One of the challenges facing artists today is figuring out where a painting belongs.   If we are unsure who the audience is, we are equally unsure where the painting is to find this audience.  Paintings are sold as ordinary commodities, and yet we know deep inside that the business of art is about more than just decoration.  Real art tells us things about life that we need to know.  Literature is like that.  A novel displays a world of imagination into which we enter vicariously and painting does something similar once an image is widely known.  Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World captured the longings of a generation.  Anyone can see the painting now in books and feel something of its pull even without ever having seen the actual painting — though of course the actual painting adds intensity to this experience that cannot be duplicated by a reproduction.

And there’s the rub.  It’s the great peculiarity of paintings that they are one of a kind.  The commercial print and computer image era has blinded us somewhat to the uniqueness of an object.  Real painters, old fashioned painters, working as the old masters have for centuries, make things whose raison d’etre relies on being the only one of its kind.

I just paint.  I cannot say for certain why I make the specific images I do.  And I paint these things with blind faith.  I know they exist for a reason just as a novelist writes the story long before having made friends with a publisher.

Of late I find my career turning in a new direction as I stumble to find the places where my paintings are “destined” to live.  I try to imagine my paintings in specific interiors because it helps me understand the unknown audience that my pictures address.  I’m looking for rooms in a house — in a house of imagination first — a real house after — where my paintings will first begin to make their mark on the world I live in. 

I know the places are there.  I just have to find them.  And this, my friends, is a far different thing than just selling pictures.  Above is a simulation:  my painting as it would look in a room I found lately that I really like.

[The original, unedited photograph by Morgan Howarth comes from Washington Spaces magazine and  features a room designed by renowned DC designer Frank Babb Randolph.] 

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2 thoughts on “Where does painting live?

  1. Hi Aletha

    I find it interesting that you wonder where a painting will belong. It is true that this enters an artist’s mind when he or she starts but we have to put this aside immediately really. I would think the same is true of a book or an article when you start it writing it. Unless it is an assignment, we cannot let this thought enter our minds because it will tarnish the finished product. The flow will be different. I like when you say that real art teaches us something we need to know. It is very true. When you look at a painting it is your intuition that lets you into the painter’s world, which permits this magical connection.

    I also like when you speak of where your paintings “are destined to be” What you are doing to “place” your paintings in rooms and house is pure visualization and probably moves your artwork towards the rightful owners and towards its rightful place.
    Suzanne (Enviroart)

  2. Hello Suzanne,
    The idea of where art belongs came to me while wondering where my paintings belong, but it also occurred to me that historically artists were not faced with quite the same uncertainty as today.
    In the Gothic era, to use a ready example, a picture would have been created to illustrate a passage of scripture in an illuminated book, or a sculpture would have been planned as part of a sculpture program for a church or cathedral. The destination of the object was less often in doubt and art was in general less speculative. Moreover the “purpose” was equally well understood as being to create a devotional state in the spectator as well as to teach the doctrines of the church.
    I think that today we do have some idea about where art “belongs” with the museum being the ideal locaton. Museums have taken the place of the church, so to speak, and artists whether consciously or not are often creating things with that environment in mind. Also, it’s the place that artists see art so its a big source of influence, as the church was once.
    I would challenge you about the idea that the artist “must not think about” these things. I don’t think it harms creativity to think about the larger role that, say, a picture is likely to play. Like other things it can/could be another impetus to invention. The scale of pictures, for instance, is obviously affected by where the artist thinks a work could be seen. When I began painting large pictures, I began really to wonder where the pictures would end up, especially since the scale was very important to me — that I was creating pictures that “felt” as though they should be a particular size and relate to a spectator through scale.
    In the great fresco tradition of Renaissance art, the size of pictures was an element of their theatre. You can vicariously enter them on more nearly your own terms since in some cases objects are near life-size.
    From earliest times the place of art had meaning and that meaning like art’s meaning changes. We may never know why the first peoples put images into the depths of caves in ancient sites like Lascaux, Altamira or Clauvet. They definitely were not museums! Or let’s just say they were museums where you could theoretically get lost and never be heard from again!
    Wondering where pictures made in modern times will ultimately find homes (and sometimes the destination is literally a home — a private residence and private audience) tells us a lot about meaning in the art of our times. Asking the question, we can better understand the possibilities for what art communicates and how it does so.
    Anyway, I’m glad the topic struck a chord with you. I’d invite you to think more about it and see where it leads.
    Would love to hear more of your thoughts on the subject. Thanks for commenting.
    Aletha

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