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What is a “Painter’s Painter”?: The Conceptual

Robin Dluzen

And so if you’re not a painter in love with paint or Painting, but you still do make paintings, then the question presents itself: why painting? If the painting as a material object is not the end, the point, then in my opinion, this makes the work a conceptual one. This brings me to my original definition of a “painter’s painter”: one who makes paintings for other painters. It is because of this very definition, in my opinion, that people are a little bewildered by the term “painter’s painter” in the first place. Joseph Kosuth says in his introduction to Art-Language (1970),

The audience of conceptual art is composed primarily of artists—which is to say that an audience separate from the participants doesn’t exist. In a sense, the, art becomes as “serious” as science or philosophy, which doesn’t have “audiences” either. It is interesting or it isn’t, just as one is informed or isn’t.

Daan von Golden Painting

If one is painting solely for others of the trade (or those who specialize or “participate” in painting in the capacity of dealers, curators or genre-specific critics or historians), then the audience for the work is an extremely limited one. But most importantly, it allows for the artist to take for granted that the audience of his/her paintings is already able to come to the works with the elite knowledge necessary for a complete viewing and interpretation; it draws a distinct line in the sand between those for whom the paintings are intended, and those who are not meant

Cubist Coke-head, Scott Reeder

to understand them. And therefore, those who do not understand miss out. Good examples of these conceptual “painter’s painters” could be Ad Reinhardt, making the very last painting that anyone could make, or Daan von Golden, whose works in his Silhouette series consist of magnified portions of famous paintings projected and then traced. Others, here in Chicago, who have made work in this vein of “paintings about painting” are Scott Reeder with a work like Cubist Coke-head (Blue Table) or Adam Scott’s Shit Creek, albeit in a lighter sense, perhaps, than Kosuth outlined. As we can see in these works, the material is not the point of the paintings, so we must then turn to the content, which in both cases are self-reflexively addressing their own genre. Little inside jokes, aided by irony, pastiche and/or appropriation, tend to be the mark of a particular brand of Chicago painter who makes “paintings about painting.”

Shit Creek, Adam Scott

It is not surprising that Chicago has excellent examples of the painting joke as told by “painter’s painters.” Chicago boasts excellent art schools and programs throughout the city, pumping out fine art graduates every semester, many of whom stick around a while, and still plenty who make it the site of life-long careers. With so many artists highly educated, still constantly surrounded by powerful institutions, the situation is ripe for anti-authoritarian attitudes. While the aesthetic “heroic painter” example embraces the burden of the painting aura, the undermining that occurs when painters poke fun at painting is –perhaps– another option for dealing with the incredible amount of information amassed when one, let’s say, completes an MFA degree. And while the joke dismantles some institutional authority, it still, as mentioned above, creates a hierarchy of its own: like in music, film, and whatever else you can think of, the less people who get your painting, the cooler it is.