An Expanded Notion of Painting
I have already hinted at the problems of defining painting. When most artistic practices, not only painterly ones, have undergone massive differentiation and expansion, it becomes rather difficult to pin down painting. How do we determine an “unresolved category”? I would like to suggest that we work with an expanded notion of painting that breaks with the modernist understanding of it as a clearly delineated practice characterized by given norms and conventions. Since the borders between the different art forms have become permeable, at least since the 1960s, we have found ourselves in a situation where different media relate to, refashion, and remodel each other. This process has been termed “re-mediatizaton,” and occurs when the features that have been ascribed to one medium – for instance by another medium – for instance, large-scale photography. And sure enough, artists from Jeff Wall to Wolfgang Tillmans have tirelessly demonstrated to us that photography can take up the representation and narrative strategies of painting; that it can aim at creating surfaces that suggest the materiality of abstract painting.
The crucial point remains here that the modernist idea of an art that is defined by the “essence of its medium” has clearly lost its relevance. Once the medium can no longer be delimited, then no qualities can be inherent to it. Its character, rather, depends on how the artist will proceed with it. [Isabelle Graw on The Value of Painting]
“… we need not be reactionary Greenbergians, nor philosophic dogmatists, to concede that not every artwork is a painting; that some artworks constitute paintings, and others, not. For once this is granted, then we may also, importantly, distinguish painting from other categories of art. Acknowledging this simple banality allows us to see that we do have certain grounds—certain definitional stipulations and reservations—we uphold when it comes to painting (mutatis mutandis our other categories of art). A medium-unspecific definition of painting will thus have to be plastic enough to survive the post-medium principles of Rosalind E. Krauss, yet rigid enough to evoke the seemingly obsolete essence of painting qua painting.” [Louis Doulas’ critique of Isabelle Graw’s The Value of Painting]
Yet linking indexicality to painting does not imply that we ignore the splits that occurs between the artwork and the authentic self. What we encounter in painting is not so much the authentically revealed self of the painter, but rather signs that insinuate that this absent self is somewhat present in it. As a highly mediated idiom, painting provides a number of techniques, methods, and artifices that allow for the fabrication of the impression of the author’s quasi-presence as an effect.
For this indexical effect to occur, the artist does not need to have literally set her hand on the picture, or to have brandished a brush, or to have thrown paint on it. A mechanically produced silkscreen by Andy Warhol, who often delegated his work to his assistants, or a printed black painting by Wade Guyton, is no less capable of conveying the sense of a latent presence of the artist—by virtue, for instance, of imperfections deliberately left uncorrected, selected combinations of colors, or subsequent improvements. Painting, then, would have to be understood as the art form that is particularly favorable to the belief—widespread in the visual arts more generally—that by approaching or purchasing a work of art, it is possible to get a more immediate access to what is assumed to be the person of the artist and her life. [Isabelle Graw on The Value of Painting]