Monday, June 27, 2011


LinkJan Van Goyen from

Picturemaking is an old artist's phrase used by some of the elderly painters I knew when I was younger.It is a way of looking at the artists goals that is very different from the reigning ideas common to most of today's art world.

Picturemaking means that the artist is deliberately making art to be enjoyed by an owner. The artist is painting pictures. The artist is making exalted possessions intended to be lived with and savored by their owners for a lifetime, if not for generations. The object itself, and what it looks like, is whats important. Generally picturemakers intend to make valuable objects.

I was very strongly effected when I first learned the term and I think of myself as a picturemaker.In fact if you ask me what I do for a living I will answer "I paint pictures" I like the way that both explains exactly how I spend my time, and implies a certain attitude about what kind of art I make. Besides, I always dislike calling myself an "artist" that sounds so pretentious and there are too many wankers calling themselves that. It is certainly not the only way to think about what you are making, but it is a good way, and one that generations of of artists before us routinely espoused. It is an idea that is part of our historic artistic culture.Because I am little interested in contemporary painting and very interested in the work of the generations before they changed the water, I pay a lot of attention to how the painters of our culture historically thought about what they did. How much further before the early 20th century this idea goes it would be an interesting research project for someone who didn't have to paint for a living. Here are some things that a picturemaker would NOT intend his art to be.
  • An in your face, a graphic and brutal depiction rodent sexuality
  • A political message depicting the hideous plight of the daytime television audience or anyone who simply needs more government programs.
  • A philosophical statement by the artist. Usually those begin with the artist saying "My work explores the..................."
  • Enormous works made for consumption for museums. These are often made to be shocking or challenging to those who disagree with the often obscure opinion of the artists and not something many people would want in their home. This is art as entertainment. You go to the museum and this painting is a display item in a PT Barnum freak show.
  • Copies of literal nature, whether made with a photograph or mindless perseverance.
  • Work that is schlocky or cheaply sentimental, because in the long run those aren't easy to live with for a lifetime either. Their appeal is quickly exhausted or the owners taste outgrows them. Besides, I don't want to make dumb pictures.
  • Works that base their charm on a clever or wry twist of the viewers expectation, because they become quickly like clever one liners that are funny the first few times, but pale if you hear them every day, the fun evaporates, unless there is so much more there that can always overpower the immediacy of the opening gimmick
  • Works made of dirt, feathers, animal feces or the discarded genitals of the transgendered, because one of the objects of picturemaking is the intention of creating something valuable and these fleeting materials are non archival and generally not viewed as precious.
  • Works made to rely on their subjects for their value and appeal, such as ducks, boats etc, rather than their appearance, and quality of their worksmanship.
  • Works made whose primary goal is the expression of the artists own psyche that would be too personal to appeal to many other people on their living room wall for the rest of their lives.
  • Work that is timely or so current that its appeal will be lost rapidly as interest in that particular subject idea or gimmick fades to be replaced by a new "latest thing". That is fashion not art.

13 comments: said...

Some " fashionable" paintings became art but I know what you are getting at. I tell people I am a painter because I know what a painting is. I don't know what art is.

billspaintingmn said...

Artist is a general term that most folks may understand.
But a picture maker descibes a more
real or truer explination. Also more humbling I would think.

I like the bullet list!

Judy P. said...

Wonderfully stated, you will like the comic strip Terry Miura posted last week:

My brother-in-law is an abstract artist (he says 'ARTEESTE'!), with an sneery attitude that is increasing as his zero sales persist.
I remember in high school art class, that den of superiority, looking at a student's very hard, blocky portrait of an angry man, and the teacher commiserating with that same sneer, how 'the public will not appreciate this, because it won't match their curtains'.

I think that modern emphasis on self-expression is actually damaging, especially when it's fed to young people at a time when they need to grow out of self-centeredness.
By the way, I always say 'I'm trying to paint' , and the response is always 'Houses?'

Brady said...

I think this post should be tacked up on the wall of every art department.

I always run into the question of "What does your art mean?" My answer is "I want to paint something that looks good." But, if I put that in my artist statement I always feel that it's a disappointment to people. (At least I think that is what they are thinking.)

It's good to know that making something simply to be looked at and enjoyed is a fine goal, and maybe the best goal, of a painter.

Jim Oberst said...

Stape, why don't you say what you REALLY think, and stop beating around the bush :-)

DennyHollandStudio said...

Brilliant, funny, and straight to the point.

Deborah Paris said...

Ned Jacob, who I studied with for many years, always used the term "pictures", and I think he did it because Robert Lougheed, who he studied with used it. So of course i did too. I was talking to a museum curator a while back and he asked me about my work. I started the sentence with "Well, my pictures..." He interupted me and said "O how quaint"

Philip Koch said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Philip Koch said...

I've wondered sometimes why the contemporary art world shies away from using the word "pictures" My guess is it's a reaction to the mountain of poorly made realist paintings that is out there.

In purely numerical terms, there have been more bad realist paintings made than bad abstractions. You trip over the things in restaurants, yard sales, and so on. If anything the advent of photography only made things worse as it allowed people with almost no drawing skills to start copying the photo they took of a sunset they saw on their last vacation.

In other times to say "picture" probably meant something different. These days though it carries for many the connotation of an unconsidered and naive painting. The word "picture" conjures up an image of a beginner wrongly assuming that the making of a painting is just a copying of nature. So often these attempts to just "copy nature" miss the boat completely. They ignore the need to find expressive shapes, exciting composition, and elegant color combinations. Stape himself has often written about how the "art" has to be "installed" (his word, and I like it) into a painting.

There is a grand tradition of realist painting. Whether we call these "pictures" or not, our job is to become sensitive to all the aspects of making a painting powerful, personal, and visually arresting. Rubens did it. Rembrant did it too. So can we.

Mary Byrom said...

George Nick walked up to me at one of his exhibits and asked " Are you a painter?" I stick with that. I make pieces with paint. I'm a painter. said...

A true aside here...because I call myself a painter I am apparently listed under "painters" in Boston. Just yesterday I received two calls asking me to quote on painting apartments. I told them that I am a painter but I paint paintings and to give me a call when they need a "painting" on their newly painted walls. We all had a good laugh and I was thinking...hey this isn't so bad.

clarkola said...

Picture making/painting -landscapes-still lifes-abstracts-
I believe, no matter what you call it or what genre,if the maker's excitement and the maker's reverence come through the work-AND if it contains, by way of a painter full of strong character, verve, vigor and a practiced hand, I'll look at it a long time. Happily.
Work made to sell, shock or shout is foul,deadly stuff. Ought to be shot.
Of course, that's only my personal opinion-my taste-and values.
If only everybody thought like me!

billspaintingmn said...

When I look at a painting, I don't consider it was made by a picture maker. I rather think it was done by an artist. A painter. A creative
person wanting to express or remember a time/place.
Words can get tricky, especially in english.
I think a person understands when looking at a painting, that it is a picture the artist was making.