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Vasari’s and Greenberg’s influence on the “life” and “death” of painting
Painting and the emergence of other forms of artistic expression
The Rejuvenation of Painting
The Many Lives of Paintings
Throughout the late 1960s and 1970s the pronouncement that painting was dead was often heard. In 1966 Andy Warhol had an exhibition at the Leo Castelli Gallery that featured hot pink and yellow wallpaper with large images of a cow’s head. It was as though Warhol were saying that the painting was expensive wallpaper. “Andy killed painting,” was the popular conventional wisdom of the day.
But painting did not die, only the limited assumptions of what a painting was, or could be.
Before the Renaissance, painters were regarded as members of the artisan class, and occupied a low rung on the social ladder. Giorgio Vasari’s was one of the first great stories of art that made painting central to Art and the history of Art became, in many ways, the history of painting. Vasari glorified the achievements of the Renaissance painters in accurately representing the physical world. This became the ideal painters aspired to until the invention of photography made this ambition obsolete.
It is believed that in 1839, when the artist Paul Delaroche, saw a Daguerreotype (an early form of a photograph), he said, “From Today Painting is Dead’. But while painting as defined by Vasari was dead, photography laid the ground for modernism by freeing painters from the need to simply copy what was before them. Painting flourished for more than a century after the invention of photography going from strength to strength.
Clement Greenberg constructed a narrative of modernism to replace the narrative of traditional painting defined by Vasari. Flatness, the consciousness of paint and brushstroke, the rectangular shape-all the “nonmimetic” features of paintings-displaced perspective, foreshortening, chiaroscuro as the progress points of a developmental sequence. The shift from “pre-modernist” to modernist art, as per Greenberg, was the shift from mimetic to non-mimetic features of painting.
Greenberg’s definition of what painting should be became so entrenched that few questioned it. But painting’s adhering to this definition was what led to its stagnation as it began to exhaust the possibilities for growth in a very narrowly defined arena.
As per Arthur C. Dante, “By the 1980s there was evidence that painting had nowhere further to go. The all-black paintings of Reinhardt, the all-white paintings of Robert Ryman, or the sullen stripes of Daniel Buren, marked a kind of dead end”.
In the 1960s many different forms of art emerged including Pop Art, Minimalism, Conceptual Art, Video Art, Performance Art, Film, Earthworks and site-specific sculpture. These played a key role in how the art object was to be perceived from them on.
Until the twentieth century it was always believed that works of art were identifiable as such. With Pop Art it became clear that there is no special way a work of art must be-it could look like a Brillo box, or it could look like a soup can.
The Conceptual Artists believed in ideas more than objects. Their political beliefs led them to seek ways to avoid producing more “art objects” for consumption; they wanted to “dematerialize” art, to take it away from its traditional dependence on the physical object. Thus they experimented with art forms and media other than painting.
Earthworks and other site-specific sculpture, also rebelled against the monetization of art. They made short-lived work or linked artworks so inseparably to their location that they could not be transported and exchanged.
Video, Film and Performance Art allowed artists the opportunity to integrate the sensorial experiences characteristic of the new mass-media environment into art.
This raises the question of how ( and whether) painting was threatened by these developments. Superficially these art forms seem to have an edge over painting by virtue of their contemporary nature and multiple facets with which to engage the audience. However, as Krauss wrote, “in the era of television (which has the potential to incorporate a variety of heterogeneous media into one) we are living in the postmedium condition”. An installation, for example, by virtue of its expanded nature, constitutes the capacity to mix several media. All of the post Greenberg critics, from Krauss on, were intent on getting rid of the idea of the medium and shifting attention to the content, languages, and dynamics of art. It is now believed that art should be about content, the idea, and the result. The medium is just the means or the tool for the accomplishment of the work.
 Arthur C. Danto, After the End of Art: Contemporary Art and the Pale of History, (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1997), 49
 Danto, 37
 Bruce D. Kurtz, Contemporary Art 1965-1990, (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall-1992), 32
 Kurtz, 80
 Kurtz, 57
 Timothy Stroud, ed. The Art of the 20th Century: 2000 and beyond contemporary tendencies, (Milano, Italy: Skira Editore S.P.A, 2009)
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