What’s the point of Painting?

I regard painting as the craft of Art. Many people who can paint well – even to the point of technical brilliance – will never be Artists. Conversely there are many artists who simply cannot paint.

Painting then is the act of understanding how one can transform coloured dust, binder and medium into the facsimile of something. It’s about making gesso, blocking in, imprimatura, ebauche, grisaille, glazing, scumbling, meshing and a hundred other technical terms for, what are in truth very mechanical and logical processes.

Art on the other hand is something ineffable, more abstract and less concrete. I’m not talking about ‘Abstract Art’ here in the sense  which it is most commonly used, to describe a 20th century Art movement, but the idea that Art is about the expression of ideas, and all ideas are to a degree abstract.

Long ago I like to think that some Greek sculptor looked upon the stylised and rather lifeless works of Egyptian artists, and thought he ‘could do better than that’. So we see in the archaeological record a process of Archaic Greek sculpture becoming progressively more lifelike from the almost Egyptian style Kouros to the more fluid lines of the Classical  age of Greek Sculpture and the lifelike, graceful works of Lysistratus.  By this time the Greeks could make a block of marble look exactly like a man, a horse, a Goddess  or a hero and must have been feeling pretty pleased with themselves until Phidias came along, looked at these facsimiles of humans and said ‘Sculpt Courage’.


Sculpting or painting the abstract, whether it is courage, fear, love, revulsion, power or love is the difference between craft and Art. As Francis Bacon remarked, ‘the job of the Artist is to deepen the mystery’, and that requires absolute mastery of the materials at hand.

So ‘what’s the point of painting?’, to equip Artists with the technical processes they need to deepen the mystery. One of my two apprentices (pictured above) is learning to paint so that one day he will be able to create Art, and that journey starts with an understanding that those are quite different skills with a shared aim.

For more on our program and opportunities for young and emerging artists, please  contact the Norfolk Painting School or our sister company The New British Art Gallery.

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