I want to see paintings made unselfconsciously. Paintings painted by artists who had some ideal of perfection for which they strived, and who were not considering politics or ideology. There was Michelangelo and Rembrandt, then Van Gogh and Matisse and Derain. But what then? What about now? Who is painting seriously today?
Most of what I see is flat, dark, vulgar, and vapid. It has no content in and of itself: it requires the accompanying essay for appreciation. It explores politics in some vague and abstract manner. It touches on soundbyte themes like feminism or culture or man’s destruction of nature, but does nothing for these causes besides allusions: what does referencing feminism do for feminism? And what does a painting referencing feminism do for me on my wall, besides give me a script for the 30-second conversation I can have with my houseguest who wants to admire my new piece of art? Of what use are these pictures?
Great paintings have intrinsic value. They are magic. They hang on a wall and in exchange for your attention they provide spiritual manna: they feed your soul. Looking at a great painting is a positive, enriching, and worthwhile experience. Your mind can take a rest from interpretation. You look at a great painting for the same reason you smell a flower: you are drawn to it, it captivates you, offers itself to you and unfolds over time.
While some still paint flowers, landscapes, and figures, this is no longer considered valid as true art, and as such very few true artists can be found here. There are hobbyists happily depicting pretty flowers and sunsets, selling their paintings for $250, satisfying themselves when they get that nice little bit of yellow in the center of the flower, or the blue shadow of the tree or a particularly juicy stroke of paint, and especially when they apply their signature in the bottom corner. These pictures are equally shallow as the conceptual or political nonsense mentioned above: you and your houseguest can have a 30-second conversation about flowers or birds or San Francisco. You will never really look at this picture, because after the first glance it is dead: it has offered up all that it has, and from now on is nothing more than an object on your wall. There is no magic.
The artist today, if she pursues education, will be taught to deconstruct all ideas of art, to follow the endless downward spirals of her panicked mind, searching for something new, something dark and twisted and convoluted, and will only be allowed to stop and be patted on the back when she has created something thoroughly confusing or completely empty. Only then will she be allowed to teach at the college level.
Alternately, he may decide to forgo education and instead paint what he likes to paint. Unfortunately, he will be forced to get a job and in a few years will stop painting entirely, or he will be forced to make something marketable and become a whore to the whims of a tasteless society that will only respect the paintings they cannot understand and cannot afford, and will only purchase paintings of their backyard or their pet or a rooster, because they collect rooster things.
The painter with good intentions, who is not interested in expressing political views through art, finds no one to push her towards greatness. Nobody will tell her honestly what they think about her work. The critics and professors won’t even look at her paintings, and everybody else will say “great job” and “good for you” no matter how good or bad her work. She will paint the same thing for thirty years, in the same style, and die having done nothing for art, nothing for her patrons, and nothing for her own huge and infinite soul.
The serious painter walks a lonely road. He is mocked by great museums hung with complete nonsense auctioned at absurd prices, or patronized by cramped gift shops that will hang his paintings on over-full and poorly-lit walls behind cases of jewelry and glass figurines.
This morning, in search of painting, I do a web search for “painting blog”, and get as the top result the blog of New American Painting, and accompanied by a painting of a strange green landscape, the following “review” (please feel free to skip ahead):
There is constant irregular conflict behind the eyes—flash! electronic fusillades jumping viciously into the breach! burning, burning chemical warfare! psychological warfare, of the most personal and literal kind!—whether the brutal bedfellows Mercury and Mars, tussling for dominance and fucking to fuck you, or the constant recce and rendering benign of the dangerous and volatile thoughts accrued from the moment one awakes and slips into Society, or the punching of mirrors, or the delicate handling of nitroglycerin emotions, or the silencing of vicious tongues, or the bolstering of saintly patience, or the valiantly held redoubt, behind which happiness flies beautifully, vulnerably, the tattered and torn through—victim of a thousand missiles, from a thousand enemies, from a thousand directions—standard which, if all goes to plan (hah!) serves as both signal and spur … but few battles of the brain are more foundational, and therefore more potentially devastating, than the Soviet Spy style, low and slow, inevitable conflict between reminiscence and reality, the fungibility of memory a rose-colored radiation, seeping into every sulci, every incident, a terribly malleable foundation—Memory!—for us to build ourselves upon, leaving us all Houses on the Sand
So perhaps I must write more about painting on my own blog. I can post images of my work and talk about my process. I can post images of paintings I love and talk about why I love them. If you have an artist or a painting that you would like to discuss, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I cannot promise any amount or frequency of content, only honesty and dedication to the magic of great painting.
I’ll leave you with a wonderful painting by Andre Derain: