Not unlike the mighty buffalo, the classical painter has replenished his ranks to a healthy enough size to insure the survival of the species. In the 50s I’ll bet there couldn’t have been a thousand people alive who could paint a convincing picture. In the 60s the number might have dropped to as low as a hundred, and they were all painting cowboys for Louis L’Amour book covers. But today fine painting is back and trying to get its revenge on the modern art establishment that has treated it so shabbily.

For a great read check out the diatribes posted on the Art Renewal Center’s (ARC) Website (www.artrenewal.org). Some of these traditional oil painters are really bitter. But who can blame them? Modernism dominated the Artworld for most of the 20th century. Mainstream art turned from a craft into a Ponzi scheme in less than eighty years. It’s true that virtually all of your lionized, firmly established New York artists are doing stuff that anybody could do or hiring people to make their art. Add this to the fact that traditional painting has only recently reemerged as a legitimate art form worthy of recognition in museums and serious art reviews and you can see what makes the ARC guys so upset.

Because the new traditional painters rallied together in opposition to the modern establishment they tend to be even more conservative than their Victorian heroes. The quality of the paintings produced by ARC members is mind-boggling. No collage elements, random brushstrokes or gimmicks here, just landscapes, still lives and figures. The most Zen members of this school of thought have never taken Modernism seriously. They probably are self taught or studied under a Master. The more bitter ARC members went to expensive art schools where they were discouraged from drawing and painting and encouraged to express themselves.

It’s unfortunate that these painters reject all modern ideas. Innovation isn’t always bad. There are a lot of Pop artists today who can paint as well as the ARC painters. But Mickey Mouse and Betty Boop aren’t sober enough for these traditionalists. You’ve gotta stretch your own linen canvases and use rabbit skin glue gesso if you wanna play with the big boys. Only a hint of Surrealism is as wild as they get.

ARC and like-minded people have been very successful in their mission to bring back painting. The movement has been going on in earnest since Tom Wolfe wrote The Painted Word in 1975. When Charles Jencks published Post-modernism: the new classicism in art and architecture [sic?] twelve years later the battle had pretty much been won. Though the ARC members would never define themselves as Postmodern that’s exactly what they are. Though Postmodernism encompasses a lot of disciples, in painting it’s the movement that follows, and rebels against, Modernism.

ARC is only one of a number of organizations and academies popping up around the world producing traditional painters. Americans and Europeans command tens of thousands of dollars for their best works. Celebrity modern artists still sell for a lot more. If you want to you can order amazingly well crafted paintings from China that rival ARC masterpieces for pennies on the dollar. The craft of painting is hard but it’s being mastered by more people everyday. Maybe next we’ll see a reemergence of marble sculpture. We’ve got a lot of good marble down here in Alabama.

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