed it up from a gallery’s perspective in a few short sentences;
“For me, painting is not ‘dead’.
We exhibit painters. We sell paintings.
There’s a lot of painting going on.”
From these two viewpoints one thing is clear, painting as a medium, is NOT dead. It never was. Nor is it dying. Artists are, and will, continue to express themselves through the vehicle of paint. Galleries will continue to exhibit and sell their resulting work.
Perhaps the real death threat to painting is the continual propaganda of the phrase ‘painting is dead’ by news media?
Like any artform, painting waxes and wanes in popularity, but it is currently experiencing a strong revival with many artists returning to our Neanderthal hands-on expression.
Painting has begun to be set free. Artists have always realised that there should be no preconceived ideas about how a medium should be used. That it is merely a vehicle for human expression.
If painting ever did die, it’s been reborn several times and, like any creature back from the grave, kept clawing its way out of the dirt and into the light.
Let’s not write the obituary just yet.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
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* Stone Age > Mesopotamian > Egyptian > Greek & Hellenistic > Roman > Indian, Chinese, & Japanese > Byzantine & Islamic > Middle Ages > Early & High Renaissance > Venetian & Northern Renaissance > Mannerism > Baroque > Neoclassical > Romanticism > Realism > Impressionism > Post-Impressionism > Fauvism & Expressionism > Cubism, Futurism, Supremativism, Constructivism, De Stijl > Dada & Surrealism > Abstract Expressionism > Pop Art > Postmodernism & Deconstructivism
* Invented by Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre in 1829, the daguerreotype is a photographic process in which a unique image is produced onto a silvered copper plate.