It’s Ok Not To Be “Avant-Garde”

This was pretty much my exact reaction when I learnt that Bush was a painter...

This was pretty much my exact reaction when I learnt that Bush was a painter…

A couple of weeks ago, I was reading the BBC News website when I happened to stumble across this article about George W.Bush, of all people.

Although I’m not a fan of George Bush (and it’s likely that all of this art that he’s exhibiting is probably part of a cynical attempt to make him look more “friendly”) – he is a fairly good portrait artist nonetheless.

But, this isn’t an article about George Bush. The reason I’m mentioning this news article is because of a quote from an art critic (Phillip Kennicott) that was included in it. The part of the quote which really stuck in my mind was (emphasis mine): It’s anachronistic to paint, so it suggested a level of patience and reflection that often times Bush wasn’t credited with.”

My first thoughts after reading this were “Painting? Anachronistic? What the hell ?!?!”

Although I only got into watercolour pencil painting about four months ago (and most of my artistic background is in drawing), I quite like seeing myself as a painter. So, initially, I read this comment as a criticism of painters and painting in general. Then, I realised something.

I like being anachronistic. I like being retro. I like feeling like I’m part of a long tradition of painters and in the company of many modern painters (except Mr.Bush, of course).

I like copying old 16th-19th century paintings in my own style. I like art nouveau paintings and etchings. I like old Japanese art.

Painting isn’t anachronistic, it’s timeless. In almost every part of the world and in every era of history, there have been paintings (as well as etchings, prints, sculptures and/or drawings).

If painting was something that could become anachronistic, then it would have faded into the past a long time ago (in the way that wax cylinders and daguerreotypes have). But, given that it’s been a part of humanity for… well.. ever, I’d say that it’s timeless rather than anachronistic.

Yes, painting may be a very old thing – but so are mathematics, the wheel, the chemical composition of water, the planet we’re living on and a whole bunch of other things like that.

Plus, painting isn’t a static thing either – it moves and changes with the times. Compare a Picasso painting to a Rembrandt painting and you’ll see what I mean by this. Although painting itself is a timeless activity, the paintings that artists produce are anything but anachronistic – in one way or another, they all reflect their own time.

Even an old painting copied by a modern painter will reflect modern tastes and sensibilities in some way or another. Like in this copy/parody of a old Franz Hals painting I made a month or so ago:

"Not Willem Coymans" By C. A. Brown

“Not Willem Coymans” By C. A. Brown

So, if you’re a painter- don’t worry if some people see you as “anachronistic”. Yes, the art world may currently be obsessed with conceptual art (for some bizarre reason) and, yes, this type of art may fill a lot of very prestigious art galleries at the moment.

Yes, “avant-garde” conceptual art may get the lion’s share of press coverage and critics’ attention. But this doesn’t mean that timeless art forms like painting or drawing are “old news” or “worthless”. So, don’t let this get you down if you are a painter or a draughtsman. It’s ok to be avant-garde, but it’s also ok not to be avant-garde.

Just make the types of art that you want to make and ignore the critics. If you like to be cutting-edge and modern, then make modern art. But if you’re drawn to the rich history and familiar warmth of more traditional forms of art, then make that instead. Trying to be avant-garde just because you feel that you “have” to be (in order to be recognised as an artist) is a recipie for disaster.

Remember, art critics and art galleries aren’t all there is to art. For every person that loves modern “avant-garde” conceptual art, there are probably at least three people who prefer traditional paintings. Yes, those three people might not have anything to do with the art world and they may not write art columns for newspapers or work in an art gallery – but they will see your paintings as “art” whether or not they actually like your paintings.

If you still don’t believe me that it’s ok not to be “avant-garde” and that it’s possible to be successful in “older” art forms, then just look at this video clip about Jack Vettriano.

As the video clip says, he’s one of the bestselling artists in the UK but his paintings haven’t really appeared in any prestigious galleries. Art critics would probably see his work as “anachronistic”. But he paints what he feels like painting (eg: stylised 1920s-1950s scenes) and he makes a very good living from it.

If he’d tried to be an “avant-garde” conceptual artist, he’d have probably failed miserably. So, remember, you don’t have to be “avant-garde” to be a successful artist – just paint, sculpt, draw etc.. whatever you think is art and don’t give a damn about the critics.

If you still need reassurance that it’s ok to be a contemporary painter or draughtsman rather than an “avant-garde” conceptual artist and you need proof that painting is anything but “anachronistic”, then check out a group of painters called The Stuckists [The gallery on their site is slightly NSFW though]. Their art and art styles are suitably modern, but they still work in traditional art forms like painting.

As I said earlier, painting isn’t a static thing. And it isn’t anachronistic.

——

Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

2 comments on “It’s Ok Not To Be “Avant-Garde”

  1. People use the word anachronistic in a ludicrous way. Thankfully a positive side effect of the interconnected age we live is that it’s not that difficult to find the communities that love the same stuff you do. Anachronistic or not.

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