From Today Painting is Dead

In collaboration with our partners, each prize on offer has been created to provide a variety of opportunities to support a diverse range of artistic practices, skills and media that also reflect the organisational or business aims of the sponsor.   By offering residencies, cash, materials, exhibitions and professional development prizes we hope to appeal to artists from all backgrounds, supporting practices from amateur, emerging, established, semi-professional or graduate applicants .  Over the next few weeks, we will highlight each prize with a word from our sponsors and how the prize they offer relates to their business/organisation.

Today, we start with a short essay contribution from Bob Sparham, President of the Nottingham Society of Artists.  NSA have supplied our newest prize of £200 for exceptional draftsmanship or technique in drawing or printmaking.

From Today Painting is Dead

"The phrase “from today painting is dead” spoken by the painter Paul Delaroche in 1839 on seeing his first Daguerreotype photograph can almost be taken as the unofficial motto of Contemporary Art practice. This is because it speaks to the model that History is not a random series of events but rather a process with a beginning, middle and end and that the engine which drives History forward is the invention of new technology, such as film and video cameras, which require artists to produce artworks which are relevant to our position in the Historical sequence. This theory known as technological determinism was the commonplace of the 1950s, 60s and 70s however is not generally accepted by current Historians and I believe there is good evidence against it from recent discoveries from the history of science and technology.

The Antikythera mechanism

The Antikythera mechanism

These discoveries include the Antikythera mechanism a wonderfully sophisticated astronomical computer capable of predicting future solar and lunar eclipses, probably originally designed by Archimedes found on a Greek shipwreck dating from the second century BC (so complex that making it would still be beyond all but the most skilled clock-makers today) , a possible source of the ideas which made the technological and mechanical developments which made the Industrial Revolution, thanks to their transmission into Europe via Islamic science.  Another discovery is a lost manuscript, the Archimedes Codex, a palimpsest, an Archimedes text written over with a monks prayer book in the early medieval period, which has now been recovered scientifically, proves that the key principles of modern science - the use of mathematics of infinity, and the application of mathematical models to the physical world - came from the scientific ideas of Archimedes dating from the fourth century BC. and that all of the founders of the ‘scientific revolution’ including Galileo, Fermat, Descartes and Newton were Archimedes children and that the extent of the scientific progress  they made was due to the extent which they were able to access Archimedes’ two previously extant codex’s, the survival of which, was indeed dependent on a totally random series of events.

Thus I argue that the model that history is the accumulation of a random series of events, some of which improved access to the lost ideas of Greek Archimedean science some of which hindered the rediscovery of lost ideas of Greek Archimedean science and the majority of which were neutral with regard to rediscovery of  lost ideas of Greek Archimedean science, is a far better hypothesis for the causes of historical change and development, than the History is a process with a beginning, middle and end and that the engine which drives History forward is the invention of new technology theory. If this second hypothesis, the process idea, is indeed a myth then the right of critics and artists to declare existing art forms such painting, drawing and printmaking obsolete in the name of the Historical sequence, can be seen as nothing but misguided hubris."

Bob Sparham

 President Nottingham society of Artists