Friday, March 7, 2014

Race To Save: Fine Art Paintings vs. Fine Art Photographs

Before the invention of photography man had to rely on a variety of materials to render images.  None of them were quick. Because they were stone, marble or wood they could last a very long time. Not particularly portable some of them have survived so that we can admire them in museums the world over. They represent the finest that man and his culture has to offer.

Digital Image of painting FLOWERING CACTUS
Over the centuries other materials were tried to render shape and color. Cave men pioneered a variety of  pigment based paints that have survived thousands of years. Romans perfected the mosaic and Egyptians added wax to their pigments. Today we can see their wonderful art on their funerary headstones. They were in many ways the very first portraits.

When photography finally became a reality in around 1839, we finally had a way to capture the true likeness of things. However, as with all things, photography had its limits. One of those was longevity. Since that very first photo was developed it has been a race to find a way to make those images more permanent.

To stand in front of "The Night Watch" at the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam is to see not only glorious art but also to see the only medium we have developed thus far that will retain an image for 100's of years. "Night Watch" was painted in 1642. The oil paints Rembrandt used were mostly hand ground. While it may have faded, it remains vibrant, glorious in its use of lights and darks, reds and unbelievably rich blacks...and just about every other color in between.
Painting, FLOWERING CACTUS by Alan Krug

As far as I know there is no photograph that has lasted that long and for most photographs will ever last that long.

I show here the digital image of my painting "Flowering Cactus." It was taken with my iPhone during one of my morning walks. The original was a JPEG image, a process that compresses the image and then expands when it is "opened" in computer software, in this case PhotoShop. How long will this image last? No one knows. Possibly as long as JPEG remains the format of choice for photographers. If you printed it how long would it last? It depends. On the wall probably not all that long despite the claims by Canon and Epson. They claim 200 years in a dark closet in an archival box. Whats the point?

For my painting I used acrylic paints. These were introduced in the 1970's and while they use many of the same pigments as oil paints, we really have no idea of how long they will last. I also used a archival polyester canvas, another wrinkle in the time honored tradition of using oil paints and fine linen canvases properly gessoed so the paint can not bleed into the canvas. Many artists, FINE ART ARTISTS, have embraced acrylic paints so one can hope they will be as archival and long lasting as oils. They certainly are healthier!

We know that natural canvases last a long time. All you have to do is check out painting from the Middle Ages to see proof of that. However, they were always not so confident. Many paintings then and into the Renaissance used wood for their base prepared in roughly the same way we prepare canvases today. So, which will last longer?

One of the biggest shocks of my art life was to find that paintings by Van Gogh did not look the way he painted them. Two of the colors he used and favored used natural pigments that within 10 years had faded remarkably. The bedroom painting in Provence originally was much brighter in tone. While still a moving piece, the PhotoShoped version of it putting back the faded colors showed an almost different painting. How did they find out? Removing the paintings for cleaning they discovered much brighter colors in the ¼" along the edges covered by the frame.

Nothing then is permanent. Between wars, stolen treasures, fires, many of the greatest works of man have disappeared. However, if I was to place a bet between a photo (and who doesn't have a family photo from the 70's and even later that has a decidedly red cast with most of the other colors gone) and a painting, "The Blue Boy" by Gainsborough come to mind, I think the painting stands a much better chance to retaining the colors and image of the original. I say, give paintings a chance. They may cost more initially but in most cases will still be as vibrant as they originally were long after a photo has faded away.

Be sure to check out my store, and see my oil and acrylic paintings. The newest items include brightly colored, palate knife cactus paintings.

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