An incomplete guide to critiquing painting in tumultuous political times.
1.) It does not matter who makes a painting. The object is all.
2.) A person who is offended by a painting should never critique a painting.
3.) To critique a painting, a person has to see it. Paintings are physical objects and they exert physical power. A painting isn’t seen until it’s seen. Photography does not capture painting. Paint colors are different in person. Texture is invisible on a screen. Size matters and cannot be grasped on an iPhone.
4.) Painting is a visual art. A subtle sensitivity to color and the ability to respond to symmetry or asymmetry all evolved for the purpose of survival. Over a few thousand years, painters developed the ability to deploy painting techniques to mimic the natural human visual response in order to attract the eye. Attracting the eye in visual art is first base. In the end the sex could still be bad, but if a painting is visually dull, no one even reaches the bedroom.
5.) Attracting the eye doesn’t mean creating a realistic representation. That’s fooling the eye. All visual arts, from Aboriginal painting to Arabic mosaic, exploit the basic principles of two-dimensional design to attract the human animal eye. Painting that claims to not be bound by the the subtleties of human visual attraction is not visual art. If it’s not visual art, it’s not painting. It’s conceptual or political or some other form of art.
6.) Painting embeds its subject matter in its physical matter. Critiquing a painting on the basis of its subject matter alone is boring and unsophisticated. In order to discuss the failure of a painting’s subject matter, a critic has to be able to articulate how this failure manifests formally, in the paint. If they can’t, they can’t critique painting.
7.) Originality counts. Does the painting look like a lot of other paintings? An unoriginal painting is a representation of the unoriginal mind. Is the critic’s mental image data bank large enough to be able to tell if a painting is original? Painting critics need to hold the entire history of painting as a coherent object in their minds. If not, they’re not able to critique painting.
8.) Morality and ethics in painting aren’t bound to culturally specific moral codes. Sexists, racists and murderers can and have made good paintings.
9.) The ethics of painting are formal. They have to do with exploiting, manipulating and transgressing the rules of two-dimensional design while maintaining visual attraction.
10.) The ability to paint respects no racial, sexual or cultural boundaries. Painters are born, not made.
11.) People who don’t know anything about painting should sit down, shut up, and listen to the the artists and critics who have given their lives to understanding painting.