#TwitterCrit: On the Many Deaths of Painting

This week we’re introducing #TwitterCrit – a new series on ART AT BAY.  From time to time, we’ll let you know of a time and date, and we’ll discuss various art ideas/quotes/news on Twitter via the hash tag #TwitterCrit.  We’ll then publish highlights of the conversation as an article on the blog.

Art at Bay writers Victoria Casal-Data and Danny Olda gave the idea a test-run.  We spoke about the March 2003 Artforum article “The Mourning After“, the many times painting has been declared dead, and trends in painting locally.   Check out our conversation below, and join us the next time we get together for #TwitterCrit.

Danny Olda: So, the article, The Mourning After, was published in Artforum in 2003 and they were talking about the death of painting, right?

Victoria Casal-Data: Well, yeah primarily during the 80’s, in the rise of post-modernism— many thought that painting was dead. This goes back to the idea of Greenberg and modernism; pointing out that the abstract expressionists were the last ones to effectively use (in terms of critical thought) the medium of painting. The AbEx movement was thought to be the pinnacle of painting.

Danny Olda: In a way I guess it does, though to be honest, they also mentioned the first proclamation of the death of painting with the advent of photography.

Victoria Casal-Data: That’s true.

Danny Olda: Something I thought was interesting was that a few suggested that this proclamation of “painting’s death” wasn’t so much a sincere observation as much as a hope that it would indeed die or a goal set out, in a way, ‘kill’ painting. Do you think you’d agree with that?

Victoria Casal-Data: Well, yes and no. I think that many were just making the observation that ‘painting was dying’- depending on the type of post-modern thinking they were in tune with. For instance, I think that Danto makes the observation of art’s ‘failure’ to continue being the kind of art that the public and critics, were used to. Actually, many of the critics’ writing had a distinguished tone- one of sadness and surrender. The age of art as they knew it- was about to end, hence the mourning.

Danny Olda: You think so?

Victoria Casal-Data: Yeah, I think this may be right. Basing this on some of the writings I’ve read, including text by Hal Foster and Howard Singerman– I can say that there is an overall tone of surrender in their writing- both curatorial writing, and critical writing.

Danny Olda: I felt like it may have been dominated by a bunch of American critics finding post-structuralism 20 years late and claiming painting obsolete before artists were indeed through with it.

Victoria Casal-Data: This may be true, but it was a truth of the time that the artist persona was becoming less and less essential- as pastiche- a signification of culture was becoming the focal point of many artists and art. It wasn’t about individuality, or progress anymore.

Danny Olda: Do you think predicting paintings general death was on some level just a reaction to neo-expressionism?

An example of neo-expressionism: Anselm Kiefer, Seraphim, 1983–84

An example of neo-expressionism: Anselm Kiefer, Seraphim, 1983–84

Victoria Casal-Data: Yeah could be. Though I think that ‘the death of painting’ was expected from the very beginning of modernism in mid-late 19th century. Most likely though, the neo-expressionism and trans-vanguard movements were generated because of an economic interest. Perhaps for the sole reason of going back to something that was FAMILIAR in the sense of history, reference, and medium, of course.

Danny Olda: Yeah, I think a lot of people agree w/ you – also maybe a product of Charles Saatchi trying to influence the market?

Victoria Casal-Data: Yeah, could be.

Danny Olda: So, painting is not dead…what did these cultural theorists get wrong?

Victoria Casal-Data: I think that part of it was a reaction- the present art world, at that time, subjected painting to be uninteresting and uncritical. That might be different today. That, I don’t know.

Danny Olda: I feel like maybe with big parts of neo-expressionism seeming like a sort of regression in political discourse prompted people to call painting dead when maybe they should’ve said “less relevant.” One of the contributors mentioned in the article that photography didn’t kill painting, in fact, it immortalized painting. It makes me think that painting won’t die at the hands of obsolescence, or an old fashioned discourse, or even at the hands of Julien Schnabel, but maybe just from people getting bored with it.

Victoria Casal-Data: Photography perfected representation- representations of objects in the real words-which, from the beginning of time, was painting’s goal. It is then that painting had to take a different role by staying away from representation.  

Sooner or later, abstraction had to come forth, essentially, giving painting, theoretically, a death wish.

I think that the term ‘death of’ in terms of modernist ideas in art- comes down to Greenberg- he set a guide for what modernist work should be like- especially in terms of painting. The idea was that painting should be abstracted to its very core- the struggle of painters to work critically towards this exact goal- it can be said- ended withe AbEx painters- maybe with Stella.

Danny Olda: Well, I don’t know if we can say it ended with AbEX – I feel like Ad Reinhardt and Robert Ryman both tried “killing painting” in their own way.

Victoria Casal-Data: Well yeah and so did Stella, they all worked critically.

Danny Olda: That isn’t to say they operated within some AbEx discourse, though.

Victoria Casal-Data: Not necessarily, but they were referencing it. I think that the most important thing to understand here is that- the progression of painting- the way it was- in a critical sense was doomed.

Danny Olda: Or thought to have been doomed.

Victoria Casal-Data: Yeah.

Danny Olda: So, talking about the current state of painting today is sorta big…but what about locally in Tampa Bay?

Victoria Casal-Data: I’ve been more familiar with installation, multimedia, and photography works here in Tampa. I don’t see much painting.

Danny Olda: And that makes me think that it might be my personal taste, but most of my favorite local artists are painters.

