Is Painting Art?

or, “Of Course Painting Is Art, I Thought I Should Specify Because If Nothing Else, Jonathan Jones’ Opinion Pieces Show That There Really Are People Who Believe Things That Sound Like Satirical Pisstakes”, by Mitch Alexander.

Originally posted 08 January 2014 @ @ HypArc.net

Table of Contents

Is painting art?

I’m being facetious, of course: the answer is a resounding “no”. But recently, it seems more and more people have been asking this ludicrous question, probably inspired by those asking whether or not videogames can ever be art – thankfully, Jonathan Jones has done his part (more than once!) to demonstrate how farcical the idea is to anyone with a decent classical education, and I feel it’s high time someone with an ounce of sense did the same with regards to the upswell of voices that ask that odious, tedious question: is painting art?

Again, I reiterate: no.

I’ve previously been criticised for focusing exclusively on postmodern art when it comes to painting; I for one believe that if this genre is a representation of modern minds, then it stands to reason that we should focus our critiques thereupon.

However, as if to hammer my detractors’ point home, Santa brought me a collection of paintings of various styles and methods, from Impressionist to Abstract, from Surrealist to Modern. After looking directly at them for about a minute each (as is the custom, I’m told), I feel I’ve certainly learned a great deal more about the place of painting when it comes to art (or lack thereof).

I categorically believe that there is a place for appreciation of painting in our lives – and there is certainly a place for paintings above the authentic marble fireplace, in my newly-renovated lounge room – but that does not make them art. This is demonstrable from a glance.

For example, Dutch & Flemish painters only managed to achieve realistic-looking portraits and scenes despite decades of work; paintings that were achieved, it should be said, by simply copying the appearance of a model and applying it onto a canvas without a single change! I believe, at most, painting can only really be considered “high craft” - if that.

I say “if that”, because, while the Dutch school were content to simply copy what they saw, they at least managed to hide the rough edges of their work; who in their right mind would look upon Vincent van Gogh’s piece “Starry Night”, with its blurry approximations, visible brushstrokes and unrealistic representations and crown it “art”? Probably the same kind of mind that made it, I suppose – young, angry, unwashed men, sitting in their darkened rooms, furiously painting a vase of flowers with a pastry utensil and some blobs of goo on a wooden board, surrounded by framed portraits of nude women – of which there seems to be an overwhelming amount. Hardly a lifestyle appropriate for an “artist”, I would opine.

Van Gogh is by not, however, the sole offender, nor the worst of his flock – it’s sad to say that this trend of inept, awkward spatters of paint is not just the province of the edgy, “alternative” art scene, but also is reflected in the mainstream “artists” whom we are to believe represent the best of the best. Who could look upon Jackson Pollack’s whimsical smudges and say he was extorting a profound, spiritual message? Which imbecile would equate Picasso’s slow degeneration from skillful craft down to hodge-podge abstraction with meaning? And what of the almighty waste of good paint that is “Vir Heroicus Sublimis” - how could anyone feel shaken to their spiritual core by a blown-up photograph of the napkins on the sideboard in our conservatory?

It’s difficult – nay, nigh impossible – to imagine anyone being moved by some blobs of liquid on some material. Will we be sighing at the “Impressionist” stains of Earl Grey on my cords next? Will we be swooning at the juxtaposition of rustic, earthy brown tones against the soft, ephemeral textures of the towels my wife has neatly stacked in the linen cupboard? Will I be heralded every time I dye my greys, or leave a pink sock in the wash? Will my son Hamilton be fast-tracked to art school because his “outsider art” of a picture of a zebra brought a tear to the eye of his kooky art teacher who encourages otherwise rational children that smearing mustard on fabric is evidence of skill, of craft, of art?

If the outspoken minority of people who believe painting can ever be art are ever heard by an uncritical ear, this painting of the future may not be so outlandish and obscene after all.

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