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The Future of Painting
As an artist and writer, every once in a while I'll see a piece of art or read something that makes me slap my forehead and mutter, "Damn, wish I'd said that!" Recently a number of friends and I were discussing the "death of painting." Sounds grim, huh? As painters, we often see these words as meaning the "death of art" as well (though of course it's not the same thing at all). Specifically, my friend, Chris, pointed out: "Opening communication between artists of all stripes means that we keep getting challenged, getting exposed to new ideas, and acquiring new tools--the real nutrients for new art. So I'd say we are far closer to a beginning (rather than an end) of art!" Actually, I had said something to that effect, in a lot more words of course, but he said it so much better and more concisely. He also pointed out reassuringly that only one branch of art (painting and perhaps sculpture) was dead.

In the real world, branches die all the time. They're pruned away, the plant survives, and in fact thrives on such conscientious care. Which has led me to wonder, how many years before the academic establishment which has so much invested in teaching people to paint in the same tired old styles and techniques wakes up to this fact? I wonder if traditional art departments are now starting to feel the pinch brought on by the advent of digital art, advanced photography, virtual reality, and all the other new, more viable, methods of creative communication? Today, there's probably very few writers still pounding away on their old Remingtons and virtually none still writing in longhand. Yet we still insist on teaching students how to paint in longhand. Why is that? I know, pencil and paper, brushes and paints are cheaper and more accessible (right now at least) than computers, television, or film, which would seem to let the public schools off the hook, but colleges?

It can't be just for archival reasons. God knows we got enough great archival art in museums all over the world to last us for aeons. And even assuming the next generation of painters has something really new to say on canvas (which is doubtful, given the fact this generation doesn't seem to) aren't there better means at our disposal now (let alone in the future) with which to say it? I dare say electronic "bits and bytes" on a magnetic recording surface, given proper care, may be far more archival than the best oil or acrylic paint on the best gessoed linen support. I'm not blind to the old-fashioned joy of merely pushing paint around nor the need to decorate blank walls. But the rest of the art world has embraced high tech as its weapon of choice in battling the ugliness, indifference, injustice, and hatred in the world, why is it that painting still persists in trying to do so, only to fall flat on its face in elephant dung. For the most part, it's too late to teach the old dogs of this generation new tricks. But aren't we doing a grave disservice to young people learning art today to insist that painting is anything other than an antique artform?

Contributed by Lane, Jim
18 October 1999

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