"Painting: Dead Or Alive?" An Art-Side Chat
A panel discussion on the fate of painting, among three IU Hope School of Fine Arts faculty members.
IU Art Museum, Special Exhibitions Gallery
Friday, February 5, 2010. "Triennial 2010" is on view in the museum's first floor Special Exhibitions Gallery through March 7, 2010.
When you wander into an exhibition of contemporary art these days, it might occur to you to ask: where have all the paintings gone? The disappearance of the painting, a form that’s long been a mainstay of visual art, is the subject of a discussion at the Indiana University Art Museum.
Where Have All The Paintings Gone?
The title of the Art-Side Chat is “Painting: Dead or Alive?” Among the panelists are three faculty painters: Caleb Weintraub, Chris Barnard and Betsy Stirratt, who is also the longtime director of the School of Fine Arts Gallery. The setting for the conversation is Triennial 2010, an exhibition of work made by 42 teaching artists from the Indiana University Hope School of Fine Arts. Paintings are included in the Triennial, among other work in nine other media.
“The ‘is painting dead?’ question has been around forever,” Betsy Stirratt begins. “When was the first time someone posed that question? The 1850s?”
The longevity of the question doesn’t keep artists, curators, critics, scholars and collectors from checking painting’s vital signs. For some, painting lacks the funhouse appeal of other, more apparent art forms in the gallery scene today—installation, video art, performance. For others, painting lags simply because many painters are working outside of medium, or reinterpreting the medium.
Pushing Two Dimensions Into Three
Take, for example, Assistant Professor of Painting Caleb Weintraub. His so-called ‘three-dimensional painting,’ is entitled Prelude to a Beatdown. It’s admittedly difficult to understand the wildly colored sculptural composition as a painting. The work is more like a Mardi Gras float, on which two larger-than-life children are walking a hyena. Weintraub’s irreverent definition of the category of ‘painting’ is matched by his indiscriminate use of materials: “I’ll use the kind of thing you’d find at Hobby Lobby.”
High Art Versus Low Art
That painting can be so casually interpreted raises some anxiety about the erosion of such a venerable tradition. “With all due respect,” one participant notes, “street painting is not the Sistine Chapel.”
“We owe it to each other to explain what we think is better about the Sistine Chapel than graffiti,” Visiting Professor Chris Barnard replies. “There’s good graffiti and there’s bad graffiti. I think it’s fair to consider how the Sistine Chapel might seem completely irrelevant to a lot of people, who might find that stuff on a wall in their neighborhood more relevant.”
“There’s nothing to fear,” another audience member concurs. “The creative process is what it’s all about: cross-fertilization and vitality.”
With Abundance Comes Confusion
The proliferation of media these days, while exciting, can make it tricky to separate the wheat from the chaff. Barnard describes that ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ feeling: “People might go to a museum and see something like a Band-Aid crumpled up in the corner, and that’s a moment of confusion, and alienation.”
It’s through craft and intention, the panelists agree, that a contemporary artist will thrive, whether making a crumpled Band-Aid or an abstract painting. “Every form has its criteria,” Barnard suggests.
Stirratt acknowledges that painting has a distinct advantage, not only because of its accessibility among the various art forms, but also because of its commercial viability. “People want to own paintings,” she says. In an art world that encompasses video, installation, and, yes, the proverbial crumpled Band-Aid, there is a place for painting, though it has clearly shifted. “We need to make sure that we are part of the art world as it is. We don’t want to be segregated as some sort of art form that isn’t part of the dialogue.”