Why is Painting Still So Healthy?

Robert Boorstin, a senior executive at Google, notes that there are now 1.4 billion Internet users, and the number is growing by 250 million a year. Over 10 hours of video are uploaded to You Tube every minute of every day. There are 3 billion mobile devices in use world wide, with another billion coming in the next year. Boorstin described it as the largest increase in expressive capability in history.

You can buy high-quality digital video cameras easily and get editing and sound software cheap or even, open-source, for free. Where years ago we had to struggle for months to get enough money for a few minutes worth of 16mm film and processing to make a duration art piece, today you can do hours for nothing.

With all that and broadband too, why is painting still so healthy?

I’ve been listening to, or reading about, the death of painting for upwards of forty years, and it’s been a topic of discussion for a lot longer than that, going back to the early days of photography. It’s easy to make a cogent argument that pushing bits of pigment  and binder around on cloth is an archaic method

Meanwhile, good paintings, and some bad ones too, are going at auction for outlandish prices. A Lucien Freud (good) painting went for $33 million, and even a Basquiat (not so good) painting is worth several million. A Courbet (very good) painting recently sold for $3 million, considered a bargain, to, of all people, Jeff Koons. A Monet water lily painting (very, very good) went for $80 million. There are 300 galleries in Chelsea, mostly selling paintings, and lots more in the rest of New York and around the country.

Not long ago I strolled down through the Portland galleries, getting ever more morose with each visit. Even things that were trying to seem new felt tired and lazy. I slogged through gallery after gallery, hoping against hope to avoid having to head home in such a cloud of gloom. Everywhere I went iy seemed as if I were walking uphill to no good purpose.

I found myself in front of Gleason Fine Art and went in to re-introduce myself to the manager, whom I hadn’t seen since he was in high school. My cloud of gloom persisted until I got to the back room and happened across a Carl Sprinchorn painting of a lumber camp in the winter. It’s a very odd painting, following no particular rules of balance, space or color, but the overall effect was so convincing it restored my day.

I believe deeply in the transformative power of art, in its ability to bridge the gap that separates one human consciousness to another. Sprinchorn spoke to me that day, through the miasma of my mood and the across sixty years or so that separated his making it and my looking at it. Painting persists because it is the last bastion of deep communication that can be undertaken by a single individual, using simple and direct means. No wires, routers or circuit boards, no vast funding or committees, no distribution rights or city permits are needed.

If I had $80 million to spend I would have bought that Monet.

By Ken Greenleaf 

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