Painting or producing

The kiss of death

Painting, the verb, means different things to different people. It can be the simple act of moving a brush on the canvas or, at the other extreme, a quest, a search, an exploration of a mysterious activity consisting in the creation, by hand, of painted images that have some kind of fascinating power. In between, there are all sorts of possible variations, abstract, geometric, figurative, expressionist, improvised or planed… leading to the production of images.

Only the quest will retain our attention for now. First, one has to take into consideration the vastness of the territory : from nudes to landscapes, portraits, historical scenes, genre or still lifes, there is a lot to explore. Through centuries, painters have roamed in all those domains, regularily encountering other explorers, past and present. Unlike some ( unlike most, one should say ) who discover a small unexploited plot and make it theirs, a few painters are bent on the search itself. On the dialogue, too, with those whose path they cross.

The market, of course, wants clearly identifyable producers of painted images. If you want to succeed, paint your own logo over and over again, it is the certified road to success : the only way any rich and uncultured collector or merchant will recognize what you are doing.

But, beware : the embrace of the market and of all the chi-chi social rituals that go with it are the kiss of death : as a painter you become the prisoner of the superficial image so called « professionals » tag on you. In other words, signing in into the artworld as just one more producer of sophisticated objects for sale is the surest way to die as an artist.

To illustrate these reflections, think of the late and early work of Picasso, Pollock and a few others, which amount to a lot more than the image one is supposed to have of their work. Think also of the late work of Basquiat, desperately trying to avoid the niche assigned to him by the « specialists » and the speculators.

The issue is quite simple : does one want to be paid (often well) to produce, or does one remain forever intent on exploring the mysteries of painting at one’s own cost and risk.