Banksy on the State of Painting


This is a quote attributed to the famous UK graffiti artist, Banksy:

“T.V. has made going to the theatre seem pointless, photography has pretty much killed painting but graffiti has remained gloriously unspoilt by progress.” Banksy – Wall and Piece

I sincerely hope he’s wrong, since I’m a painter, but I do know what he means.

Is painting dead?  No, not yet.

It does seem pointless to me as an artist to realistically replicate a scene or a landscape “as is” without making a statement or making at least some major edits — improving on what you really see.   To capture a scene in paint as a photograph is senseless, because a photograph can do it so much better.  I’m also a photographer so I know that for a fact.  That said, I love portrait art especially, and I admire good landscape paintings a lot and do those things myself.  But I don’t find them the most compelling or interesting things I do as an artist.  The best art I do is art with meaning.

Years ago an online friend on a forum asked me what kind of art I did.  I told her I was a painter.  She responded with what were obvious carefully chosen words, because she is an artist herself. Her artwork involves sculpture with found objects (garbage) and photography and is heavily manipulated. She responded politely that, “I think painting is still a valid art form…” A valid art form!  Due to the way she said it, I was kind of offended. Then I started to think about it, and I see her point. It’s the same point that Banksy made.

But because of that “pointless-ness” of having a painting do the work of a camera, I try to do art work and paintings that mean something.  I also heavily edit my subjects, add some surrealism, or just toss realism away entirely and do something mostly abstract.

That doesn’t mean I can’t make realistic art — far from it.  Most abstract and expressionist painters started out in realism and then reached the conclusion, “what’s the point of this” and started doing things that were more personal and meaningful to them. That usually involves heavily editing what’s real into something that’s meaningful or makes a statement or is so personal you’d have t ask the artist what it means.

And even when an artist doesn’t heavily edit the image itself, they can change it so that the obvious point is to capture a mood or an emotion, not just replicate what the eye sees.

That is, I think, ultimately what most art collectors want,  and think of as “art” anyway.  It’s funny though,  that the average person who knows little about art will still think art should either be primarily decorative or super realistic to qualify as a “good painting”.  Thankfully that is not the truth.