Tuesday, August 4, 2009

On Working Hard At This, Or Not

I struggle with making time to paint and getting better at it. It seems like this giant mountain, and while its fun to play around, whenever I have an inkling that I could get really good at it, or tolerably so, at this late age, it means hard work, and hard work is, well, hard, and I just don't know that I am up to it or as interested as I should be. It would take a good eight hour day, every day, for a few years, or, 20, I don't know. We'd ask no less of a violin player, why less of a painter? In any regards, its a puzzlement how to make it enjoyable and not a drudgery.

In the 1960's John Canaday, the outspoken critic of bad modern painting, asked what the next great thing would be in painting, in response to the feeling that it had reached its terminus in abstract expressionism. No one wanted to return to Grant Wood, or older styles, which is, of course, much of what is happening now with the glorification of the "classic" painters. Canaday saw the contemporary scene filled with opportunities that no one was taking advantage of.

Is this true? Is it true now?

It occurs to me that one of the distinguishing characteristics of the paintings that we like the best, is that we know who painted them, just by looking at them. In other words, I think, we are participating in the personality of the painter, not just in the painting. Every great painting, maybe without exception?, is identifiable as to who the artist was. Certainly in the last 500 years. Why is this? Why aren't more paintings the same? Why do we dislike derivative paintings, paintings "in the style of"?

Because we want a piece of the painter, for ourselves? I'll have to give this more thought, I suppose it must be more complicated, and it isn't true of all the arts, visual or otherwise, but with painting, when we see a Van Gogh, we see the man, when we see a painting in the style of Van Gogh, we are turned off, regardless of its artistic virtues. What's with that?

If true, then the problem becomes one of how to break from the pack, to draw, or paint, what has never been painted before. How can this be done? Is it all tapped out? As I drive to life drawing I look at the landscape and wonder, what here hasn't been painted before? Cows in the field? A bridge? Low light on a field? A winding river? All painted before. Or how do I see it differently than the generation before, or after, me?

It feels like something is here, that there is some thread to hang on to, the basis of an idea. Is there?

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