Within the introduction to my dissertation in 2002 I used the following quote from an interview with the painter Jenny Saville regarding the relevance of painting within the contemporary art landscape:
“Some people today dismiss your work solely on the basis that it is painting…It will never be at the forefront of art again…so many people think that the time is over for painting and I have to admit that I’ve got doubts too”
‘Profile: Jenny Saville’ David Lee ArtReview: The Essential Monthly Guide Vol XLX (December/January 1998), p.60
The social contextualisation of this, to me, is the embracement of ‘new technologies’ within the arts. 15 years after its publication, the article seems to be somewhat prophetic. In the intervening years digital technologies have not only been developed, embraced, and made more accessible to the masses, but their use has been increasingly employed within contemporary art works. Where does painting now rank in the contemporary art canon? Is it ‘over’ as a relevant form of artistic expression?
Since completing a Fine Art degree I have tended to refer myself as a painter rather than an artist. That is, after all, the medium by which I present my artistic interpretation and output to the world. However, the way in which I develop my paintings has very much changed over the years. I feel that digital technologies have aided rather than restricted my painterly concerns.
This became very noticeable to me as I carried out a research ‘art walk’ over the Easter weekend. Instead of using the sketchbook that I was carrying around with me to record visual information, the first thing that I reached for was my mobile phone:
Research Art Walk (B-S-2A) Digital images April 2014
I firmly believe that drawing and painting is a skill that you have to nurture and develop. Unfortunately, outside of the protective and supportive cocoon of art school, the ‘real world’ often dictates that the development of art work has to come second to earning a living with a ‘day job’. The time to dedicate to art work therefore becomes more limited and precious. The need to work more efficiently means that I find it particularly useful to be able to streamline the processes involved in creating a painting where possible. The only drawing that I really do not is directly onto a canvas during the painting process.
My sketchbook is now my mobile phone and laptop. Digital images are manipulated and used as reference points in the same way 10 years ago I would have used drawings in my sketchbook. Rather than feeling that technology threatens painting, I see it as facilitating the process. The resource material and visual information that I am able to collate to create a painting is much greater than before.
I still see painting as having a place in the contemporary art scene. Its tactility, intimacy and personalisation being something that I don’t believe is replicated by visual works created using digital technologies. Both forms of art can not only co-exist, but the embracement of both by artists means that one can very much enhance the other.
The impact that digital technologies will have on the base skills of painting and drawing does however remain to be seen. Will these skills only be employed via the medium of apps to create digital images in the future? Does this matter? I would be interested to hear what others, artists or otherwise, think about this…