The End of the End of Painting

When I first started painting back in the 80s, there was a fairly widespread notion that painting was Over as a meaningful cultural activity. This was expressed as the “End of Painting”, or possibly even the “Death of Painting”, presumably depending on the degree of finality one wished to communicate.

I was more impressionable in those days, and probably ascribed more importance to this particular meme than I should have. It bothered me so much, in fact, that I wrote a first draft of what was to be a definitive counter-argument. I took apart at all of the various arguments I could dredge up, from the obvious (photography) through various critical arguments (Greenberg, Kosuth) and even references in literature (Kundera, Immortality). It got to be fairly lengthy, but ultimately I lost interest and never finished it.

When I was thinking about what to write about in this blog, it occurred to me that I could perhaps repurpose that earlier effort as a series of posts. However, when I went back to re-read what I had written, I couldn’t help feeling that most of it wasn’t terribly relevant any more, although I still agree with much of what I wrote back then.

The reason, simply, is that some time in the past ten or fifteen years we lived through another cultural shift, in which it was the End of Painting, not painting itself, that passed into the realm of intellectual history. There has been too much good painting in the recent past for any but the most ideologically motivated believer to give much credence to the notion that painting’s time has ended.

Or to put it another way, the best possible counter arguments to the End of Painting, and really the only arguments that matter, are the works of Thomas Nozkowski, or Antonio López García, or Elizabeth Murray, or [insert name of favourite contemporary painter here].

Of course, that’s a painter’s response to the “end of painting” concept: Let’s shut down the discussion as fast as possible, so we can get on with what really matters, which is painting …

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