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EXCERPTS FROM "Philosophic, Economic and Commercial Challenges for the Market of Artistic Paintings in the beginnings of the 21st Century." Published as graduation Thesis for the International Business Major at the Erasmus Universitet Rotterdam, Department of Applied Sciences, (EBP) European Business Programme, Rotterdam Cultural Capital of Europe, The Netherlands, 2001

The art of painting pictures

All universal cultures have painted, paint and will paint in order to make real the sublime creation of the human being: the power to communicate without words, but using a plastic language. This ages old activity of humanity cannot be eradicated as the aesthetic is a universal instinct, specific and unique capacity to Homo Sapiens, and a need for the evolution of society.

“Art cannot have any other purpose than its own perfection”[1]. Through this thesis an artistic painting is assumed as a work made by an artisan in his effort to express his own perception of the tangible and intangible world, interior and exterior to him, through pigments and materials placed in a physical support, such a canvas in linen or cotton or wood, while evoking colors and textures of the material world.

Artistic paintings have some characteristics which differentiate it from other activities:

- Uniqueness: An artistic painting is artisan and unique.

- Communication: Its purpose is visual communication or expression.

- Permanency: Not being altered, it lasts centuries with a similar state and quality.

- Transcendence: Penetrates and gets diffused because of its importance.

- Homogeneity: Aesthetic tastes fluctuate together with movements, periods and styles.

- Economy: Principle of appropriate and prudent administration of material resources.

- Tangibility: Pigments and materials bring a creation to the tangible world.

Concept through history

Gods, heroes, beings, rites, nature, landscapes, human bodies, feelings, fantasies and dreams have become real thanks to the color, light, textures and forms of illusory paintings, that the eyes of the mind convert into beautiful and desirable realities.[2]

Painters have painted for many different reasons throughout history, but generally they do so to express their own vision sensitive to the spirituality, and to understand, appreciate, dominate and develop the world. To continue there is an overall synthesis of the main track followed by the art concept through history.

Ancient and Classical era

From prehistory to the XIX century, artistic painting moved through different styles very slowly, taking large periods to modify the aesthetic concept. The concept changed through the different epochs:

Prehistoric paintings were perhaps an early attempt to create and record history. Through ancient age motives were gods, empires and the classical beauty of the human being. In the European early medieval times the only accepted motive to paint was religion, and in a very spiritual way. Later on art included monks and warriors, to, further in time, during the Renaissance, specific assignments from the bourgeoisie to artists started to proliferate, together with the recovery of the classical beauty.

The next period, Baroque, had an important integration of imagination that concluded with the Romantic ideology, which liberated artists from traditional artistic principles and resulted in the subsequent acceleration in the development of styles and movements, characteristic for later generations.


During the revolutionary period, the XIX century, traditional authority principles were rejected in the struggle for equality and freedom. Once starting to dominate the physical world, art started to express the inaccessible, subtle, changeable and slippery realities. Art stopped being an obedient media for the monarchy, royalty, bourgeoisie and church to become, through the decades, a visual system for the releasing of feelings and internal tensions of human beings.[2]

Romanticist thought brought to the artist the need for self-expression, allowing him to experiment with new forms and techniques which could show his own personality, feelings and ideas. This concept constituted a departure from the old fashioned insistence upon excellence. Although artists continued to observe and capture modern life, their visual translation was not as uniform as in previous periods. The end of the century brought impressionism, in which, violating previous academic rules, artists portrayed less details and more visual effects, focused in capturing their own perception and experience, and expressing it on each particular way.

There is not a single denomination for the art of the XIX Century. Painters began searching for a new language, through many styles, with lose diffusion and general acceptance. Also during this century, the idea that the democratization of art and culture brought degradation and a drop in quality was very widely accepted. The audience was limited to the elite and art acquired a vanguard character, which only history has fairly evaluated.

Deeper and more radical transformations and innovations are symbolic of the XX century, a century dominated by a general reflection about the very concept of artistic creation and its relation with society. With the emergence of new media technologies the artist became even more multifaceted.[3]

The movements that changed society and humanity during the first half of the XX Century were destroyed with the historic event of World War II. The Marxist thought: “Each person, an artist”, and so the importance of creative learning further of the rules determined by institutions and markets, became the argument of vanguards.

The XX Century has been the history of vanguards tradition, which have a short life, dying as soon as its values become old fashioned. It was a century where art moved in between crises and revolution, breaking with its formal and thematic past.

With the removal of limitation and eagerness of progression, artistic paintings overcame the limits of social acceptance, being projected outside the canvas or the wall, and outside representation or abstraction. Art attempted to be what it was never before.[2]

However, more recently a likely overall picture of the art of the XX century has emerged. Leaving aside the psychology and formal history of individual artists, some values seem to have been commonly maintained by movements, such as fauvism, cubism, abstraction, suprematism, expressionism, dadaism, surrealism, futurism, constructivism, symbolism, informalism, kinetic art, conceptual art, op art, pop art, arte povera, minimalism, realism and hyper-realism.

