Monday, January 29, 2007
Years ago, I saw an interview with David Hockney, conducted by Melvyn Bragg, in which Hockney, a compulsive snapper, argued why he thought painting was superior to photography.It was a matter of time. A camera was the perfect means to capture a so-called decisive moment but the resulting print, no matter how well composed, no matter how engaging the subject matter, was only a 'surface' experience. A micro-second frozen, there were no layers of time for the viewer to explore in the same way as a painting. Created over days or weeks, with several, different-aged layers of paint adhering in varying densities on – and in – the canvas, there was a literal and metaphysical depth to a painting. Relatively new, more 'instant' media, such as photography (let alone digital imaging) just couldn't compare.I was reminded of this as I watched Hockney being interviewed by the Australian critic, Robert Hughes, in Hughes' TV documentary series, The New Shock Of The New. Hughes made an impassioned argument for a return to the artisan skills of painting and to what he called "slow art" as opposed to the media-friendly, industrially-manufactured, conceptual game-playing of artists like Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst – "Fast art, like fast food!". Hughes wasn't against all conceptual art but like the painter, Sean Scully, whom Hughes also interviewed, he expressed discomfort with the idea of art as an extension of entertainment. Scully railed against the increasing influence of TV advertising, graphic design, and mass-market movies on art's content and techniques. Art, to Scully's and Hughes' minds, should be higher-minded.