Victoria Casal-Data: Ah, that’s great. Can you give examples?

Franklin Evans, Installation view of paintthinks, 2013 via http://www.franklinevans.com/

Danny Olda: Well, when you sent the article over to me, and I was trying to connect it locally, I thought of Christina Humphrey’s latest show at Centre Gallery, a lot of those pieces resembled jpg glitches or botched scans. For her (and a lot of painters I suspect) discourse sort of opens up around painting and technology.

Victoria Casal-Data: Right, but how about the medium itself, is there any alterations to the medium of painting?

Danny Olda: Not locally so much. But nationally maybe artists seem eager to get paintings off the canvas, and perhaps call a painting what would traditionally be considered a sculpture.

Victoria Casal-Data: Yeah, there’s this artist- I can’s recall her name but she did that.  It was sort of like a Pollock, but instead of paint in canvas, it was on the floor, and all over the gallery space.  

Danny Olda: No, but I particularly had in mind the “Painter Painter” exhibit at the Walker Art Center 

Well, you know there is Anthony Record – I just spoke with him-I don’t want to spoil it since he hasn’t exhibited the pieces yet, but he is working on nearly monochromatic pieces that actually utilize 3D aspects perhaps more than color or even paint. I think he’d call them paintings, though many people would likely feel uneasy calling them that. Here is one of those A. Record pieces I was referring to this.

Victoria Casal-Data: Nice! I was thinking of something like this, where the painting goes out of its space. Although this is not exactly what I was referring to.

Danny Olda: I see what you mean, and that would make an interesting discussion/question in itself:  “What is painting and what can it be?”

Victoria Casal-Data: Well that’s an interesting question that I think has been proposed many, many times. I’m not really sure, I personally think of it in terms of progression. Painting progresses in the way its being used.

Danny Olda: Yeah, pretty exciting to explore, especially as an artist.

Victoria Casal-Data: Certainly, as I would see it, a painter- with a critical mindset- should see him/herself as a problem solver. And I think that this makes painters interesting and forthcoming.

Danny Olda: I think I’d agree with you – they often seem to be the most critically minded. And maybe it has to do with the medium’s long history and heritage- sheesh I hate using either of those words

Victoria Casal-Data: which?

Danny Olda: history and heritage

Victoria Casal-Data: haha

Danny Olda: inherited legacy maybe?

Victoria Casal-Data: I wouldn’t say heritage, history sure.

Danny Olda: lol

Victoria Casal-Data: But really, there wouldn’t be any kind of post-modernism if it weren’t for history. Ahistoricism comes as an opposite of history.

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12 thoughts on “#TwitterCrit: On the Many Deaths of Painting

  1. The proclamation “Painting is Dead” has been around for decades. I remember back in the 70’s there were articles about this very subject. It never goes away and obviously, it is not true. Otherwise, we wouldn’t still be talking about it.

      • Danny, I totally disagree. Painting will be here forever. My goodness, prehistoric woman/man painted in caves. I think the notion that painting is going to die is just something to make “press”. The entire concept is ridiculous. If you want to continue to speculate, go for it. In the meantime, I will be painting just like I have for the past 40+ years. It will never die. In fact, there will be painters long after we both die.

      • To be clear, I also don’t anticipate it ever dying. Further, I think the way current discourse is “set up”, it rules out obsolescence as a means of ‘killing it’ (e.g. why photography never ‘killed it’). In my opinion, this all makes its death anytime soon all the more unlikely. I’m just saying that if it ever does die, it’ll come without a proclamation.

      • Well, I even disagree with the idea of a quiet proclamation. Painting isn’t going to die, EVER. It may take on different forms, but the act of making images with a wet substance is is here to stay. Even after the possible nuclear holocaust, there will be people painting with the moist, nuclear dust. This is the truth.

      • Sheree, the act is not or will never be literally dead. This discussion, ‘the death of painting’ is not referencing to the literal death of painting. What is meant by this is that painting, at said time (70-80’s even 90’s or today) is missing the critical aspect that was so important to the modernist in the modern art era. That is what we mean by the death of painting.

      • Victoria Casal-Data, I know EXACTLY what this discussion is really about. There is no need to explain it to me. I am from academia. I know the YADDA, YADDA, YADDA.

  2. Is it ok for the problem of painting to simply be, as a painter, searching for new approaches/formal qualities that better represent contemporary subjectivity? Using painting to push art forward or make it ‘better’ or ‘purer’ in the modernist sense, or to have painting be literally a part of solving social problems doesn’t work, right? At least it didn’t in the 20th century. I don’t think painting is obsolete/dying because installation/new genres/whatever is not necessarily better at doing any of those things, although Installation/new genres/globalization does tend to more easily produce discourse. There’s a ridiculously high amount of great painting going on right now but that work is hard to talk about, which I think is part of its value.

    How does viewing paintings on iPhones fit into this discussion?

    • That’s a good point. I’d agree with you that while installation may produce discourse more easily, painting’s discourse is richer. I think paintings is more reflexive on art practice/theory and maybe there’s more and better content to be mined there. Also agree with you about not thinking art can “solve social problems”. I get the feeling that painting may be the only medium that’s sort of made peace with this and finally moved on.
      Viewing paintings on an iPhone? Sounds like an interesting exhibit idea. Funny, we do it so much, but anyone hardly talks about. Do you hate the idea of people mostly seeing your work through an LCD screen or not mind?

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