I have sort of touched on this previously but a few conversations this week have sort of focussed me on the issue. People both painters and people who enjoy looking at paintings tend to like some things and not others. Painfully obvious of course. The problem is that they also tend to go further and lean towards believing what they like is worthy and what they don’t enjoy as worthless. I myself have plotted an erratic course through the landscape of art and at different times have liked and loathed many different styles. Now however we are in an age where nearly everything in the history of painting is available at the click of a mouse.
I have a large collection of art books which now never leave the shelves as there is better and wider information online than most of them contain. Indeed I have seriously thought of getting rid of them as they are almost never looked at. The books do provide another service though. They plot the course of my interests of things visual over the years. There are books on anatomy, carpets, Irish castles and insects, to name but a few. I can still recall the excitement when I found a book that inspired. I remember the fascination of delving through George Bain’s book on the construction of celtic art, which sent me on an orgy of drawing key patterns and brain boggling interlacements. That indeed was the pattern, discovery followed by practice and then on to another focus of interest. My library is quite wide and eclectic, consider how much more grist there is available for my mill compared to that of Rubens, but is still a mere slither compared to what is available online.
Young artists today are faced with a blizzard of imagery from all of mankind’s long history of visual creation. Search engines place everything on an equal footing, they don’t care about quality or provenance only keywords. With this in mind I wonder if it is now almost impossible to do anything wholly new. We have as it were mapped out most of the terrain available to explore and only a few ever reducing (and not necessarily interesting) corners are still left uncolonised. This I cannot help but feel spells an end to the linear flow of art history much loved by academics and critics. The same thing has already happened to some extent in music. A teenager’s iPod can contain everything from Bach to Led Zeppelin to some very current offering. They have essentially treated all that was available as some kind of cultural buffet and filled their plates with whatever took their fancy. This in turn has had an effect on music production which might draw from a hugely diverse mix of influences. The same is becoming true with painting I suspect.
This I cannot but help feel spells the end to both the contemporary and the so called modern. When a categorical term becomes so inclusive that nothing is excluded then its usefulness has as far as I can see ended. The establishments at all ends of the art spectrum are bravely battling to hold back the tide, but like Canute they are likely doomed to fail. The hard thing from my point of view is to envisage what the landscape might look like once the dust has settled. I’ll make the attempt to work out the possible results though this will likely be risible once the reality is there to be considered!
Firstly, I think your idiom of painting will in the future be entirely a matter of choice. Much in the way you might choose a medium or a composition. Already you see many artists who do both abstracts and representational. This could well be the norm in the future.
Secondly differentiation of whole categories of subject matter, type of execution, styles or idioms into high and low art may end. All the flavours of painting available which are currently assigned a different degrees of worthiness or status may therefore be equalised. It always makes me chuckle when I see auction and exhibition catalogues use the word “important”. My immediate feeling is to whom, sez who and why?
Thirdly a more useful way of assigning merit might well occur. At present we have what the Art critics say is good, what the Collectors collect, and what the Curators select. Notice we don’t have what the public likes in there. Now however we have the potential to assess better than ever what the public likes. What is more we could narrow it down to what different sections of population appreciate. The tastes of visually naive and the sophisticated and their different likings can be separated out. This in turn could be used to supply rankings of relative merit in varying idioms. No method of course would be without flaws and unfairness, but it would not be hard to be better and indeed more fair than the current elitist regime.
I wonder as well what categories of painting might be useful, here is a wild stab at it:
Expressionistic, the painting of feeling and emotion.
Observationalistic, the recording and fixing of perceived reality.
Imaginistic, the painting of dreams and imagination.
Analystic, the painting of texture, pattern and structure.
I don’t see any of these as exclusive, each might in some circumstances be a subset of one of the others. So a work might have any combination of each in any order. Each might be further broken down so that “Imaginistic” could contain Surrealism, Illustrative and perhaps Metaphysical content. It is very hard to visualise, I gave considerable thought as to whether there were any other possible categories. If anybody can think of a manner of painting that would fall outside of all these categories then I would be delighted and intrigued. At first I wondered if Symbolic was a category but on the whole I think it can be contained within Imaginistic and Analystic. We could maybe sink to the depths of a diagram at this point, I can only apologise for this new low, but it shows the possible interactions better than words can…
As we are painters I have chosen a colour chart approach! You can see by the way the colours mix we can have any shade or mixture of my four elements. You might I hope place any painting you know approximately in this space. Plein air for example would be leaning towards the Observation corner, with a good dollop of Expression a certain amount of analysis and only a small dose of imagination. Surrealism would have a large proportion of Imagination with maybe less of the other three. This is not I am at pains to point out a diagram of all Art, where for example would you put photography? Perhaps in Observation, I did consider Perception and Experience as that heading but felt them a little too broad. The observation is done mechanically, but the decision to observe was made as in a painting. If anybody can think of a painting that falls outside these bounds let me know what it is and why, don’t mind my wild theorising being shot down in the least. One other thing I pondered was how I should arrange the influences around the square. Unfortunately none are ideal. A truer arrangement would be in 3D with each influence placed at the corner of a tetrahedron! Enough mad theorising some paintings!
I have been going out of a Sunday with friends Tony Lawman and Graham Davies to paint which is very much fun. This is Faversham creek. 8in by 10in.
Don’t quite know what to think of this one, needs softening and merging somehow. The tonal contrasts are too brash. 10in by 14in oils.
Last one of the day and the best too. Faversham Creek again, the day steadily improved. 10in by 12in oils.
Faversham again but painted last winter I would guess… I was sorting all my plein air stuff into locations when I came across this, the foreground wasn’t
finished, so a plein air I would guess, but I have no memory of painting it at all! I obviously didn’t like it at the time! 10in by 20in.
A day out with the Wappers, there were two more oils but I scraped them off, the light went horrible and flat. 16in by 10in oils.
I should have stuck to watercolour sketches for the rest of the day. There’s a lesson for me, don’t paint unless the subject grabs you!
Another day out with the boys. This is Queensborough on the Isle of Sheppey. Lots of great subjects this is 10in by 16in. I did an earlier one but it is in
surgery I might post it if it survives!
Last one from Queensborough, I liked it there lots to paint the town is paintable too.