Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

February 23, 2015

Do Artists Change the World?

Recently when discussing art online someone said that art moves humanity culturally forwards. I was quite in agreement until it popped into my head later on and I thought a little more. I tried to think of any art that changed the world. I could think of inventions such as photography that changed humanity’s landscape, but not any bit of art. Even the greatest such as the Sistine Chapel only reflected ideas of the time and reinforced the views of the powers that be. No modern art has changed the world, you might say that the international style of architecture did, but it was really the underlying technological advances that made the difference. Architecture has always been driven by need, means and material so it follows change it does not I feel drive it.

Writing has changed the world, think of Marx and the Bible, but has any painting? The answer however unflattering to generations of daubers has to be no. Indeed once I started thinking it became apparent that one of the traits of the visual painted or drawn arts is the unchangingness. It hasn’t in essence changed since the very first paintings we see upon cave walls 20 or 30 thousand years ago. We see symbolism, abstraction and representation, much as we have today. They speak to us across an immense gulf of time telling us that despite all mankind has learnt we are still the same, each life lived just the once and each time afresh. It then occurred to me that it exactly that which attracts me. I am treading a path that innumerable generations have trodden before, and though the destination and the landscape travelled through are as old as the hills the journey is always newly minted for each human being that steps out upon the way.

Art is not about moving humanity forward, or making it wiser, but about continuity, about linking humanity today with those who lived before. It is saying that though we may live lives unimagined by our forbears, who in turn lived lives we can only distantly conceive of, there is this thread that joins us. If I draw a deer upon a bit of paper the man who traced an antelope upon the stone in  a deep place by flickering light, in another age at the dawn of humanity, would understand. Just as when I see his work an aeon later and find it still speaks a language I can understand and for a moment  perhaps share his experience and feel a glimmer of fellowship.

There is of course the accretion of cultural baggage in society, so the Sistine Chapel does influence later art, even the stone age work effects art today as images of it are freely available. All of this material is grist to the mill but does not produce the story of linear advancement that art historians are so fond of. The story of art is more like the laying down of layers of rock than a list of revolutionary advances. No one would say that limestone is more advanced than granite, it is merely more recent.

So all this self importance that artists assign to themselves as educators or consciences or explorers or questioners is entirely false. It is not an artist’s role to explore new territory but to retrace the steps of the paths through the oldest landscapes, to remind those that might have forgotten where they began, what they were and what they will always be. Art is an ancient identity renewed afresh for each new generation. The work left behind by each generation instructs the next by pointing the way the journey might be made. It cannot tell you what might be seen and felt upon the road only the direction of travel and the hope of an exciting journey.


It has been so hard with all the building a new home and refurbishing the old to sell to either paint or post here, still I am making progress and cannot wait to start painting the new landscape around me.


Hambledon Hill, Dorset, watercolour, painting

This is the wonderful Hambledon Hill. I had painted it before from this view point but en plein air early in the morning. This is at the other end to the day and done in the studio. I have stretched up a heap of paper ready to go so that if I get the time I can bash out a painting!


Hambledon Hill, Dorset, drawing, pen and ink

It’s that hill again! This is not a natural pen and ink subject but that was all I had with me so I gave it my best shot. It was fascinating trying to find varying textures to explain the different surfaces and distances. I had to be very careful reserving the white areas that described the contours os the earthworks on the hill.


Richmond park, pencil, drawing, tree

A day out with the Brass Monkeys in Richmond Park. I arrived intending to do pen and ink but alas had brought an empty pen and no ink! I have always found pencil frustrating, I love pencil drawing done by others but find it terribly difficult myself. The answer of course would be to do more of it. Nonetheless I enjoyed this once I had got going.


Richmond Park, Pencil, drawing, trees

This one I was getting into the groove a little more, would have liked to have added white but I forgot that too!



Blackheath, London, drawing, pen and ink

Back in town, this is Blackheath. I love this view and must come back and do a more considered painting.


Deptford, church, pen and ink, drawing, London

This is St Pauls Deptford. Designed by Thomas Archer, just got this done when the rain started. I have done this view a few times before but never in the winter, the lack of leaves allows a view slightly to one side which is nice. In the summer the church would be obscured by leaves.


Jermyn St, Mayfair, London, Drawing, Pen and Ink

This is Jermyn St in Mayfair. Love this view and will do a bigger oil in due course. I was in town to go to the Wapping Group’s show so I was in my private view finery when I drew this. In the very posh Jermyn St I fitted right in! Glad to say I sold a painting in the show as well so I went home smiling.


Brook Green, Hammersmith, London, watercolour, Brass Monkeys

Another Brass Monkey day this time in Brook Green Hammersmith. Very cold but beautiful I had to do this pretty quickly as the morning light was moving quickly.


Brook Green, Hammersmith, London, pen and ink, drawing

Last one from Brook Green and this post. I love trying to get the atmosphere with pen and ink. People tend to think of pen as lines around things but it is perfectly capable of subtle tonal effects.


  1. Another thought-provoking post, thanks Rob. i particularly like the pen and ink drawing of Hambledon Hill, along with the watercolour of the same subject. It would be interesting to know the size of these drawings and paintings.
    The pen and ink drawing of Hambledon Hill was a good one to zoom in on- the change in tone from black to light brown in each pen stroke was noticeable and gave the appearance of it having been done with two different inks. I guess this is an effect you simply wouldn’t get with a faber-type fine liner.

    Comment by Karl — February 23, 2015 @ 1:29 pm

  2. Commercial art such as that in the 1950s did change people’s ideal of beauty, and it’s still going strong. I don’t mean to say that art only messes with people’s heads (or that commercial art has the same value of “fine art”), but commercial art has massive influence over people, especially in this visually-oriented age. Pop stars and the such are surrounded by art most of the time and presented in a fashion that’s comparable to the mythical / religious figures of the past – and they indeed have the same function: promoting something in a direct, impressive way.

    Comment by Sovak — February 23, 2015 @ 2:38 pm

  3. I was thinking more of the advancement of humanity rather than fashion I must admit. Even there I bet the dress of fashionable people led the imagery and the artworks only spread the news. Painting has not ever I think been at all pivotal in history, only reactive to changes provoked by other things. The very first act of representational drawing would of course be pivotal but more for the act rather than the result.

    Comment by Rob Adams — February 23, 2015 @ 2:48 pm

  4. Hi Karl, yes the fountain pen gives many more possibilities than a fibre pen. When you move it fast the ink is thinner so the colour shows more, when you press harder the nib flexes and you get different widths. You can have all this going on in the same line!

    Comment by Rob Adams — February 23, 2015 @ 2:51 pm

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