05 April 2011

Why painting rules

I've got to come up with this proposal document thing for school this week, so I've been thinking about all sorts of stuff, trying to pin it down, if you know what I mean. I've been sick, which has meant wandering all over the place.

I've been thinking a lot about why I started painting in the first place. I've always, from a young age, wanted to do something. I knew what my theme was very early on. As soon as I started finding out about the world, I was horrified. That has never left me.

So, the theme: how horrible and insane the world is, and the individual's conflicted place within it.

The problem was how to give these ideas some kind of form. During my teens and early 20s, I thought I was going to be a science fiction writer. Science fiction seemed to be a really good way to make pointed comment about the world now – you take the aspect about the world you want to comment on and exaggerate it into a future society scenario of some sort. Like a caricature.

Unfortunately, it turned out that when I tried to write the fucking stuff, I was really fucking shit at it. I got nowhere. Nowhere at all.

Luckily, I'd had the good sense as a teenager not to pay any attention to literary theory. Instead of studying literary theory to learn how to write, I read about Dada and avant-garde art. I mean, Jesus Motherfuck, just look at the English teachers at school. Only a mug would study literature!

After a while, it struck me that now was a really interesting time to be a painter. Painting had been the dominant art form for 500 years, until it was displaced in the 1960s by the so-called dematerialisation of the art work, the shift from a focus on the discrete object towards the social context.

You see, painting being on top for those 500 years had come with all sorts of restrictions. It's like how you wouldn't want to be King of England or President of the World – everything you do would be determined by that role.

After the 15th century avant-garde moment that transformed the role of the painter from craftsman to artist, the serious painter had to follow classical art theory. History paintings were the most important, followed by a strict hierarchy of painting genres. There were specific rules about composition, perspective, anatomy, colour, etc. The goal was a kind of naturalistic illusionism.

Then, in the 19th century, along came photography. It could do naturalistic illusionism much quicker and easier than painting. As Picabia put it, ‘Photography has been a great help in forcing art to realise its own nature, which does not consist of becoming a mirror of the external world but in conferring plastic reality on inner states of mind.’

Unfortunately, although the avant-garde that followed destroyed the salons, they didn't destroy the academics with their authoritarian theories. Painting after photography became all about truth to materials and flatness. Anyone who didn't conform – i.e. all the good artists – was marginalised out of mainstream art history.

This is why the institutional art establishment embracing the so-called 'progressive' and 'advanced' post-conceptual art since the 60s (as hilariously championed by those October idiots) and neglecting what it considers to be an inherently 'conservative' medium – painting – is completely liberating for painters.

We can do what the fuck we want.

In the same vein, this is why I like living here. I'm not into any of that nationalist bullshit, but I do honestly think we have some very good, world class painters here now. (I could be biased of course.) I reckon a reason for this is that the rest of the art world considers New Zealand to be laughably negligible – good for a bit of Polynesian exoticism and nothing else.

We have nothing to fucking lose.

Another large part of it is that we have no decent museums here. The only decent pictures you can see are reproductions. Any young cunts reading this wouldn't believe what it was like in this hell-hole before the internet came around. Fucking hell, man.

It's like the Dunedin sound. Just as that had to be developed because decent music was so hard to get otherwise, so you have to make good pictures if you want to see them here.

Thank you New Zealand's cultural institutions for being such useless cunts!

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