I recently discovered a new blog to follow called Sheree Rensel - ART AND LIFE. She posted an entry that has been eating on the backside of my brain since I read it. Is Being a Painter Irrelevant? As the world is changing around us, has the craft become obsolete?
Her post comes at a very interesting time for me. I read it just before I went into the kitchen for a two day cook fest for Thanksgiving. When it comes to holidays, there are no short cuts. Everything is as "from scratch" as I can get it. Just shy of buying a cow for the milk and chickens for the eggs, I start with the most basic of ingredients and a lot of labor to make home made baked goods for the family. It is not really that hard. It is time consuming. My rolls take 2 days preparation time. Lucky for me I don't work. I am a Homemaker.
Homemaking has taken on a completely new identity from what I grew up believing. There was no label "Stay at home mom" when I was a little kid. There were "Moms" and "Moms that worked". Most "moms" made home made meals, mended clothing, did some kind of needlework and generally combined all those skills to support their families. Somehow the old mom was replaced by factory made food, clothes from Thailand, and an extra paycheck so the household could afford it. Homemaking, in the traditional sense, is obsolete in most of America. I feel like I am the last of my kind most of the time.
Is the same thing happening to painting? Am I perusing a craft that is no longer needed? Again? I sure hope not.
Digital technology has done to art what McDonalds has done to the restaurant business. It is fast, it is portable and it is conveniently located just about everywhere you go. The paintings that I paint nearly every day do not end up as paintings for most of the people that see them. They end up as digital media on a monitor. Why bother even painting them with a brush when the end result is digital? Digital media has made an incredible impact on our daily lives. Digital painting, digital photography, photo manipulation and digital reproductions have surrounded us in advertising, posters, fine art prints and of course, on our computer screens. We don't need to carry art around with us. We can show it on our lap tops, cell phones and even MP3 players.
We have become a society that expects instant results in enormous quantities for bargain prices. Art is no exception. Painters have adapted to this demand by doing smaller daily paintings such as those on Daily Painters. Once the painting is done, prints of their creations can be put on anything that will accept ink or glue. In the illustrators ring, many have learned to start on digital media so they can eliminate a step. As much as I want to argue that painting will never die, it is slowly being eliminated as a means for communicating an idea.
Painting is not even taught in some beginning art classes.
This brings me to my soap box issue. How can our younger generations be expected to appreciate the value of hard work if we do not expose them to the rewards that hard work brings? The phrase "hard work" is almost as dirty as "old age" in our society. We do everything we can to avoid both. Are we that terrible at communicating that it is the work that brings us joy, not the product? Do we actually believe that ourselves? We can measure the time we put into something. We can measure the costs of our supplies. When we add those up, do they accurately measure the joy? Not usually.
How many people are out there in miserable jobs that mean nothing to them but a paycheck. (Mind you, that is completely a frame of mind. If you decide to be content, it doesn't matter what you do.) How many times have you bought something and thought to yourself "The person that made this must love what they do, because they are really good at this!"
The very classes that teach our children to learn hands on skills are being slowly eliminated. Art, music, home economics, welding and shop are just a few. Those that remain are watered down versions meant to be an easy "A" so concentration can be placed on math, reading and classes that will help pass standardized tests. My daughter was forced to eliminate home economics from her schedule so she could take a class on bullying. Why teach a kid to cook when there are fast food restaurants on every corner and boxed food on all the shelves? What they really need is the ability to locate and use the authority figures and understand the legal system. Right? We are robbing them of the opportunity to discover that if they work at something really hard, they can accomplish something as intangible as joy. Instead we teach them to be test taking machines so they can go into the industrial world and be task oriented cogs so they can receive a paycheck. Sure we tell them to find their passion, but we teach them to crunch the numbers and go for the money with our actions and our advertising. "Buy and IPod like everyone else, but put the music YOU like on it." If there is nothing unique about them, then how can they appreciate the unique in the world around them? We are in the age of technological advance, but our human to human experience is in the dark ages. Humans have seen this pattern before.
I guess my hope goes back to the fast food industry. No one volunteers to go to McDonald's for Thanksgiving. The meal still means gathering together as a family and eating around the burned edges of whatever got overcooked. Thanksgiving starts out as being about food and ends up being about an experience. Painting delivers the same quality. Yes, there are other methods that are faster, more portable and easier to handle, but the experience lacks the 3-dimensional quality that paint provides. The camera will never really capture the richness of layered paint. A print will never capture the light on thick brush strokes like a real painting. The smell of ink on paper is just not the same as the smell of linseed oil. They seem like small differences, but added together, it is a completely different experience. As long as there is someone out there that recognizes that difference, there will be a need for painters. I can't begin to guess how long that will be. For now, painting is still relevant, so I guess I should be painting.
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