Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Photo-Painting

ENGL 793.401
crosslisted as: ARTH 794, COML787
instructor(s):
M 2-5:00

"When industry erupts in the sphere of art," Baudelaire famously wrote in 1859, "it becomes the latter's mortal enemy, and in the resulting confusion of functions none is well carried out...If photography is allowed to deputize for art in some of art's activities, it will not be long before it has supplanted or corrupted art altogether...Photography must, therefore, return to its true duty, which is handmaid of the arts and sciences." History has not been kind to this argument.  First, Henry Fox Talbot and many of his contemporaries attributed the photographic image to nature, not industry, and the same is true of a number of contemporary artists.  Second, by 1842--three years after the official invention of photography--photographers had already begun hand-coloring their daguerreotypes, and a century and a half later Richter started smearing and spattering paint onto small photographs, and exhibiting them along with his abstract and figurative paintings.  By the mid-1850's, many artists were also painting from photographs, sometimes by projecting them onto their canvases, and treating these projections as preparatory drawings.  They called the resulting images photo-paintings.  And although it became increasingly "disreputable" to work in this way as the century progressed, Eugene Delacroix, Gustave Courbet, Edouard Manet, Henri Fantin-Latour, Edgar Degas and Edouard Vuillard all made paintings that are in one way or another photographic.  Some of them also saw photography as the gateway to a new kind of figurative painting.  Abstraction hardened the distinction between art and photography, and brought these medium-crossings to an end, but photo-painting resurfaced in the 1950s and 1960s, and although it initially seemed ironic, it has outlived the movements that made this reading possible.  As we can now see, it is a far more complex and multi-faceted way of making pictures than those generally associated with Pop, Institutional Critique and Appropriation--one in which the world participates, and from which we have much to learn.  We will explore work by Gerhard Richter, Richard Hamilton, Corinne Wasmuht, Luc Tuymans, Marlene Dumas, and others.