Painting – Dead or Alive


A Conversation About Painting on the Basis of What We Know Now.

“…in poetry all facts and all beliefs cease to be true or false and become interesting possibilities.”
W H Auden
Nicholas Humphrey in The Mind Made Flesh: Frontiers of Psychology and Evolution (2002) challenges the view that the cave paintings at Chauvet and Cosquer came about because of minds on the cusp of sophisticated modern abilities. He believes, instead,  that it was precisely the pre-modern mentalities, of limited language and scant symbolic thinking, that led to such competency in the reproduction of visual images.

This theory chimed with some painting advice that I had received this week about letting my art flow and just be what it would be.

It is hard not to let a level of conceptual thought censor what is produced and language enters into the equation with titles and narrative. Nevertheless it is this tacit level of awareness and the levels  of consciousness engendered by art that is the essence of what I see as the enduring value of art.

A superficial analysis of the modern mind addicted to quick, ever changing and increasingly impermanent visual stimulus could lead to the interpretation of painting as anachronistic.  Yet, when I engage with the artist community on Twitter or Instagram, the feeling that I’m getting is one of a groundswell of support for painting as a way of supplementing our highly scientific traditions with a more sophisticated conversation about bodily and psychic knowing.  The painter is not always aware of the message communicated through the painting…indeed the conversation to be had between the painter, painting and interactor cannot be prescribed. (It is interesting that we don’t have a satisfactory word for the viewer of art as active constructor of meaning.)

So my grand claim for the enduring relevance of painting today is one of a conversational and meditative tool for the “knowingness of life” through increased personal and societal consciousness.


The active engagement with a painting allows for the integration of mind, body and soul and engenders new notions of selfhood and self-awareness. Reality is abstracted and the canvas becomes a liminal space.  The notion of sculpture as sacred object or dwelling for spirit-beings and forces is well documented. The notion of painting as transformational object for the ” livingness of living” is irrepressible.




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