Why I am Painter First and Artist Second

Painting is the most magical of mediums. The transcendence is truly amazing to me every time I go to a museum and I see how somebody figured another way to rub colored dirt on a flat surface and make space where there is no space or make you think of a life experience.
- Chuck Close
I always insist on introducing myself as a ‘painter’, not as an ‘artist’.  This probably strikes some of you as unusual, and I wanted to explain exactly why I do.  

Personally, I think that there’s an honesty in painting – and even more so in drawing – that isn’t true of all work that is referred to as ‘visual art’. Now to clarify, when I say ‘painting’, I’m generally referring to some form of realism, be it the hyperrealism of Gottfried Helnwein or the flat shapes of Wayne Thiebaud. As is clear in both of their work, there is an amount of hard work and time one has to invest to become fluent in realism. It is this dedication that speaks volumes of the artist’s character and more importantly develops that character over time. I believe this is where an honesty in artwork originates, in a real commitment to one’s craft. Not, as many do, by trying to make a splash with a clever concept, one that might be exposed as trivial when confronted by the ultimate judge: the test of time.

Experimentation and lack of any formal training in art has led to a total subjectivism. ‘Good’ in art is not defined by any set of objective criteria but by authority; art is declared good because a notable institution or critic has declared it to be so.
Yet, there’s so much trash in contemporary art museums that you have to ask yourself: how did we get to this point?
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t advocate against experimentation or innovation. Like any other human discipline, visual art needs to evolve and embrace new forms of expression. In much the same way music first incorporated the electric guitar and now synthesizers, visual artists should be allowed and encouraged to push the boundaries.
I don’t believe realism is the end all and be all of a painting. No one wants to see a painstakingly rendered tree if the painter (or the artist!) has nothing interesting to say. Concept is paramount to a mature piece of art, and there’s no point in painting just for the sake of copying what’s in front of us. However, by moving away from realism and focusing on the concept alone artists have something to say but sacrifice the way in which they say it. The result? Viewers are baffled as to what they’re looking at.
Realism that explores a strong concept bypasses both of these problems. It’s something I aim for in my own work and this is why the epithet ‘painter’ suits my approach so much better than ‘artist’. 

Avant-garde is French for bullshit.
John Lennon

For me, realism is a gatekeeper of sorts. Though this expression may not sit well with many art critics, I believe it is a rite of passage to become a ‘professional’ artist. Realist training is where the boys are separated from the men; I think if you prove yourself fluent in its language, you have won the right to place a urinal in a museum and call it art.
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Pilat Fine Art · 3526 17th St. · San Francisco, CA 94110 · USA

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