Ai Wei Wei, Laundromat, installation at Jeffrey Deitch, New York
Painting and sculpture are the traditional foundations of any artist’s career. Yet in an era where technology is so pervasive, how important will these hands-on skills be to future artists? Will we always be drawn to works showing the physical touch an artist’s hand?
To answer these questions, we asked art adviser Amanda Love as well as gallery owners Michelle Paterson from .M Contemporary and Roslyn Oxley from Roslyn Oxley9. We also sat down with Dr. Gene Sherman, from Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation to get her insights. What we discovered is that the world of art has been irrevocably changed.
Antony Gormley at Barrington Court, Somerset, England
“Artists now move from the studio to the study. This is a very shorthand way of explaining it,” says Gene Sherman.
“Art has moved from the hands-on practice to conceptual practice in some art schools, but not all.”
Gene says Sydney’s art schools, as just one example, provide a range of options catering to individual tastes. But she believes the hands-on skills, do give artists important knowledge.
“Anything worthwhile is learnt,” says Gene. “I think the foundational skills are important to have, and then you can reject them.
“There’s a French phrase, en connaissance de cause and it cannot be directly translated, but it means you have knowledge of what you reject,” she says.
Shaun Gladwell, Lacrima Chair, photo still of film, for Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation 2015
As a concrete example, later this year Gene will develop a Shaun Gladwell show at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.(www.tamuseum.org)
It references a historic horse battle that took place in British Palestine, when The Ottoman Empire was crumbling. Shaun Gladwell’s piece references The Charge of the Australian Fourth Horse Brigade on 31 October 1917. In this project Shaun will take the point of view of the horse, to build a two room installation.
First two filmic works will be ‘hung’ on either wall of the gallery. Then in the middle of the room, there will be a large Roman sculpture, of a soldier on a horse recreated from a photograph, using 3D printing techniques.
In the second room, there will be a set of Virtual Reality helmets, so visitors can experience the battle more directly.
“Shaun Gladwell is a moving image artist. He has brilliant drawing skills and painting skills. He was the first moving image artist to be sent by The Australian War Memorial to Afghanistan and Iraq. When he came back, he did a lot of moving image work, he did quite a lot of drawings and a few paintings,” she says.
Gene who purchased one of the paintings, says Shaun is great example of an artist who’s chosen to tell his stories in a way that suits him.
Gene freely admits she loves paintings.
Tracey Emin, Forced to Feel This Way, 2014
“I like the hands on skills, I do. It is certainly my generation. But we are all different, and it is important to remember, that right now is a moment of great discovery in the technological world.”
Early career artists can simply be drawn away from the atelier based practise sooner in their career.
“Artists who went to art school used to choose more directly. They chose print making or sculpture or drawing or painting. Then they focused a bit in other areas, as a subsidiary. Looking at art from a structuralist point of view, there was a kind of a strong pathway, you would have to decide on straight away.
“What often happens now, is that they have an idea and then they decide should they do a film, a painting, a sculpture.”
That is a major change.
Gene says our palette for moving image artwork is not as developed, as it is for say painting, purely because we are less used to seeing it.
As she points out there has always been ‘good paintings and shocking paintings’, but we are keener to point out what we hate in new media. We are much quicker to reject them.
Roslyn Oxley agrees that a trained eye can decipher good art from bad, no matter what the medium. She says what unites all artists is their passion and will to communicate their point of view.
“At the moment I think there are only very few, really good painters around. We all want good painters,” she says.
Michelle Paterson loves good painters too. She scours the earth for them and has just returned from India on a trip to source fresh talent.
John Moroney, Against Nature, sculpture and oil painting 2016
“In the digital age, collectors seem to be reverting back to paintings, drawings and artwork with a strong presence of the artist’s hand. Collectors like to be able to see the artist’s process,” Michelle says.
Amanda Love believes foundational skills in sculpting, painting, drawing are really important to an artist’s longevity and their late career.
Amanda says it’s somewhere just on the other side of mid-career that things get really interesting.
“I find it fascinating with mid-career artists, that after all that striving, there comes a time when (seemingly) suddenly they have an added level of understanding about what they are dealing with in their work and how they are doing it. When they are technically and financially more able to set themselves up, often using scale, but not exclusively, they can push their practice to another level.”
“Especially at the highest level. To witness an artist’s will and drive to express themselves is breathtaking. They strive to create a world in their own terms, a world that responds to the way they see it, in which is a much needed counterpoint to business for example, which so often strives to conform to or accommodate the world. Some of the best artists are utterly driven by this impulse,” Amanda says.
She says it’s in the mid to established career phase, that the stakes really change for artists. This, she says, is often a time of major reinvention, when an artist might change course… move into using technology for instance or completely revert to drawing and painting: skills generally learned, in early career. Artists like everyone, she says, need to grow, and the best artists force themselves and their practices to grow in an outwardly dynamic, but internally consistent manner.
“The alternative is to succumb to the dull and formulaic, where a practice becomes bloodless and disengaged. Reinvention keeps the spirit alive and engagement is the lifeblood of reinvention ,” she says.
“There are different ways of expressing oneself – one does not preclude the other,” she says.
Our discovery in chatting to people is that this debate is not a conservative versus radical debate. Neither is it an old world versus, new world debate. The desire for handmade, soulful art is a long standing one, there will always be floors and walls to be covered with art – but because the way we absorb art and media is changing, our palette for technologically driven work is also maturing albeit at a snail’s pace.