"Painting has no real context today. What I mean by that is that we have no larger story and meaningful myth within which to hold and nurture the activity of painting.
This activity that we call painting, that seems so clearly full of esteem as “Art”, has no place of stable purpose in our contemporary world. It’s rather arbitrary whether what a painter paints is going to be seen as important or not. It doesn’t correlate with whether the actual painting is any good—quality is not a mark against it, just not necessarily for it either. It has much more to do with how well the painter is able to interface with market forces; the galleries, curators, collectors, etc. That is, it has much more do with the context of the art world, and that has become a very odd context indeed. Further, given the growing secularization and fragmentation of our society we have no place of purpose and meaning for what we call art, and for what we call painting, as might be found in a more traditional culture where the sense of an overarching story is still intact. One can still hope to find a niche of the art world that might appreciate what one has to offer, but in terms of really contributing to a larger story the only thing we seem to be able to count on today, the only story with common consensus and shared terms, is the story of financial amount: how much is it worth? And that doesn’t really measure the value of the thing. The situation isn’t just possibly personally frustrating, it’s culturally bewildering and deeply saddening.
Other questions arise when one looks at the state of the world in general – where we seem to be headed. One doesn’t need to know the latest climate change information, the details of human trafficking, or worldwide poverty to wonder “What the hell am I doing? The world is burning and I’m sitting in the corner coloring? What does it matter, one more picture? What does it matter, one more painter?” It turns out it does. And more directly than we might think. What I would like to present here is a case for the utmost relevance of painting. The house is burning. If painting isn’t coloring in the corner, then what is it? How does it matter? Is there a way for painting to actually contribute to help heal our world?
The question of the meaning and purpose of painting has a history. The question of painting’s relevance only came into existence when the fine arts as a cultural category was gradually invented and then solidified in the eighteenth century. Until then, painting and painters had a clear role and place. As Larry Shiner delineates so well in The Invention of Art: A Cultural History, painting as an activity of image-making was always clearly imbedded in the cultural and economic needs of European society. The category of fine art, as a distinct realm of creativity in which paintings were made for their own sake out of the inspiration of creative genius, didn’t become a cultural norm until the eighteenth century. Before that, although there were steps being made in this direction from the time of the Renaissance, and although concerns of form and beauty were considered and essential, the term “art” as we know and use it didn’t exist. The vast majority of painters performed tasks that they were assigned through their guilds and through commissions; there was always a purpose and use to the images being made. The terms of individual creativity and the notion of art for art’s sake didn’t arise until art became separated from craft, the artist separated from artisan, and pleasure separated from utility and then ultimately refined into aesthetics. The rise of fine arts as a cultural category was inextricably linked to the rise of a market economy, a process of commodification, and a growing middle class. By the nineteenth century the normative view was that fine art was a separate realm of spiritual sustenance, ostensibly serving no other purpose than its own existence...."
Here are a sampling of pictures provided with this essay...