A conversation with Walt Morton got me thinking last night. He was referring to content in current painting. In many ways, content-lacking work has been shunned by the art world for centuries. A little over a hundred years ago it started becoming more evident though, that ability was not enough to convey a message. Modernism, various forms of Abstraction, Avant-Garde, and Conceptual Art created ripples that still manifest and dictate the manner in which art, and painting in particular, is created and perceived nowadays.
But I think this conditioning created a necessity, a rush to express something-anything, with apparent deep significance, and has led artists to not paint, but to simply use paint to convey a message.
Many of the paintings today I think of as images. Yes, painted images. But it seems that the artists are not concerned with the fact that there was a conscious choice to recognize painting as the means to communicate.
I would argue that today, even more than ever, one could criticize painting for being a mere technique. A very self-aware and self referential technique. There is a huge disconnect, again now more than ever, between the images that are painted and their reasoning for being painted.
I would get incredibly annoyed, almost offended when I was questioned about choosing the act of painting as my medium of communication. I thought it was pedantic and terribly ignorant to ask a priori "why paint?" and not just accept the notion that paintings were being painted and to judge them only after the fact.
But today I do question "why paint?" Now, don't get me wrong. I am by no means saying that there is no reason to paint nor am I saying that painting has no weight or relevance in today's art world. But honestly, why do we paint?
Because nowadays it seems that we paint just so that we can make more paintings. It seems we want the world to know that painting is but one thing, because YES, I'm referring to the whole of painting. In my mind today there's almost no difference between Contemporary Naturalism, or Neo-Pop, Or Neo-Neo-Expressionism, or whichever -ism we've chosen to paint.
We're constantly referencing painting for painting's sake. As if looking like a painting justifies painting.
In many ways, I think it would be a good time for painting to purge itself. Maybe it's time to re-discover painting, to unearth it and teach it and learn it fresh. Now, "how do we do this?" you may ask. Ha! I have no clue, but maybe it's time to unlearn, reset and relearn.
For now, painting is probably painting's worst enemy. And I don't feel that the answer lies in the 19th century or any other century for that matter, and attempting to bring back beauty and ability. The dead should stay dead.
This is where we have taken painting. We should own up to it. It's our job to re-kindle it. Because if the way my gut has been punched for years after being moved by awe-inspiring works is a sign of what painting can do, let's get off our lazy asses and have a damn good reason for making paintings. Lets remind ourselves that this is a powerful way to have a voice.
We painters owe it to painting to make it right again.