16 April 2008

Four-dimensional painting

Let us pass over the fact that there are no clear demarcations between objects, no such things as discrete objects. What we consider to be objects are constructs of the mind.

Let us accept for the sake of argument that these constructs are the objects that we conceive them to be. What is the entire object? It can’t be the object at any arbitrary point in spacetime. That’s just a slice of the object, not the object as a whole. There is no reason to privilege any particular slice of spacetime over another. The entire object is all the spacetime events involving it between when it was created and when it is destroyed.

Not only does this make it almost impossible to appreciate a painting in its entirety but it also has implications for the conservation and restoration of paintings. There is an assumption that the painting as it was when the artist stopped working on it is ‘the painting’, and that any change to it after that is ‘damage’ that has to be ‘restored’. This is, of course, an untenable position.

Over time, a painting changes. Dust and smoke particles accumulate on the surface. Varnishes darken. Pigments change their colour. Cracks form in the surface. Conservators talk about restoring a painting to its ‘original condition’. But this is, as we have seen, an entirely arbitrary designation. Why privilege the moment an artist stops working on something over any other moment in the painting’s existence?

When I’m working on a painting, I carefully blow smoke over the wet paint to trap the particles between the paint layers. In at least one case, I’ve included dark forms in the underpainting that should hopefully begin to show through the lighter overpainting in about 50 years or so.

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