by Jerry Fresia
Jerry Fresia lives in Italy but has his pulse on the world — political, artistic, and otherwise. He believes that a plein air painter is a soul who struggles, and he sees parallels in the bigger picture. Do you agree?
Fresia recently sent us some thoughts on “plein air painting as resistance.” Let us know what you think in the comments section.
The notion of “resistance” seems to be in the air these days. But the reality of the sinister political or economic con is nothing new. It has been part of the fabric of institutional life across the western world and beyond for quite some time. I was struck, for example, by the remark made by Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF, when she first met with Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s former finance minister.
Varoufakis, previously a radical academic, had explained to Lagarde how and why the IMF lending policies couldn’t possibly work. Lagarde’s response was this: “Look, Yanis, of course you are right. This program cannot work. But you’ve got to understand, we’ve put so much political capital into this program that we cannot go back. And your credibility depends on your accepting it.” Isn’t this the con against which we must resist?
The world of finance and speculation is no small part of the art world as well. Robert Hughes has called the way in which financial elites have insured that art speculation “offer[s] … dramatic and consistent capital gains … one of the wonders of cultural engineering.” It’s no wonder, then, that “important” art is art that a collector can trust to return a decent capital gain. And, as was the case with pretend loans, however, it is yet another con in this important respect: The work of contemporary plein air painters is, by fiat, deemed passé and unimportant. No plein air artist, even if she is stupendous, will ever be seen at an Art Basel exhibition, to cite just one example.
There are a number of reasons supporting this exclusion, but the most important one may be this: The very act of plein air painting is, in itself, a form of resistance. Consider the following:
Plein air painting is by necessity solitary. Top-down direction is anathema to the process.
External measures are shunned. Oftentimes we don’t know in advance the direction in which the work will move.
There is a long craft-evolution period in which the painter not only acquires control over the process, but in mastering this controlling power itself, the painter comes to enjoy it for its own sake. The art of it emerges. The motivation for painting, then, turns on the fulfillment found in the exercising of one’s newly found powers. Capital gains? Entirely incidental. The payoff is in the work.
So here’s the rub: Yes, plein air painters must participate in the realm of commerce to pay the bills. But, given the ever-present threat of cultural engineering alluded to above, the development of the painter’s prodigious powers just might escape the painter’s control. The default position, therefore, of the plein air painter is resistance to any form of collaboration that frustrates the painter’s self-realization.
Going along to get along just isn’t our cup of tea.