In Defense of [Insert medium of choice]

First image to come up from a Google Image Search for "painting"

A panel talk about drawing and a panel talk about painting in the course of two days is a treat as it seems peculiar for artists to come together and discuss their media and what it means. These events were not positioned in a defensive way, but instead as a chance to take advantage of the public dialogue space where they can work through the changing conditions and considerations of their media. These talks seemed to be about defining a medium, drawing and painting, as both 'still important' and 'newly important.' Painting will always be painting and drawing will always be drawing, but the works in both the drawing show at XPACE and the painting show at the University of Toronto Art Centre (Art Lounge) allow for a lot of bending and reconsideration.

Accompanying XPACE's current exhibition, ORDER/CHAOS (16 Oct - 13 Nov) was a delightfully relaxed panel discussion moderated by XPACE Director Derek Liddington that included Sarah Kernohan (ORDER/CHAOS artist), Dan Rocca (the curator) and Luke Painter (OCAD Faculty). The panelists briefly discussed their own work, pointing to it along the gallery walls when applicable, and quickly moved into a discussion about the history of drawing practice, the material quality of a drawing, and about the economic value of their work (in the sense of how drawing is considered or not considered as a commodity object within the art market). My own opinion about drawing is that its history describes it as preliminary intercessory kind of work; drawing is a planning and layout tool and doesn't stand alone as a end, but only as a means. I always wanted drawing to be an end-all-be-all and although I explored other avenues in art school (painting, printmaking, photography, metal work and sculpture) all of those things just led back to drawing, as I always assumed that drawing was its own project, and not in support of others. These artists in the panel were also proponents of drawing as a stand-alone practice in that exhibitions can be composed of finished drawings not intended to be anything more than what they are.

The issue of marketability did come up, from a member of the audience who (although asserting to the rest of the audience that she did not necessarily believe in this opinion, voiced it anyway...making me think that she did believe it). She stated that drawing is not considered as an independent and valuable practice because we all did it as kids and so it is therefore considered as elemental and primitive. She said that every artist wants to make work that can sell, and associations with drawing's primitive and childish qualities prevent people from taking it seriously. I can innumerate the web of problems in statements like this (like people claiming that their kid could replicate a Paul Klee or Barnett Newman), but really, all that needs to be parsed from this kind of statement is that, yeah, art practice can be easily dismissed by objective and outsider positions when it cannot be reduced to commodity exchange and capital growth (or the 'Recession').

In a recent job interview I got a peculiar question from the gallery curator/interviewer as a sort of wrap up: "I'm interested in why people work within the art field, I mean, why did you go into Art when there's no money in it?" This was at a commercial gallery, which is maybe even more confusing than addressing this same issue in a panel discussion in an artist-run centre.

First image to come up from a Google Image Search of 'drawing'

The panel discussion at UTAC coincides with the exhibition Facing the Screen (4 Nov - 19 Dec) in the art lounge, curated by MVS student Bogdan Luca. Its panelists included the existing mid-career generation of Canadian painters in the GTA Monica Tap (Associate Professor, U of Guelph), Michel Daigneault (Associate Professor, York U) and Joanne Tod (Professor, U of T) with moderator Vladimir Spicanovic (Associate Dean of the Faculty of Arts, OCAD). The panel addressed the role of digital imagery and the computer in the lives of artists and how they currently influence artistic practice. This relationship was addressed during the XPACE drawing talk as well. Both panels agreed that the influence of digital technologies on artistic practice has been heavy and is almost fully integrated into much of their creative processes, from the use of digital cameras, to internet research, to google image searches - and of course, the internet in turn is used as a medium through which to talk about art too (re: blog).

Talks that exist to figure out how the art world and artists' practices are changing are valuable investigations, if only because they can be revisited again and again. Within the city, there are many lectures by individual artists about their work, many talks from curators relating what they think is important in art today, and from theorists and writers talking about what is being talked about. There was high attendance at both the XPACE and UTAC events, more at UTAC, possibly because of the venue's general appeal for both young and old, maybe because painting is considered more important than drawing (stretching), or maybe because UTAC is directly attached to a university on site (with XPACE once removed from OCAD). Both the curator and the moderator at the UTAC event expressed surprise at the level of attendance to almost an embarrassing degree, surprised that anyone would care and thanking everyone numerous times for expressing that care.

However few, within a city of 2.5 million, there remain some people who give a damn about what is being done and what is being said about art, regardless of whether there's no money in it (and only some free snacks). Funny that it's a surprise, even within the community itself.

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