Yesterday, Renate M. Reuter, founder, president and executive director of the Portrait and Figure Painters Society of SW Florida, Inc. wrote, “What is the future of oil paintings? Are they going out of style? Are they going to be done by computers? What about the classic type of oils versus all the modern forms? I’d like to have the right answers from you for the people who ask me these questions.”
Thanks, Renate. I don’t know if I can give you the “right” answers, but I’ll give you mine.
Oil painters currently fill entire mountain passes, French barnyards and Las Vegas casinos. Some California beaches are so burdened with oil painters a local kid who wants to build sandcastles has to bring his own sand. It’s got so bad in our area that the other day when I went out to one of my favourite spots, other painters were already using up my view.
Fact is, more paintings are being produced today than at any time in history. Basements and attics groan with them.
With the current democratization of art and lots of folks with time on their hands, painting has become a mainline avocation, second only to photography and tropical fish. Art instruction and workshops are big business — take a look at our Workshop Calendar.
The problem lies in the quality of the art. Let’s face it, some genres, like portraiture, are time-consuming to learn and difficult to pull off. John Singer Sargent took eight years studying with Carolus Duran to achieve a degree of proficiency. Becoming a truly fine artist requires a lifetime of studenthood and dedication. Fine art is a “doing thing,” and therein lies its main appeal. Painting, like fishing and hunting, is not going to be taken over any time soon by computers.
The art of painting will survive and thrive because it is easy to do and difficult to do well. Humankind loves challenges, and traditional painting has more challenges than a new Greek government. But just as you can be assured that the Parthenon will still be there, painting will go on. In my opinion, reports on the death of painting have been greatly exaggerated. I’d be interested in hearing what you think.
PS: “Within the act of painting there is a history, a continuum of alchemy through the ages that lives on in paint.” (Lori Agostino)
Esoterica: Intellectuals and others have enthused about modern forms of art that seem more significant in today’s problem-loaded world. These pundits are the ones most frequently announcing the death of painting. The forms of art they espouse have the advantage of not being so arduous to teach and have more shock, social, and entertainment value than old-fashioned representational forms. People will line up around the block to be shocked, socialized or entertained, whereas traditional forms tend to attract a quieter crowd. While the public entertainment artist serves a valuable purpose, the private traditional painter continues to labour in her modest studio or mountain pass. Winslow Homer said it well: “Look at nature, work independently, and solve your own problems.”
Ready availability of courses and materials
by Polonca Kocjancic, Slovenia
My attention was attracted most by your statement: “With the current democratization of art and lots of folks with time on their hands, painting has become a mainline avocation.” Very true. But it is not only the democratization and time that people have — there is, besides, this huge difference compared to the situation in the past: in many places, a lot more is available. Not only Web information that anybody can browse. In my opinion, two factors are not to be missed:
— the availability of painters and art tutors who give high-quality courses at a reasonable price and adapted to various levels of the people attending, and
— the wealth of available materials and tutorials that years ago were not there for anybody to buy at the closest art shop.
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Painting on the human level
by Andrew Judd, Toronto, ON, Canada
Considering the possibility of painting being taken over by computers is like considering the possibility of golf being taken over by robots. Machines can hit a ball much further and more consistently than any human hand so why not let machines do all the work? Because the human hand at work gives us the “resonance” we appreciate and understand on a “human” level. I use an ipad to “paint” with sometimes but it is my experience with painting in oil that taught me the effect I hope to achieve. Here are two images as an example…. the first one is traditional oil on a panel and the second one is “painted” with my ipad.
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Robert Henri’s sign posts
by Judy A. Crowe, Spring, TX, USA
Computers will never take over the art world in my opinion. As Robert Henri put it in The Art Spirit, “There are moments in a day and in our lives when we seem to see beyond the usual. Such are the moments of our greatest happiness. Such are the moments of our greatest wisdom. If one could but recall this vision by some sort of sign. It was in this hope that the arts were invented. Sign posts on the way to what may be. Sign posts toward greater knowledge.” Mr. Henri also said in the same book that it is simply a question of doing things, anything, well. When the artist is alive in a person, whatever his kind of work may be, he becomes an inventive, searching, daring, self-expressing creature. He becomes interesting to other people. He disturbs, enlightens, and opens the way for better understanding. Where those who are not artists are trying to close the book, he is trying to open it and show that there are still more pages possible. I don’t think that even my smart phone can do that! Now I need to go to the studio.
