Painting has become a medium to narrate societies, histories, and traditions around the world since prehistoric times
By Shani Haquin
When photography was invented back in the 19th century, painting was announced ‘dead‘. But despite those who thought photography would make painting unnecessary, it has proved itself to still be the go-to art medium for centuries. In fact, paintings that were done after the invention of photography, have proved to be some of the most fascinating artworks to me. The process of rethinking what painting actually is, whilst arguing on its importance, adds a different perspective to the old and successful medium.
Above all, I believe that painting starts as an idea. And like all ideas, it requires a great amount of obsession to embody it into a physical work of art. The strong physicality of painting is what distinguishes it from other artistic mediums and is what creates the ‘language’ and power of the medium. Having this ability to understand the process behind transferring an idea into a physical image is something that has been around since the beginning of humankind. And I don’t think it’s going anywhere.
The story of painting is not only about understanding the process of materialising ideas, but also about how this process has been continued throughout history. Unfortunately, most of art history is limited and the trajectory of Western painting shows a long and dark tradition of oppression against women and other minority groups.
“Having this ability to understand the process behind transferring an idea into a physical image is something that has been around since the beginning of humankind. And I don’t think it’s going anywhere.“
Before the 21st century, although women were allowed to paint, they could not build an ‘accomplished’ career as a painter and had limited access to arts education. How art produced by women was perceived in society at this time also alienated them from the art world. This only started to change at the beginning of the 20th century, as the first wave of feminism demanded equal rights and women’s voices became more significant in the art world too. Yet despite this unequal imbalance that is still extremely prevalent, painting has continued as both a professional and leisurely activity for all.
Although the history of painting has not been all plain sailing, it has made a significant impact on how art is produced today. During the 1970s, a wave of feminist artists, such as Judy Chicago and Kiki Smiths, produced a massive body of paintings. The discriminatory history of art made them angry and many chose to paint to try and break the long traditions that discriminated against women.
Many painters also believe that painting is a labour of love, seen through the works of Nicole Eisenman, Chantal Joffe, and Alice Neel. It is often thought of as a slow medium, with the process itself being an act of feeling and reflection. This process of passion that lives within paintings has made the medium one that has stuck around to narrate societies, histories, and traditions around the world since prehistoric times. And I don’t think it will be going out of fashion anytime soon.