Decorations are not Paintings

Why do I see so many visual artists creating decorations and illustrations and calling them paintings? It seems that the majority of contemporary painters are ignoring, or have no knowledge of, the last 50 years of contemporary picture-making. This guy Pablo Picasso gave birth to modernism by allowing the ambiguous construct of a traditional subject (nude figure, artist with model, landscape, tabletop, etc.) to become the overall construct of a canvas instead of the rendered narrative. Hence giving birth to the disciplined picture makers that followed through the same door. (Gorky, DeKooning, Pollack, etc.).

In the visual arts, the roots of Modernism are often traced back to painter Édouard Manet who not only depicted scenes of modern life but also broke with tradition when he made no attempt to mimic the real world by way of perspective and modeling. He instead drew attention to the fact that his work of art was simply painted on a flat canvas and that it was made by using a paintbrush, which sometimes left its mark on the surface of the composition. The movements that followed—including Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Cubism, Constructivism, and Abstract-Expressionism are generally defined as Modernist. Over the span of these movements, artists increasingly focused on the qualities of media including line, form, color, suggestive imagery, etc., and moved away from inherited notions of illustrative or narrative compositions. The picture became the narrative and the experience not the depiction of a subject within the picture. The well-skilled modernist painter allows the viewer to experience whatever comes to them while viewing the composition. This methodology was a major existential shift in painting.


However these paintings are hard to build, it takes pictorial knowledge, a seasoned skill with pictorial ambiguities, and of course some talent at invoking emotion or contemplation from your audience. Curators do not seem to want to consider this fundamental aspect of modern painting. It is easier for a gallerist or curator to find some way to justify a weak painting by making it an illustration of the story about the painting.

Here is a quote from a curator’s essay on an exhibition of paintings of blue circles.:  “This newly discovered painter paints blue circles in order to describe his painful youth living next to a polluted lake”…OK…so this does not make the paintings of blue circles interesting paintings.

The more challenging efforts in picture-making occur when one considers the multitude of visual suggestions available in a composition. Is it a landscape, is it a portrait, is it flat or does it suggest depth…are contrasting objects in front or in back, where is your eye taken throughout the composition…this is the challenge of contemporary painting…paintings are visceral…they are illusions and illusions are an element of our motivation to live. Paint a picture that provides the viewer with illusions that become an experience…stop making decorations and illustrations

IT IS CALLED VISUAL ART!….stop telling me a story to explain that it is still a shallow painting of a blue circle. LEARN HOW TO COMPOSE AND HANDLE ABSTRACT COMPOSITIONS AND STUDY THE HISTORY OF MODERNISM! MOST MUSICIANS CAN PLAY AN INSTRUMENT, COMPOSE A SONG, OR READ MUSIC. There seems to be no requirement for mandatory skills for painters…just paint those blue circles and go to the right parties.

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