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painting is a kind of insanity

Post #268 • May 3, 2004, 4:01 PM • 5 Comments

James Elkins, What Painting Is.

...the act of painting is a kind of insanity. It may seem unfashionable to say so, because postmodern doctrine has given up on the old notion that artists are melancholic geniuses prone to manic depression and beyond the reach of ordinary common sense. But even the most commercially minded artist has to wrestle with raw materials, and get filthy in the process. Except for a few nineteenth-century painters who worked in impeccable three-piece suits complete with watch chains and boutonnieres, painters have usually managed to coat themselves in spots and smears, and so to bring their work home with them like the smell on a fisherman. In an art school or a studio it is always possible to tell which artist spends the most time working, because the paint gradually finds its way onto every surface and every possession. Françoise Gilot tells the story of visiting Alberto Giacometti's atelier. He was working in clay, and his studio resembled his work:
The wooden walls seemed impregnated with the color of clay, almost to the point of being made out of clay. We were at the center of a world completely created by Giacometti, a world compsoed of clay.... There was never the slightest color accent anywhere to interfere with the endless uniform grey that covered everything.
Sooner of later every one of a painter's possessions will get stained. First to go are the studio clothes and the old sneakers that get the full shower of paint every day. Next are the painter's favorite books, the ones that have to be consulted in the studio. Then come the better clothes, one after another as they are worn just once into the studio and end up with the inevitable stain. The last object to be stained is often the living room couch, the one place where it is possible to relax in comfort and forget the studio. When the couch is stained, the painter has become a different creature from ordinary people, and there is no turning back.




May 4, 2004, 7:33 PM

In my school, the painters all wore stylish or chic clothes which were seldom marred by paint. All of the other studio majors dressed in junk clothes and were coated in thier respective materials. The big ego types were the ones who gravitated toward the painting studios. Painting was much more a kind of vanity than a kind of insanity.



May 5, 2004, 5:53 AM

What school was that Kathleen?



May 6, 2004, 2:35 PM

UT Austin.



May 6, 2004, 3:21 PM

Interesting. The only reason I asked was that at my school (SVA) it was the exact opposite of what you describe.



May 7, 2004, 10:54 PM

Hm! That is interesting. We had a few painting faculty who were Names of Some Merit, one of whom was a big deal at the time (Michael Ray Charles), and another of whom was a big deal back in the day (Peter Saul), so maybe that influenced what types of students would gravitate toward painting . . . . To be fair, the faculty talent in the other areas was not shabby at all, but it was at a time when painting was truly the headliner of the show.



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