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Academies carrying the flag
by John Unbehend, Seattle, WA, USA
With the world awash in ‘painters’ using oil, watercolor, or software, to produce less than memorable work, it is easy to be concerned with the future of painting. However, when quality and skill are worked into the equation, one only has to look at the outstanding work being produced by students coming out of the newly rejuvenated Atelier system. I have just viewed shows of work done by students finishing the programs at Gage Academy and Georgetown Atelier here in Seattle — please be reassured, quality oil painting done by skilled artists is alive and well.
Don’t trivialize computer art
by Dr. Patricia Hartman
I am a digital artist and do enjoy your letters, but have to say that the process of creating paintings using the computer is more difficult and time consuming than if I just picked up brush and canvas and went at it. I used to paint in watercolor, oil and acrylic. I could finish a painting in a few hours, and sometimes it would turn out pretty well. Now, using the computer applications like 3D modeling, Corel Painter, Photoshop etc., I can spend upwards of 100 hours on just one effort. I have won consistently in local shows and also in the San Diego County Fair. I had to take several courses at the local community college to gain even some small proficiency in these applications. Also, currently the most feasible career path for artists is in digital art (3D modeling and animation). So, I want to make sure that the idea of “computer art” isn’t trivializing the efforts of many fine digital artists.
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The love of play
by Alan Soffer, Wallingford, PA, USA
Yes, the art world continues to expand in unfamiliar and exciting new ways, which can be thought provoking and sickening at times. But getting into the meat of creating a visual expression through paint, dirtying your hands and digging in to the seductive and sensuous oil and acrylic media will forever thrill us. People, it is the process which captivates us. Even if someday artists can conjure a painting better via other technologies, even through some spiritual or telepathic route, many will love to play with the lush colors floating in a syrupy concoction.
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Wishing painting was dead
by Anders Knutsson, Brooklyn, NY, USA
Between British “spot” paintings and Chinese factories with rows of hundreds of artists toiling away at paintings of the Canadian Rockies and Sacré Coeur, even a seasoned Brooklyn painter might have some vivid nightmares. And those mountain passes seem to have more Christo oil cloth than The Metropolitan Museum! And yes, the tattoo artists on the California beaches are now sporting Swedish cold-pressed organic linseed oil. But if we put all that, and all the “3-B school” (a Vermont expression for barns, bridges and birches) painters over there and (pardon the expression, it’s just a short-cut) over here and the “here” is where painters who have gone deeply into oil painting, like yourself and I like to point out Tad Spurgeon, Tad’s website is like a Treasure Island for oil painters! Gold is found there! In some ways, I wish that painting was dead — crap-painting, that is. Like bad jazz, scripts, sermons, manuscripts, inventions, gas-guzzlers — And, God knows, I have held on to many of those old works! It was hard to “see” at the time.
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Not any time soon
by Carl Purcell, Manti, UT, USA
I am principally a watercolor artist but do about 8 oil paintings a year. I also teach 10-12 workshops each year, and from my perspective the traditional painting is far from the intensive care unit.
Years ago when the first version of Photoshop was emerging, an associate at the college where I taught warned me that my job as artist was heading for extinction. Soon, he said everyone will be able to do what I do on their computers. I told him that he was dead wrong, and that people had said the same thing when the camera came on the scene. Yet the camera had turned out to be one more tool in the hands of artists. People still wanted paintings because they could see it came from someone’s heart.
The same has happened with the computer. It is a valuable tool in the hands of an artist. The functions that the camera and the computer cannot perform are the things that make us human: the ability to feel something from the things we see, the ability to link what we see to our past experiences and to forge pictures from the visual, mental and emotional stuff in our heads. Painting reflects the artist’s soul, and neither of these mechanical devices has a soul. Traditional painting as we know it is a part of who we are; it will not be replaced by the computer any more than it will be replaced by the vacuum.
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The synthesis of old and new
by John DeCuir, La Crescenta, CA, USA
I couldn’t agree more about “the death of oil painting being highly exaggerated.” But as you know better than I, technology throughout the ages has had a major impact on the evolutionary path of our art from that fifth leg on the bison on the cave wall (to depict the concept of motion) to “pictures” that hang on our walls today that offer 3d Plasma images that move through space and time at the speed of light. (By the way that fifth leg on the bison was probably just a mistake and just before the invention of the eraser.)
We used to build film sets with hammer and nails and now we use air guns, the difference is that the significant construction time and money we save can be moved into a better quality product. I am sure the crude tools of the cave man when compared to Michelangelo fresco painting techniques were light years apart while, I think, the results are both history making. So I don’t think it is as much an issue of one technology replacing another as it is a synthesis of techniques old and new.
