Tuesday, July 3, 2007

what is modern?

The hardest thing one confronts when writing about painting today is how to avoid having to defend against the idea that "painting is dead." Anyone who really knows what real painting is finds the statement not only repulsive but obviously untrue. It is not untrue simply because there are more painters today than at any other time in history. Certainly numbers alone do not make an art form viable. It's quite possible to have legions of bad painters mucking things up. But what makes it so plainly and categorically untrue that painting might be or could be "dead" is that the very nature of painting makes its "death" impossible. Certainly it can be true that a particular generation of artists produces nothing of enduring value. But the art form itself is not injured by a fallow spell. The 18th century in France was not the richest season for painting, for example, Watteau and Chardin notwithstanding. Yet from that fallow period arose a rich and diverse succession of artists. The list of names is provocative: David, Ingres, Corot, Gericault, Delacroix, Degas, Manet, Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh and various less famous others who were also rich participants in an expansive era of pictorial invention.
Painting is certainly not dead, though one sees so little in twentieth century art that is very inspiring or innovative. However, this long century of "isms" against which Bonnard, Matisse and Picasso stand out as beacons may well be the fallow century that preceeds the next great reawakening of pictorial sensibility. The idea artists have had there day. Mimimalism is a design trend as available in Walmart as in Chelsea. The decadent art has spun out its last, and a revitalization of imagery and life is in the making. All this takes place behind the scenes. In this era when more people are painting than ever before (don't take my word for it, ask Misters Winsor and Newton), artists of innately visual sensibility are finding their way. They are doing as artists have always done. They are following their own hearts, discovering their own paths. They are looking at the art of the past and finding new touchstones for ideas. They are not copying the past. They are transforming it. They are finding the eternal idea and letting it breathe the air of the present tense. Real painting is about life, and life is always waiting to be explored. Modern Painters is about finding this first evidence of the new path that painting takes in the new century.