What next? Hot wax…

This post is about the debate regarding encaustic, whether it’s art or craft. The fine art world has a rather snotty attitude towards the ancient art of painting with wax, and I think I know why.

The fine art world is dismissive of anything that isn’t traditional. Oh, they SAY they like contemporary, cutting edge works, those curators! They just don’t MEAN it! What the art world is still about, is the money, Baby! Who gets to be in the gallery is pretty much based on investment.

In my view, that is not the real reason to buy art. One should buy art because it speaks to one; it evokes an emotional response that draws the viewer into the piece. At one time, Vincent Van Gogh couldn’t give his work away. Now, he’s the gold standard for sales. We can never really tell who is going to be a long term investment. Who could have predicted that Van Gogh would sell for millions during his life?

Self portrait of Van Gogh

About three years ago, I saw an internet rant from a wealthy young man about buying art as investment, and he was angry and astounded when the “investment” didn’t turn into gold over night. It was really sad. He blamed the gallery, he blamed the artist. He sneered at the art world, at the auction houses, but never once at the person who’s fault it really was, his.

Had he bought that art because it touched him, because the colors moved him, the brush strokes resonated, he would have been a happy man! He would have had that pride of owning something that meant something to him, a work that would have given him pleasure deeper than money. He would have been able to do as many collectors do, collect a story to go along with that piece of art.

I sold one piece to a collector that very much collected the stories to go with the works. The piece he purchased, he had me write him a statement about the piece that he mounted next to it, as he felt that the piece was enriched by that story. The story is lost when the work is purchased just for investment.

Because of this investment mentality, as well as other factors we’ll talk about,  an ancient medium like encaustic is relegated to the “hobby” and/or “craft” categories.

The Queen of Heaven

The Queen of Heaven

The other factors are the sheer number of people claiming to be encaustic artists using things that are not archival, which in the art world, is not kosher. We also have people who are simply using technique with no real intent, which is also really a no-go in the fine art world.

Detail, Queen of Heaven

Detail, Queen of Heaven

Encaustic in many ways is too easy for the fine art world. I think that is is an ancient medium with many talented people who are bringing encaustic into the fine art world, but it is going to take awhile as encaustic artists will have to work twice as hard to get the respect even happy little trees get.

Another factor is the inability of many of those who dabble in encaustic to hold an intelligent conversation about the medium. Line, composition, texture, these and more are part of an intelligent art conversation; in order to become a credible fine art medium, many of those who dabble are will eventually drop out. Even with the internet, there is a limit to how far someone with minimal talent can go compared to someone with loads of talent.

The other thing to remember, that the fine art world appears to forget, is that as far as we know, oils are about 1500 years old; encaustic paintings have been found that are 3000 years old. Please folks, give encaustic a chance! Older than oils, encaustic deserves respect.

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