Each vanguard movement expressed itself with a different plastic language. While fauvism or expresionism transmitted the anguish of the modern human being through bright colors, cubism or constructivisim described reality with sober and rational works. Abstraction denied any reference to objects and figures, while surrealism built up an imaginary world with a paradoxical real appearance. After World War II vanguard projects got stronger. Art dealers and critics risked money and prestige by supporting these movements that changed the history of human kind.


Postmodernist theorists posit that the idea of art movements were no longer discernible. Contemporary art started confronting and rejecting aspects from their predecessors, and recycle past styles and themes refitting them in modern-day contexts, juxtaposing old and new, while banishing barriers between high arts and popular culture.

Innovation and variety define painting today. Some people argue once more that art has lost its characteristic purity and heroism of long ago, but only time can fairly judge innovations, and only the future can give a full appreciation of the art of today. However, it is clear that the understanding of today’s art needs to be inside of a global scenario.

Today’s art has denied its spiritual vocation from another world, standing on its materiality and its worldly use. Art denies its exclusivity position as a luxury of the past, and the monopoly of aesthetic rules is finished.

Emphasis is stressed on the endless possibilities of new forms of creativity. The classicist notion of beauty has became old fashioned. Creativity for painting is currently defined as the ability of the artist to see the world as it is, but from an individual perspective. When looking around the artist is mentally rebuilding reality, for understanding it by itself and, with this sense, being able to transform it.

To face the art of today, is necessary to adopt a critical view, based upon analyses and knowledge. The critical audience needs to accept the plurality of representation, codes and languages, examining each artistic proposal with his internal coherency.

However, artists always have something to say, searching things that explain the inexplicable, but changes are substantial: technology increases the number of artists, and the hybridization of genders and styles extends up until the limits that allow identity to remain. The masterpiece always goes further than every day reality, even while drawing upon it for its subject.

Intellectuals have reiterated the XIX Century prediction of the death of Art by Hegel who, as prophet, announced the deviation of art from technical and sensual duties to the conceptual.[4]

Some people also doubt the future of painting due to the fast development of audiovisual media, which has revolutionized the way we create and see images. Obviously, new technologies have added possibilities to human creativity, but painting cannot be replaced due to its artisan character, expressively combining both the artist’s intention and impulse. However, to be fully appreciated contemporary painting needs to be removed from its practical use context, and accounted for intellectually.

The decisive ruptures introduced with technological changes are being consolidated, bringing new expressive means. However, artworks with multiple copies challenge the notion of the originality, uniqueness and authenticity of traditional artisan paintings. According to Walter Benjamin, the work loses its aura with reproduction, attempting on the sacred unity, and on the reverential “here and now”.

Some critics reject the radical illegibility of much contemporary art, which they perceive to isolate art from society, undermining its ability to perform a critical public role. However, the size of the audience should not be the measure of the value of cultural politics because any message, regardless of its quality, if spoken with enough intensity, is able to reach the masses.

That’s why it’s necessary to protect some delimited spaces from the mass entertainment market. Regardless of the size of audience reached, a quality product can be made that can actively respond and execute its role: to overturn life and consciousness, leading to the emancipation of the citizen and his reconciliation with his own experience.

To face the art of today it’s necessary to adopt a critical view based upon analysis and knowledge. The critical audience needs to accept the plurality of representation, codes and languages, examining each artistic proposal with his own internal coherency. The developments of the XX century have brought art to a point of complexity previously unknown; full of content and difficult to assimilate at first glance. Therefore, for art to complete its important role it must also be supported by a cultural policy with a sophisticated art education program.

Regarding renown art critics of contemporary art, the predominant trends nowadays are focused on cultural diversity, minorities such as feminism, urban tribes and marginalized classes, nomadism and collectivism, irony and ambiguity , and on the body, especially in the sexual aesthetic and the anguished aesthetic of illness.[4]


[1] “Oscar Wilde: About art and the artist”, Oscar Wilde, Edition 2000, DVD Editorial, S.L., Barcelona, Spain. ISBN: 84-95007-27-4

[2] “Summa Pictórica”, Historia Universal de la Pintura. Editorial Planeta, S.A. Spain, 2000. ISBN: 08-36128-7

[3] “Grandes Maestros de la pintura”, Editorial Altaya, S.A. Barcelona, Spain, 2001. ISBN: 81-487-0564-5

[4] “Guía del usuario de arte actual”, Rocio de la Villa Ardura. Editorial Tecnos, S.A. Madrid, Spain 1998. ISBN: 84-309-3119-8

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