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Addio per sempre, Painting!

This article is dedicated to my beloved Sarah who has been an unfailing infuence in the creation of it...

Osip Brik (1888-1945), Russian literary critic and illustrious member of the
Russian formalist school, boldly set the stage for critical debate concerning
the “photography versus painting war” when in 1926 he initiated his essay
Photography versus Painting with this audacious declaration: “Photography
pushes painting aside.”

OB believed that the photographers' motto was precision, speed and

cheapness. Photographers could compete with painters, especially in the
case of portraits, because even gifted painters cannot paint portraits that
would be as faithful to reality as a photo could be—and naturally, as

At his time, OB was talking about black and white photography that had
not attained the magnifcent coloring or level of precision it today enjoys by
whomever who possesses a smartphone or electronic camera. Yet, even
then, OB ventured to say that painting was decidedly different from Nature,
and could not permute its real colors thus copying tincture approximately—
and no more. The painter/paintress cannot go beyond the terminus ad quem
of the artist's palette. The reality of Nature is compromised by painting;
photography does not falsify an object by giving it the wrong colors (then
black and white) OB believed.

It is important to add here, that decades later, painting has suffered also
from aging. Professional restorationists are fghting a lost battle to bring
back to life masterpieces whose sheen has faded away so vigorously, an
almost complete remake of the painting's colors must be accomplished.
Add to this environmental decay. When I visited Gli Uffzi in Florence
(Firenze), Italy in 1983, there was no air-conditioning and the viewing halls
were flled with the cigarette smoke of museum attendants talking with
visiting tourists. The security of the world's third most respected art
museum was genuinely lamentable. Scraping off nicotine is not the only
task to be surmounted. Long-term damage to paintings includes many
other obstacles including cost, permissions to remove masterpieces from
view, and the availability of workers who are competent enough to perform
the delicate function of bringing back to life paintings that have been
cherished throughout the centuries. Photography is so much more lasting.
Another aspect is the criminal element. Italians will proudly exclaim that
Italy houses even 80% of the world's artistic treasures. Another Italian will
proclaim that the Germans and Americans robbed 50% of these chef-
d'oeuvres. Actually, no inventory has ever been accomplished to bring a
sense of realness to this on-going dilemma. Further, many, many art lovers
have been fraudulently ripped off when purchasing counterfeit paintings
truly amazingly juxtaposed with such a fawlessness they resemble the
original. And here is another point in favor of OB's theory: If paintings can
be reproduced so precisely by fraudulent artists, what then is there the
aesthetic difference, in degree, from that of the photographer? OB said that
the photographer captures life and the painter makes pictures!

Osip Brik also dealt with the social implications of this “battle” between
photography and painting. He indicated that there was a real need for us to
record life as it comes to us in our daily lives. Then, too, painters were
going out of business because no one wanted to purchase their paintings;
and, thirdly, most people are not sophisticated enough to distinguish a
photograph from a painting that is solely an approximation.

OB believed that photographers did not, at his time, realize their social
importance because, in a way, they felt inferior to painters who still enjoyed
a sense of respect—painting having been so arduously ingrained in the
social experiences of most people. OB believed that the only genuine path
for the photographer is to battle against the aesthetic distortion of Nature
by painting thus acquiring for the photographer the satisfying right to
social recognition.

Photographic Art is seen every day on FACEBOOK and TWITTER, and

we are amazed at the beauty of photographs of animals, humans, sunsets,
valleys, mountains, beaches, ad infnitum. What is lacking is the insertion of
thoughtfulness into these extraordinary images. Something must be said
about them that will enable us to incorporate these mental representations
into the nexus of our related thought processes.

Authored by Anthony St. John

30 March MMXVIII
Calenzano, Italy