On Painting in Contemporary Art

Is contemporary painting required to be a work of contemporary art?  In so far as there is a philosophical understanding–not a definition, mind you!–of what contemporary art stands for, some set of painting must also be a subset of contemporary art.  Within that set, can a work  that plays with media, almost promiscuously, ink with ink jet and water for example, oil and aclyric with charcoal also serve the prime functions that paint served?  Is paint simply paint–the modernist impulse on stilts– as an acolyte of Clement Greenberg might suppose? Or does paint not also function to illuminate and erase?  If so, can other media illuminate and erase and thereby fall within the domain of painting, per se–in so far as one can take an essentialist definition of painting to mean to illuminate and erase some X?

This implies the following question: Does contemporary painting require that there be paint applied onto an object?  Or is it rather, that the verisimilitude to paint on some ground suffices to call an object a work of contemporary art that follows in the lineage of painting’s degradation from Manet onward.  Hence it is a work that follows in the corpus of contemporary painting–in so far as it is a work of contemporary art– in a way that paintings that serve as illustrations of a pot of flowers or a country-side are not works of contemporary painting.

Is a printed photograph which is then reworked with ink and paint an ink-jet photograph, a mixed media piece or a painting–because it has paint in it or because it does the same thing paintings are supposed to do? (The idea of a mixed media piece strikes me as, rather, a place holder)

I want to ask: is painting a definitional act and phenomenon or is it rather a relational construct?

~ by Faheem Haider on January 19, 2010.

5 Responses to “On Painting in Contemporary Art”

  1. I am no expert on this topic. I think that paint can be a vehicle to entice more viewers just as make-up and clothing can enhance ones appearance. So I ask myself ,What attracted me to the art in the first place was it the design or the palette. If Indeed It was the beauty of the design which is mostly the case then long live the Ansels of this world. I would like to ask you this… When someone takes a photo from archives whether it be newspaper or family photo album and makes a copy of that picture do you think that person is changing history?

    • Hi. Thanks for your comment. I don’t think that person is changing history. I do think that person is creating a new piece of work that bears a strong resemblance to the archived photograph. The biography of the newly printed photograph is different than the impetus behind the so-called original piece, so the criticism or the analysis of the new piece must also be different.

      I agree with you that paint, lively and voluptuous as it can be, does entice the eye. I just question whether that argument for the beauty or fact of paint suffices to import into painting an essentialist definition that conjoins paint with painting. I don’t know the answer to this–principally because any answer has to be constructed from reasonable premises that I might not find reasonable–but I do think that one must question what a painting is and what it does. And I think a piece of work that one might call a painting serves to pull at both what it is and what it does. I guess I think its more important to ponder what a painting does than what a painting is. I’m not sure what follows from this, though, if anything at all.

  2. Painting is whatever you decree it to be – no more no less. Paint can do everything if you have the skills and the draftsmanship which is hard work otherwise it’s just doodling!

    • Hi. You assert the proposition that painting is whatever one decrees it to be. Though I might agree with your assertion, I’d prefer to derive that proposition. I’m not sure whether that derivation would hold up though.

  3. If you too have a passion for paintings and want beautiful paintings of great renowned artists, then visit..
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