Thursday, February 3, 2011

75 The slow painting movement

THE PLEIN AIR movement has been good for painters and landscape painting. It sparked a renaissance in the art of observation and a return to artistic fundamentals. It helped refocus landscape painter's attention back to the source of its inspiration. I have benefited artistically by painting in the field and financially from invitations to various art festivals. I commend these festivals for substantially enlarging the number of landscape collectors in America. I plan to continue painting en plein air as well as attending plein air festivals.

However an unintended consequence of the resurgence of plein air painting has been an emphasis, perhaps an overemphasis, on painting as a virtuoso performance for the benefit of spectators. At such events the most prized paintings are often the paintings done the quickest. I don't criticize these events. They're a lot of fun. But the trick is to compartmentalize this mental state and relegate it to the proper moment. And the proper moment for a virtuoso performance is not when you're in the studio struggling to express your inner vision.

Recently I've noticed that the mental state I have while performing at plein air events has invaded my studio painting. While painting in the studio I not only habitually intend that each painting be a virtuoso performance, but often that each brush stroke be one as well. The pressure became so great I needed an escape. So I have switched, perhaps for just a season, to a completely different medium. The medium I chanced on is encaustic. There is a roughhewn quality with encaustic reminiscent of the art of woodcut, accompanied by the mental state I associate with sculpting. Encaustic is a medium that can't be hurried. It is also a medium that doesn't need to hurry. The drying time is indefinite and I can reactivate the painting surface simply by reheating it.

I will explore this medium for as long as it takes to unshackle myself from the burden of virtuosity. I intend to immerse myself in the encaustic process until painting becomes a kind of meditation and I relearn the art of painting slowly.

Brad Teare © 2011


  1. well said. I'm right there with ya.

  2. I look forward to seeing your results. Can you put me on a mail list? Thanks!

  3. It's interesting that quick paintings used to be called studies and were used as such. The real work did take time and thought and patience. I wonder if the speed or virtuosity, as you call it, comes from this time when everything seems to be in hyper-mode. Some things should and can be done quickly, but others take time and much more reflection. It is a bit like having a conversation in line at the coffee shop or having a conversation over a languid dinner. Each can be satisfying, but their effects are often different.

  4. Many thanks Marc, Suzanne, and Elizabeth. I will definitely keep everyone posted. I believe if you click on the "Follow" button you are automatically added to a mailing list that will notify you of any blog posts. That can be a handy way to keep track of the latest entries.

    As always, many thanks for your feedback.

  5. An unintended consequence of the resurgence of painting out in the open for all to see that you are an artist practising your craft is the continuance of those esoteric jargon terms like: 'en plein air painting'. An analysis of those painting out in the open is needed and along the way a few boring definitions.

    For the virtuoso showman artist, painting out in the open, is perhaps a personally pleasing performance and all it needs is some sort of watching audience to make it all just so worthwhile. Paintings made out in the open are seen as the prized paintings to make. Those done the quickest are curiously regarded as being the best of all. Perhaps its just perhaps they might just miss the last bus home, or it may rain, or they will miss lunch etc. Perhaps these virtuoso painters are just harking back to the impressionist period of the 1870's and wish that they could one day paint just like Monet and use the similar artists paraphernalia?

    Virtuoso? A person who excels in the technique of art.

    Painting out in the open for all the world to see is in effect a virtuoso performance for the benefit of any passing spectators. You, the artist painting out in the open, practicing your craft with the emphasis on: painting as a rapidly as possible, must capture the light, must capture the colours, must capture the tones, must capture the shadows, must capture the proportions, the layout etc. Ultimately they are just producing a painted sketch that matches their perception of what they see and for them there is no other way to see it, their art-vision is the thing.

    Sketch? A preliminary study or draft or rough outline in effect a brief description suitable for a later study. In effect for the virtuoso artwork.

    Would-be performance virtuoso artists' also pay good money to make paintings out in the open, often in exotic locations and its called an art-holiday. Many exponents of painting out in the open are all too pleased to tutor such holidays. Any tourist on any package holiday could just as well do it themselves.

    Impression? The influence of a visual scene on the mind.

    The small modern high resolution, automatic white-colour balance, digital camera does all that painting in the open air does but instantly. But then it does not attract the audience that the virtuoso, painting in the open air, seeks. In the 1870's while photography was in its infancy the painting out in the open air was the de rigueur [fashion] for impressionist painters like Monet. Artists then needed to just quickly capture the scene as a study for a potential studio artwork. At this same time there was evolution of the box easel to accommodate the virtuoso's art materials like the newly introduced tubes of artists paints. In effect an industry evolved to meet their needs

    Impressionism? An attempt to capture the effects of reflected light on an outdoor subject.

    A virtuoso performance is no use when you are alone in the studio struggling to express your innermost visions and you certainly do not need an audience for this. The rush of the painting out in the open does not help one iota in an art studio setting. While I am painting in the studio my painting is not any kind of a virtuoso performance, but each brush stroke in that studio painting must be one. Each brush stroke is a carefully considered moment. I immerse myself in the process and my slow painting-time becomes a kind of meditation. And that for me is the art of painting slowly.

    Is the 'painting in the open' movement air anything more than a marketing ploy for the sales of 'field art materials' etc?

    Or is akin to the plot of 'The Emperor's New Clothes' written by Hans Christian Anderson in 1873 ? In as much that painting out in the open is the only way to be an artist in the 21st century?

    1. Great addition to this blog entry! Sorry it got lost in the shuffle and I am now just reading it. Well said.

  6. Interesting ideas Phil. I might even go so far to say that there are times when an artist needs to shun virtuosity entirely. That seems to be where I'm at anyway. Perhaps it is just temporary but striving for virtuosity can be too stressful.

    Here in the States the recent popular plein air movement was started by the advent of a magazine by the same name. It has been relaunched with Steven Doherty (of American Artist fame) as editor. Doherty is a plein air enthusiast himself and I feel he will revitalize the movement. The magazines on the web site look great (

    There is something really fun about some plein air festivals. The one I attended last year in Door Country was incredibly well organized and entertaining. And the staff was extremely generous to the artists. That was really a refreshing experience.


Thanks for your comments!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...