Monday, August 1, 2011

The Impermanence of Art

We like to think of art as forever. In attempts to make it so, we artists often worry greatly about the archival nature of our materials. Is the paper acid free? Will the paint color hold fast over time? Should we use linen or a polyester canvas?
Of course, some artists celebrate art’s very impermanence. Ice sculptures, sand paintings, performance art are all meant to last the moment and no more. The most glorious recent example of artists creating a planned disappearance was the installation of The Gates by Christo and Jeanne-Claude in New York’s Central Park. It lasted 15 days and then was gone.
Some artists sadly create a different kind of impermanence. My favorite Jasper Johns painting, The Diver, is made of a combination of materials, some unknown. How does a museum conserve and preserve the unknown? Then there’s a Joan Brown painting whose paint is so thick that it remains wet inside so that the image will start to slide down if left too long in a vertical position. This is the sort of impermanence that archival concerns are designed to prevent.
Artists (even those who try for the long-lasting) also like to save money. That is why I opted for extremely cheap painting panels when attending Carolyn Anderson’s workshop. I was sure I wouldn’t like anything I painted. I even persuaded my friend to do the same. And then when one of Carolyn’s first lessons was to use quality materials, I squirmed. Later when I actually liked some of my work, I did more than squirm; I was sad.

The two paintings above are from the workshop. They are not the ones I especially liked; they are on especially cheap supports; one even has wall-protectors stuck on its corners. (Do not use this method to transport wet paintings!)
I think I’ve learned my lesson. Art, of course, doesn’t last forever, nothing does. However, I will do my best to make mine last as long as possible by using better materials.


  1. Love the one of the woman. Lesson learned! Always use good materials, Masterpieces can be unexpected. That is too cool about the painting that is so thick it doesn't dry. I am going to check it out. Thanks for the art lesson!

  2. Great post! It's Murphy's Law that your best work happens when you least expect it and on the worst support.

  3. great post, beautifully written and thought provoking...and your paintings are lovely! thank you for your comments! i'll be back!

  4. I especially love the woman, the unfinished quality. You didn't say what size or what type of support. Is it on paper? Can't wait to see the ones you liked best. I always love your posts. Keep painting. . .

  5. These are lovely Shirley, your brushwork is fabulous! You will create such wonderful pieces again and on the right supports. Great lesson for us all!

  6. Thank you for that good advice. An art prof once told me "never make your work precious.Think as if you are a chef; that your work will be digested and gone."!!!Call me crazy, but I LOVE walking into someone's house and seeing my work alive and well and being enjoyed!Our art is our legacy. Archival works for me.

  7. I enjoyed seeing your portraits again. I like both of these! Good advice about the use of materials. I loved checking out that Jasper Johns piece.


Is it too early to send an invitation?

Pieces by (clockwise from left to right) : Susan Harlan, Janet Garner, Shirley Fachilla, Mike Martino and Topper Williams. So many ...