Tuesday, November 21, 2017


A standard argument against representational painting in the modern age is that it has been superseded by photography. This argument is so intuitively appealing that we tend not to consider its conceptual basis.

The argument rests on two implicit assumptions:

1. Representational painting is not a goal. Improved representation is the goal.
2. All technological progress toward a given goal constitutes improvement over previous technologies.

Let's not tackle these assumptions in terms of the desirability of technological progress per se. Rather, let's consider a simple human fact which we all know: sometimes you work very hard for something, but once you get it, you find you don't like it very much.

I believe that this has happened, at least for some people, with photography. Photography actively resists some of the merits we have come to depend upon from representational painting: profundity of observation (the ease of photography promotes facile observation, emphasizing superficial formal qualities), a sense of life which richly imbues the image (the mechanical nature of photography is poor at evoking the vitality of all things and places), density of concept (a photographer without a full production crew has difficulty staging a scene in order to layer conceptual implications into the composition itself), intentionality and meaningfulness of the work (photography has a strong bias toward noticing happenstance, rather than creation from an internal wellspring). Photography has many virtues, but they are not the same virtues as painting.

Representational painters are accustomed to cringing and special pleading when the fact of photography is triumphantly waved in their faces. I think they should set aside their defensiveness and forthrightly say, "Before the photograph, we thought we wanted simply to make the most physically accurate representation possible. Photography taught us that we were wrong. The painting technology which we thought of as an intermediate measure turned out to be the best measure for many of the qualities we sought. So we are going to acknowledge that once we accomplished our old goals, we didn't like them very much. We are going to change our understanding of what we want. We are going to go on painting."

This is legitimate.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Gratitude, part II

I haven't written "Gratitude, part I" yet. I've been meaning to for over a year. I guess I'm not the most grateful guy ever. But a new thought on the subject occurs to me, and I think I'll write it down before I lose interest.

Here goes - we've been together on this blog for a long, long time. If you've been reading from near the beginning, you know I started with no shows, no connections, no publications, and few prospects. I agonized about it a fair amount. You were with me when I first got published in International Artist, and when I had a painting displayed at Saatchi Gallery's restaurant in London - this one, still my most viral painting:

- and when I was approached by The Huffington Post to write for them - a change in my life which nearly made this blog extinct, and may still. All of these were markers on the road to my idea of success in a career as an artist. This is different from succeeding as an artist - we talked about my Vincent and Theo distinction between art and career as well - but I have always been clear with you that I very much wanted a career as an artist.

This has been a long journey, and at this stage of it I have an impression of success on that career front. My work is in three museums, including this one, which brings me no end of satisfaction. I have been invited to guest lecture at institutions I respect. I need to keep a spreadsheet of shows which have invited me to participate, so that I remember to send work out on time. I find myself appearing in print without having expended any particular effort. People treat me as a successful artist. By my own initial metrics, I have succeeded in most respects and have good prospects of succeeding in those ways I haven't yet.

This continually registers as a surprise, because I do not feel particularly successful. I am as prone to envy, anxiety, doubt, and despair as I was before. I rarely feel the asphyxiating panic I did at the beginning, but I am a long way from comfort. This is probably good. Comfort, I think, is a career outcome which begins to interfere with the work. One must stay hungry.

This brings me to the topic of gratitude. I think gratitude has a dimension of responsibility. It begins as a spontaneous emotion or realization, but to have ethical value, it must end in behavior. I conceive of my gratitude as, in part, a debt. It is not only a debt to those who have done well by me. It is also a debt to those I have it in my power to assist. I went through too many years without a helping hand extended to me in the arts. I remember it, and I know that all artists go through it.

So I consider part of the responsibility of my gratitude to be manufacturing opportunities for other artists. I keep track of hundreds of artists. I go out of my way to see the value in work. I am constantly seeking to match artists with situations that would benefit them and which are specifically suited to their work: shows, collectors, curators, press, whatever I can get my hands on. I write reviews as much as I can. There is no shortage of good work to promote.

