Wednesday, November 13, 2013

On painting and silence

Life, my sister III: out and out, my reason is laughable (after Boris Pasternak). 20"x20". Oil on canvas. 2013.
I should really start on the next question in my "All you want to know about painting series", but I desperately want to tell you something I've just recently clearly understood about painting; or, to be more precise, about its role in the modern context. 

For a very long time, I had believed that painting is, in a sense, a thing of past, barely surviving just at the margins of today's art forms -- just a shadow, or an echo, of its former glorious summits. There are, indeed, new art forms, thriving in discoveries yet to be made and more suited for the modern life. It was, actually, the "elephant in the room" I avoided mentioning in all my four posts on "Stories in painting": that the social function of visualizing stories had been long since passed from painting to cinema. By the way, I believe this might be the future of e-books: when in lieu of illustrations, one will be able to pull a movie version of the same episode to their tablet screen with a single click (and even choose their personal favorite among all the existing versions).    

Anyway, this belief did not lead me to even consider a change in occupation: one has to do what one has to do, even if it's an old-fashioned dead end in the grand scheme of things. But it had been there, in the back of my mind, before I started a major overhaul of my website -- which, old-fashioned as I am, involved mainly thinking and writing; among other things, thinking about the role of painting in modern life. And it crossed my mind that, far from being outdated and marginally relevant, it might be one of the most essential, fundamentally important art forms today -- not less (maybe even more) than ever.   

You know there is this idea floating around -- that we live in an "attention economy", where people's attention (actually, your attention) is the major resource for which everyone is competing? Well, I think that, looked from the opposite point of view, what is really in shortage today isn't attention; it's silence. Meaningful, mindful silence; lack of noise; genuine freedom of mind. 

You may say that one doesn't need any art forms for silence; one can just go for a long walk, or close their eyes in meditation. And I agree, of course -- painting isn't a replacement for this utmost solitude. But it has something else to offer: a combination of solitary silence with meaningful communication; interaction without obtrusion; conversation without noise. And it is an interaction, because the true magic of painting only happens through a connection with its viewer. 

It is, doubtlessly, true of any art form: a book cannot live without the reader, and music needs a listener; every work of art is re-created, and co-created, by its thou, the one who perceives and responds. And yet a painting is most silent and least obtrusive of them all -- it doesn't initiate a contact with you, it doesn't guide you through a story, it just sits there, waiting to be seen and come alive. You can pass it by on a wall, or browse away on the internet -- but if you stop, and the connection happens, your response is entirely your own.

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