Robert Genn is a favorite artist/writer. This piece, one of his twice-weekly letters about the arts, caught my attention and answered some of my own questions as a painter. I hope you find value here too:
Yesterday, Renate M Reuter, Founder, President and Executive Director of the Portrait and Figure Painters Society of SW Florida, Inc. wrote, "What is the future of oil painting? Are they going out of style? Are they going to be done by computers? What about the classic type of oils versus all the modern forms? I'd like to have the right answers from you for the people who ask me these questions."
Thanks, Renate. I don't know if I can give you the "right" answers, but I'll give you mine.
Oil painters currently fill entire mountain passes, French barnyards and Las Vegas Casinos. Some California beaches are so burdened with oil painters a local kid who wants to build sandcastles has to bring his own sand. It's got so bad in our area that the other day when I went out to one of my favourite spots, other painters were already using up my view.
Fact is, there are more paintings being produced today than at any time in history. Basements and attics groan with them.
With the current democratization of art and lots of folks with time on their hands, painting has become a mainline avocation, second only to photography and tropical fish. Art instruction and workshops are big business--take a look at our Workshop Calendar.
The problem lies in the quality of the art. Let's face it, some genres, like portraiture, are time-consuming to learn and difficult to pull off. John Singer Sargent took eight years studying with Carolus Duran to achieve a degree of proficiency. Becoming a truly fine artist requires a lifetime of studenthood and dedication. Fine art is a "doing thing" and therein lies its main appeal. Painting, like fishing and hunting, is not going to be taken over any time soon by computers.
The art of painting will survive and thrive because it is easy to do and difficult to do well. Humankind loves challenges, and traditional painting has more challenges than a new Greek government. But just as you can be assured that the Parthenon will still be there, painting will go on. In my opinion, reports on the death of painting have been greatly exaggerated. I'd be interested in hearing what you think.
PS: "Within the act of painting there is a history, a continuum of alchemy through the ages that lives on in paint." (Lori Agostino)
Esoterica: Intellectuals and others have enthused about modern forms of art that seem more significant in today's problem-loaded world. These pundits are the ones most frequently announcing the death of painting. The forms of art they espouse have the advantage of not being so arduous to teach and have more shock, social, and entertainment value than old-fashioned representational forms. People will line up around the block to be shocked, socialized or entertained, whereas traditional forms tend to attract a quieter crowd. While the public entertainment artist serves a valuable purpose, the private traditional painter continues to labour in her modest studio or mountain pass. Winslow Homer said it well: "Look at nature, work independently, and solve your own problems."
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You may not always agree with him, but he is a thoughtful, lifelong artist addressing what many of us deal with in front of the easel.
Now...to the brushes and paint!