So I applaud that we are living through a period in time when the new digital technology is pushing and shoving itself into the room, giving birth, I hope, to new formats in art.
The human tribe
by Nicoletta Baumeister, Vancouver, BC, Canada
I paint because I learn by looking and doing. It has so little to do with producing a painting, a product. If that were the aim, I have produced enough. I am human, and I know that I am human, and know how I am a human by painting. I use my senses to mediate my environment, I use my brain to make sense of the information my senses deliver to my neural net and I rely on my gut to feel my way through all the bigger stuff that has no specific name, but is encompassed by words like values and ethics, truth, harmony and balance. The drawing, the painting is map making.
As for the form the expression of this being human takes, will oil paintings be done by computer? Well, maybe. But surely that is a result of mediating the environment, surely that is being a human caught in a specific space and time, trying to understand.
As for why share these forms of expression? When I hear a song, watch a dance, see a work of art, read a book, I am sharing the maker’s ears, the dancer’s muscles, the artist’s eyes, and the writer’s brain. It is what confirms for me that they are human, like me, made of the same flesh and bone. It confirms to me that no matter how different, we belong to the same tribe, and that our experience of being human has universal reverberations through heck of a lot of time.
The arc of cheap reproductions
by Edna Rappaport, Greenwood Village, CO, USA
I agree with Mr. Renate M Reuter, and especially with the “computer” mention. First, the fact that the whole world of artists can use the Internet to show their wares and thus minimize the uniqueness and importance of original art. Second, I hear many art gallery owners lamenting the fact that selling original art is becoming more and more difficult because so many people are opting these days to buy reproductions made on canvas (for cheap) and computer generated art. As an artist, I know this to be a fact. I can see that I no longer can hope to sell any of my originals, unless I am willing to sell them for the same price as my canvas reproductions. Trying to rely on selling my originals for my livelihood almost brought me to the brink of bankruptcy. I also think that there is either corruption, some sort of craziness, or self-importance, in the “upper echelons” of the art world which has catapulted some artists to the obscene heights of success — unjustifiably so — while other artists — more talented in my humble opinion — continue to be ignored and “starving.” For me, this is the “right” answer about art today; I love art, I love being an artist, but I don’t want Art to become the death of me.
(RG note) Thanks, Edna. Two decades ago French painters jumped on the reproduction bandwagon. Between the sale of cheap repros and even cheaper posters they succeeded in ruining the market for their originals. This market is just now in the process of recovering and French artists are the wiser. While there are still some geographical areas holding out for reproductions, in most areas original work seems to be back in full force. In the meantime in many areas repros never show up in upscale auctions and to be seen with one in social circles is to identify oneself as degenerate. And so it goes.
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Questions about ‘Portrait Society’
by Marguerite Larmand, Simcoe, ON, Canada
It would make sense to me that the Portrait and Figure Painters Society existed first and foremost to discuss questions such as the ones asked by Founder, President and Executive Director Renate M Reuter. Before these questions are asked, however, others take precedence. What exactly has been “founded” by PFPS? What does the Executive Director “direct”? What is being “incorporated”?
Further, what are the benefits of forming a society as opposed to carrying on individual pursuits? What kind of criteria is used for membership in the society? Who determines membership? What are the actual member benefits? Do members gather for the rigor of real criticism and discussion?
Do they consider the relevance of what they do to the region of SW Florida? To the wider world of painting? In what field or domain is their work meaningful? Do they see any responsibility for keeping painting alive?
There are a number of rationales for painting and each painter must at least know what it is that they are keeping alive. Be it the act, the object, the standards, the psychological benefits, the grit, whatever it may be, the reason for painting needs to be clear in the painter’s mind. I personally think everyone could paint or sing or dance for all the benefits to optimum health.
Growth in every industry including the art industry is now in a state of excess. The ratio of product to purchaser is no different for painting than for shoes. The question comes down to this; in a world of such excess, how do we hold on to our passion for painting without adding to that excess? Try removing the “painted for product” criteria and see if the remaining criteria can maintain passion.
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by Ann Trusty, The Artist’s Road, Lawrence, Kansas, USA
In your recent interview with John Hulsey reproduced on The Artist’s Road you mentioned that the new excitement for American Impressionism was improving standards. What you observed was that the success of the plein air movement seems to have increased the quality of artwork being produced — taken it to a higher level, but that there seems to be less diversity of styles being seen. I think it is such an interesting observation.
