Tuesday, October 25, 2011

On Painting and Photography

Pierre-August Renoir

Pierre-August Renoir

I was recently at a store in the mall that sells paintings as well as photos of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh sports related things.  There were other showpieces that you could put on your wall, too.  I was impressed with the caliber of the expensive paintings.  This store provided me a more pleasurable experience than some art museums I have been to.  I was also impressed at how much I preferred the paintings to the photos.  The photos were boring, boring, boring.  The paintings, on the other hand, were so beautiful, full of life, and real.  They had a substance and immediacy that the photos did not.  I wish that the images at the top of this post could convey that better.  The more a photograph shows us reality, the more it highlights its lack.  Painting is a synergy of form and content that photography is not.  Painting leaves the work directly on the product.  Painting creates a timeless space.  Painting creates a tangible, singular piece.  For these reasons paintings, on the level of viewing a work of art, are far superior to a photo.

Photos are a facsimile of reality.  They point to what they are not.  The more realistic a photo is, the more it amplifies the fact that it is an absence of the thing shown, the more it amplifies its lack and that it can't be what it wishes to be.  I am not in downtown Pittsburgh.  It is a window on something that isn't there.  A painting does not point to what it is not.  It is its own exact unique scene.  It is not a facsimile in the way that a photo is.  Even if it is a painting with some scene of reality as its subject matter, it is still an alternate universe.  It is not merely a painting "of" something, but it is that thing in an "alternate" universe.  Everything a painting has and is is right there.  A painting is fully there.  In its abstraction, it is more real than photographic reality.

Painting involves a synergy of form and content.  Since the content of a photo is the real, its content is something else.  Its content is not a thin piece of plastic.  Its content is a real person, in time and space.  The content of a painting is a person, not of flesh and blood, but of brush strokes. 

Photography is a mechanical reproduction.  All the work of photography is in the preparation.  It is in the arranging of the scene and the arranging of the camera.  The moment of creation happens in an instant at the press of a button.  Nothing of the photographic "canvas" has the feeling of work about it.  In the painting, the artists toil is seen on every inch.  While a photograph is "flat," a painting, with its brush strokes, has perhaps a truer three dimensional quality.  The canvas was the site of the work.  Most photography involves following a few basic rules and thus impresses me less.  See the images above and guess which one was harder to make.  A photgraph is often more about its content and a painting is more about form.

The instantaneous and realist nature of photography places the photo as a piece of time.  A time that is forever gone and gets further away by the second.  A painting is in a state of timelessness.  It could take years to finish a painting.  The time that a painting portrays is an abstract timelessness, as much as it may try to portray a real time or event.  It is no closer or further from us at any time. 

An original painting is a tangible work of art.  The image at the top of this post will have to suffice to make my point about paintings despite, on account of its nature as an image on a computer screen, having many, if not all, of the same shortcomings of a photograph.  It creates similar distance to that of a photograph.  Photography and mass production of media destroy uniqueness.  They also remove the reality of a photograph further because they capture things we have not seen or been involved with.  The evening news has no noticeable effect on my life.  If it did, that would probably be because I am in the midst of a tragedy.  I trust that it is largely real and true, but it is not my experience.  As I've already mentioned, a painting has nothing to hide. 

These are the reasons that a painting is much superior to a photo, at least in the case of viewing as opposed to factual archiving.

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