Why painting?

In the previous blog entry, I mentioned my research direction with regards to a paper I will present in December. In my thesis, I will focus not only on the links between Slow Cinema and painting. I will also look at literature, for instance. But I don’t want to jump ahead at the moment.

So I leave you with: Why painting? It seems more straightforward to analyse the influence of photography on Slow Cinema. The issue with this is that it would be a) a short-cut, and b) inadequate.

It would be wrong to neglect photography in this research. However, photography is the successor of painting. Many aspects of composition we are now familiar with in photographs stem from the art of painting. True, the photo camera can record things painters would not be able to ‘record’ with their own eyes. It is also correct that photography introduced entirely new aspects, such as the close-up. But strikingly enough, neither of the two things I have just mentioned features greatly in slow films. In fact, you would have to look really hard to find close-ups, for instance. The way characters are framed (usually in long-shots, or at least medium-long shots) resembles the way painters treated their subjects. Even after the invention of photography and the emergence of the close-up, many painters shied away from using it. Their aim was to show Man in his surrounding. Also, thinking of landscape painting, slow films make a particular point in focusing on nature, its effects on Man and vice versa. So why is photography a short-cut? We would simply assume that because cinema is a photographic medium, it has its origin in photography. Which, in parts, is true. But film is The Seventh Art, a mix of all previous art forms. Hence we need to return to art forms which have existed prior to the arrival of film on screen.

A lot of ongoing research focuses on time in film, and how slow-film directors stretch time to an extreme. While I’m a bit reluctant to jump on the same train, because I’m convinced that there is more to Slow Cinema than its treatment of time, I need to explore time in the arts in general. One point I have come across is the invention of photography and its effects on painting. By the mid-19th century, the photo camera was hailed as a time-saver. Especially the art of portraiture became much faster. It took only a click on a button, and a portrait photograph was taken. Portrait painting, on the other hand, was a lengthy, time-consuming process. For big family portraits, in particular, dozens of sittings were needed before a painting could be finished. Jules Janin “praised the daguerreotype for its usefulness to the artist ‘who does not have time to draw’.” (Aaron Scharf, Art and Photography, 1968, p26) In effect, photography has introduced speed to the arts, and thinking of the treatment of time in slow films it would be wrong to focus exclusively on an art form, which set off the drive towards speed.

Let me give quote from a fantastic journal for visual culture, published by the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, Dundee, Scotland. It may make things a bit clearer:

“One of the features of paint as a medium…is its slowness. That seems increasingly important to the quality of the experience – the sense of the artist’s work, and thought, and consideration, which is unpacked by the viewer.” (Alan Woods in conversation with painter Howard Hodgkin, Transcript 03/02, p.11)

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