Friday, March 02, 2012

The Medium War

There is an endless debate in art circles over which medium is the favoured one for producing art.  The purists say oil but I never hear a sound enough argument for the preference.  There is the argument that the 'masters' used it.  Well they did mostly because they had no alternative beside watercolour, both having to be created by hand in many instances, not a quick fix at a local art supply store.  In some areas of life, we cling to the past as if it shows us the way forward, instead of forging out own paths.

The collectors have their preferences also, again societal followings lead towards oil too, but without strong argument for the choice.  Are we programmed to presume oil is a higher quality medium to paint with?  And, if so, what drives that thought?

Skill in handling is often cited as a factor.  But that can be said of any tool used to produce art.  If you cannot handle the medium well and know how it performs, you set yourself up to fail.  Oil painting, like painting in any other medium takes practice, many hours of practice to become competent in it.

I was told today by a gallery owner that buyers currently look for oil paintings and that works under glass are out of favour.  Whims? Trends?  Who or what is the catalyst that pushes the end user to decide which medium should be the chosen one?  Is it the same trend that dictates what colour we should wear each year or paint the walls of our sitting rooms?

What about the image itself?  Where does composition, competence in technique and eye appeal fall down in terms of mediums?  A beautifully drawn piece can be as stunning as a beautifully painted piece in any medium.  I believe that if the view has a connection with the image, the medium in which it is executed has little role to play in whether it has appeal or not.

There's an eternal circle that exists of one medium chasing or being chased by another, one claiming superiority over the previous til it runs full circle back to its origins again.  And then there is the snob appeal of materials within some artist circles.  Its another version of  "Whoever dies with the most expensive toys wins." concept.   Some individuals slavish purchase outrageously priced materials in the hopes that the the higher the price and/or quality, it will magically turn their mediocre paintings into gold.....'oh, yes, that Sheep's Hoof Brown, its only $120 an ounce and made from the elusive Tattamangoula male sheep in Outer Mongolia, but its just divine to paint with darling and XWY uses it in alllllllllll his paintings and you know how much *they* go for...'  I know, over the top, but you've all heard something similar somewhere before, right? ;)

My conclusion?  Paint what you like, in whatever medium you like.  If you are competent in technique and composition, your work will find its own level.

Mine has leveled  today with a local gallery representing my work.  Stay tuned for more details soon.


Hedera said...

Very interesting Jeanette. I totally agree with you - beautifully rendered drawings can be as eyecatching as beautiful paintings, yet they are often regarded as less valuable. And yes, it is important to find your own way despite the pressures to do otherwise... Congratulations on the gallery representation :)

Susan said...

I agree Jeanette. People always ask me what my favorite medium is. I don't know what it is. I may look at a landscape and think it I'd like to paint it in pastel or a still life catches my eye and I want to paint it in oil. I may do the same subject in a number of different mediums. If it's good, it doesn't matter what medium it's painted in.

Jon said...

Content is always more arresting than materials. Keep up the good work!

- Jon

Jeanette said...

Its frustrating for artists who put so much time and effort into whatever medium they use, only to be told that something else is what is currently in favour.

I agree Susan. Different subjects seem to call for different mediums sometimes. One can only do what one feels is right.

I agree completely Jon, thank you.

vivien said...

I totally agree and switch medium to suit mood or subject.

I dislike the glare on glass but do really like working on paper. I like the simplicity of oils on deep canvas, unframed, when hung.

Lisa Le Quelenec said...

Congratulations on the gallery! Great news.

It is a pain about mediums.... I love acrylic and when people don't know they often assume that my work is in oil. As soon as they find out they seem disappointed. I've wondered for a long time about switching back but it would then take months to do one painting because of drying times. I also love the simplicity of charcoal and chalk but I've never sold any. They become my guilty pleasure ;o)

Jeanette said...

Vivien, I think galleries probably put the push on downplaying work under glass as its more fragile and difficult to ship. I go by the image, I don't care what the medium is.

Thanks Lisa. The market is very slow right now, but nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

The medium debate will go on forever with oils always pushing to the forefront. I dabble in many mediums and work a lot in oils lately as I had worked so hard to become competent in it again.

That said, I'm doing a demo for an acrylic painting workshop right now and I'd defy anyone to tell the difference between the two. Its all hype and becomes frustrating at times.

debwardart said...

Good post. I always question why, due to their "difficulty", watercolors aren't more expensive than oils??? Going back to the past, I guess, when they were reserved for "women" and sketches. I agree that any medium, rendered well, is beautiful. And I laughed about how some people just have to use what their guru uses (as if that will make a difference in their own painting). How often have you gone to a workshop and there is that one person with all new paints and equipment purchased because "so and so" uses this.
Congrats on the gallery representation!