October 12, 2015 2 min read
How much does skill play a role in the caliber of a painting?
Have you ever seen an award-winning painting that had amateurish drawing and application of paint and wondered why it won?
I've gone around and around on this issue. I'm not talking about design, but rather how the paint was applied to the paper (canvas) and drawing skills. For many this question is a no-brainer: Yes, of course, painting and drawing skills are the minimum an artist should know. We should expect a moderate level of expertise.
If we were to compare painting to other art forms, performance piano or dance for example, people in positions of authority would not award untrained efforts. So why is painting different? Should it be?
On the other hand, every painting is an independent expression. The painting's power is about a visual experience generated inside that specific frame and not some set of knit-picky rules superimposed by society (me!). What one viewer sees as untrained or crude is seen by another as powerful or avant-garde.
Unlike performance art, the gallery audience has no skin in the game. Gallery viewers rarely pay an admission fee to attend an art show and can simply move on if they don't like what they see. Consequently, there is no self-regulation in art. The lack of art education in schools and our tendency to sing the praises of every rudimentary effort made by a loved one has created a confused population. In fact, the slightest attempt to determine the caliber of a painting can bring on the fury from those who see art as a therapeutic cathartic medium.
Still, I am not on the side of a strict set of standards. I am reminded that the history of art is riddled with feuds about just this issue: Matisse and Picasso argued about the surface quality and use of color; Fauvist broke barriers striving for discomfort; van Gogh was taunted. The list of those who changed our collective aesthetic is endless.
It seems more important than ever for us to trust our own judgment while we do our best to widen our understanding of art. Meanwhile I think it's just fine to politely disagree, or agree, with judges. Soon enough today's winners will all be pushed aside by something we can't begin to imagine.
I'd love some feedback on this. I appreciate that it is a very complicated issue with no right answer. Meanwhile, I'll continue to plug away trying to improve my skills in the hopes that the sum total is headed in the right direction, at least for me.
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