(John Hulsey) What do you think about the tremendous, sudden popularity of plein air painting?
(Robert Genn) “It looks like a lot of folks have jumped on the same style. A lot of the artists that are painting in that particular style — American Impressionism, or whatever you want to call it — are doing pretty good work. It is better work, on average, than what was going on a few years ago when other styles were more predominant. A while back I was invited to jury a show in Indianapolis. I had never been to Indianapolis before and I wanted to go to the raceway anyway, so I accepted.
Thirty Indiana artists had been chosen to exhibit two paintings each. The main body of the jurying had been done and all I had to do was pick out one, two, three, and three honorable mentions. I walked into this show and swore it was painted by the same person — 30 different artists, 60 paintings. With a couple of exceptions, it was nearly all in the American Impressionism style.
Recently I was jurying a show in Winnipeg, Manitoba where the AI isn’t a factor. Every painting was different. They were all over the place, primitive, abstract, modern, realism, tight, loose. At least with the American Impressionists, there is a fair degree of consistency of quality and rather nice brushwork. It looks to me as if Richard Schmid and others have been somewhat responsible for getting the ball rolling. But now there are hundreds — California is chock-a-block with them. A lot of it has got to do with the environment and the type of subject matter people choose. There are many, many painters doing really well in Arizona and New Mexico — wonderful stuff — hot warm lights and rich purple shadows, etc.”
Loving the journey
by Diane Overmyer, Goshen, IN, USA
When I owned an art gallery I found it was much easier to sell quality 3-D art such as hand blown glass, turned wood vessels and large pieces of fine thrown pottery, than any 2-D work. The reason: houses are being built with open concepts and have less wall space than they once had.
Also original oil paintings normally have a higher price point than most other mediums. I also think that the public is not well educated in art, so many people only purchase what catches their eye rather than considering how accomplished the artist might be. Most people have no idea how much time it takes to produce any unique quality piece of art, much less an original oil painting. There are so many decisions that are made by a well trained oil painter that most people, including novice artists have no idea about. Take value or color temperature, (just to name two of the many considerations that go into each painting I produce). I might spend hours tweaking a painting to get just the right emphasis on a focal point or to down play the supporting areas of that same painting. Regardless of what the public thinks, I will continue to work in oils because, as Robert said, it is all about the process. I love the journey I travel as each painting comes to fruition!
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The decline of quality
by Sharon Knettell, Woonsocket, RI, USA
Many years ago, I was at the Air and Space museum in Washington. I was struck by the first robot moon-lander. It was not that it was clever, but even though it was a robot, it was handmade. It was actually quite endearing as it looked lovingly constructed. It had uniqueness and a rarity about it.
We are swamped by paintings. I am increasingly loathed to mention I am an artist as so many people will unleash their iPhone gallery on me. Most of them are of the school, “If I say I am an artist, it must me so.” Rarely if ever do I see work that requires more effort or knowledge than reading a how-to book on magic markers. There is no depth or, God forbid, refinement.
This, of course, is an old saw of mine. There is so much figurative and portrait work done from photography, there is sameness to most of it. You do not get the quirkiness or originality of a Gauguin or a Van Gogh simply by pinning a photo to your easel. Yes I know Degas worked from photos — but he had at least 4 years of atelier training, something I wish was a requirement today. Most of his paintings were constructed by piecing together an extensive collection of drawings done from life.
We value speed more than quality. Even though Sargent’s paintings look as if they were carried out in a New York minute, he redid heads over and over again. One of his very rich subjects fainted after months of posing. We ask nothing of our subjects, fearing the loss of the commission. We assure them that they will be as little inconvenienced as possible. I would posit that we have not had a really great portrait painter since perhaps 1930 when the last of the atelier painters were still eking out a living. We may have had competent, realistic painters — but not breathtaking ones.
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Enjoy the past comments below for The death of painting…
mixed media painting, 24 x 24 inches
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Mary Susan Vaughn of Weddington, NC, USA, who wrote, “I believe the ones who are spreading hogwash about the death of painting are those — and those alone — who have had a death of their own passion.”
And also Rob Corsetti of Farmington, Utah, USA, who wrote, “There is nothing like slapping down real paint. It just feels good; mixing colors, happy accidents and having a final piece, and original work of art you can touch and hold and feel.”
And also >Deborah Elmquist of Port Orange, Florida, USA, who wrote, “In this culture of every kid gets a trophy mentality, anyone painting is told their work is good.”