Why be a painter in the digital age?

I have just spent days making gesso panels, which have required researching recipes, buying ingredients (whiting (chalk) and titanium white pigment) and deciding on the best binder and supports.  I liked the affect created in the Bologna show paintings (please see earlier blog and work in progress). These were on board and used acrylic gesso and I wanted to compare these to more traditional methods. 

Anyway, long mindless hours have been spent researching, sourcing, mixing, applying, sanding and polishing.  This has got me thinking about the impact of changing technology and its relevance to painting. On a more mundane level I started to wonder if setting technical challenges is a way of distracting or inspiring myself?  It also made me wonder if it is worth doing at all, in light of recent digital and technological developments. After all I could just spend my time creating visual expressions on my computer and distributing them via the web?

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Gesso panel

It’s perhaps ironic that in other lives I have advised on the impact of the digital revolution, evangelising for the need to change and embrace a new world; to realise the requisite opportunities.  In spite of this I am going back to recipes and techniques that are hundreds of years old and intending to paint images with brushes. I’m not doing this to imitate or venerate the past. I’m not being reactionary, after all I am sitting here publishing a blog in the hope of reaching more of you and perhaps engaging in some wider undefined artistic endeavour.

There is something about the materials (I accept I’m prejudiced) and their application, which I don’t think can be replicated or improved through digital means.  This is not rejecting the impact, importance or opportunities but is in fact making a distinction between different mediums and their vital contribution to the creative act. This is against a very different concern around how the artefact is disseminated and commoditised.

The web has brought home to me the number of us who are worrying away at art, twenty years ago it just wasn’t that visible. Exposure is more readily available but I am finding that just the shear amount out there is swamping.  Then the business side of the artistic endeavour is moving from galleries to art fairs, power seems to be shifting.  Collectors are looking for ways to discriminate and artists to get the “stamp of approval” which will fast track them to some form of commercial or critical “success”. 

In spite of the changes in the art world, I would argue that the fundamental characteristics have remained then same; access to some kind of patronage and the challenge of expressing something that is poignant to the artist and yet resonates with the wider zeitgeist and is in demand by collectors. As an individual the challenges feel contradictory, expressing something and taking risks versus gaining some sort of popular appeal.  Even if you believe you could produce art in some formulaic response to achieve success (and take luck out of the equation) would you want to do this?

None the less, this dilemma is something that I grapple with on a nearly daily basis.  I have come to the conclusion that production of the artefact and the possible inherent expressive qualities that the productive process facilities is as important as the artefact itself - after that gaining recognition is a separate concern. So I will leave the computer and pull out a pencil and start working up ideas on paper before attempting to put a mark on my beautiful gesso panels and worry about acclaim later.


© Simon Jones 2018