I know that I fall short. There are more people out there than I have the time and means to help out. This gnaws at me all the time. I think I am writing this to let you know that I have not forgotten you. You must save yourself, and you must be the first advocate for your interests. Still, I am doing my best for you too. If I ever said a single kind thing about your work, I remember it. If I haven't helped you along it was because I haven't found a chance. You are on my mind and on my conscience.

I can only speak for myself, but my impression is that this is a good policy to maintain if you find yourself as fortunate as I have become. It helps keep the sugar from rotting your teeth.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

I do not regret no longer saying what I do not wish to say

I happened to be looking recently at quite an old drawing - from 2005. This is already a long time ago! Here is the drawing:

Daniel Maidman, Toni Seated 
2B pencil and white Prismacolor pencil on 
Rives BFK Tan Heavyweight Printmaking Paper, 22”x15”, 2005

By my standards at the time, it was a very good drawing. I am accustomed to thinking of my older work as not being as good as my newer work, but I think I am a little bit unfair to it. Some of it was good then, and remains good, and I shouldn’t be dismissive of it simply because I made it a long time ago and have spent all the time since then working on getting better.

Now here is a drawing I just made yesterday:

Daniel Maidman, Erica’s Back 
3B pencil and white Prismacolor pencil on 
Rives BFK Tan Heavyweight Printmaking Paper, 15”x11”, 2017

I like this drawing quite a lot. But look how much softer it is, how much less assertive about where things are and what they are like.

Leading up to that 2005 period, I spent so much time and energy learning exactly what things were in the world: each part of the body, in and of itself. Since then, I have worked hard to follow how the eye sees, how the mind understands, how much can be said with how little.

I worked so hard to learn to say everything. I remember my fear, in 2005, that the art of saying little would be like a self-imposed muteness, that letting the viewer fill things in for himself would leave me with a raging thirst to speak. But now I see that it does not make one parched. It involves the more subtle and profound ability to suggest things to the viewer without saying them word by word. One imagined but could hardly believe this ability to be real. And yet it is. I don’t want to say every little thing anymore, and I do not regret no longer saying what I do not wish to say.

There is a related phenomenon which I regret surprisingly much. I used to see things in terms of their surfaces. Let me give you a particularly embarrassing and primeval example so you understand how severely I had this problem. One evening in the fall of 1992 or 1993, I was walking along with some friends on Franklin Street, the main strip in Chapel Hill. There was a homeless guy sitting on the sidewalk in front of Nationsbank, playing a musical instrument, I forget which one. This homeless guy was not a young Byronic street musician. He was a ragged, stocky drunk in his fifties. But he played pretty well and some people had gathered around to listen. The musician finished his piece, and somebody threw some coins to his open case on the sidewalk, and missed, and I thought this was pretty funny. I was maybe 17. My friends shushed me. They were all caught up in a sentimental Moment, because they noticed something I hadn’t: that the guy who threw the coins was just as much a bum as the musician. So they were savoring the poignance of one guy with nothing being so moved by music as to give what little of the something he had to another guy with nothing.

My friends were being a little overwrought about it, but I also had a quite radical inability to look beyond the outright surfaces of things. A less extreme form of this persisted in me for many years, particularly as regards the still mysterious link between beauty and virtue.

Anyhow, I don’t seem to have much left of this problem. I have so little of it left that I hardly credit what things look like with conveying their meaning at all. I regret this. There is a fine sense of a complex and dynamic rightness, a spectacular and beautiful rightness, to be gotten from an innocent confusion of sunlight sparkling off of forms, with truth. And I have no more assurance that I understand things now than I did then. I certainly understand other things. But I miss understanding as I understood. Of course I can still access that mode of sight, but the passion has mostly gone out of it, and one does not do things one is not passionate about, or at least I don’t.