Laurie Fendrich: Why do painters have to justify being painters?

Fendrich recently returned to New York from a stint as a Visiting Artist at Painting�s Edge, a summer painting workshop in Idyllwild, CA. She reflects on the experience at Brainstorm. “I encountered, firsthand, the intense pressure that�s now on painters to justify why they are painters. When I was in art school in the late �70s, I saw it begin, but the young painters today, unlike my generation of painters, find it almost impossible to locate truly inspiring contemporary artists for whom painting�s meaning can be derived from what a painting looks like. Instead, the few remaining artists who are sticking to painting who are making any name for themselves are making paintings that derive their meaning from the ‘ideas’ behind their paintings. The result is that young artists feel compelled to offer long, complicated explanations about their intentions (many of which I dutifully listened to during the critiques I conducted with the painters who signed up for me).

“It takes an extremely talented and mature artist to hold together a big theme, yet many of the young artists I encountered were desperately trying to make their paintings ‘reflect their interest’ in some enormous idea or other. Some of them wanted to address themes so big that they really should first earn a Ph.D. in anthropology or Chinese before putting brush to canvas. Yet to my way of thinking, it�s hard enough to paint a still life, let alone paint something that carries multiple cultural references.” Read more.

Image courtesy of Geoform.

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Laurie Fendrich: jetlagged visiting artist


  1. Another great post! This explains alot.

  2. So much is drawn or exists embedded in a gesture, color, texture, shape or layer of paint that poets once addressed …Someone would someday reduce it to words. We’ve moved through that.

  3. This is a good question and I think that 20 years ago I felt my work had to “say” something for it to be meaningful.
    Rothko said “it is our function as artists to make the spectator see the world “our” way not their way.
    I believe this statement gave me the permission to paint for the sheer joy intense experience doing the work. Hard work at that.
    Thanks for posing the question.

  4. I do find it encouraging that here in NYC most of my students have moved thru this dated requirement. Painting is a belief system that asks as Borges stated, � a momentary act of faith that reality is inferred from events not reasonings. That theories are nothing but stimuli: that the finished work frequently ignores and even contradicts them.�
    Beckman stated to the effect one of arts chief functions is to resist the denaturing forces that are always present; those things that would take away our transcendent possibilities and turn us into stereotyped beings.

  5. Laurie Fendich certainly reflects my experience in academe accurately and young artists need to know there is another way where the “word” is not first. I keep a quote from Yeats on the wall where I teach: “Only that which does not teach, which does not cry out, which does not explain , which does not condescend, is irresistible.”

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