Thursday, April 23, 2009

Watercolors, a Second-Rate Art Form?

I just read a highly charged letter to the editor of The Artists Magazine (January/February 2009) where Tom Herzberg of Chicago, Illinois discusses his opinion of why watercolors is a second rate art form. Here is what he said:

I've been a watercolor painting instructor at the American Academy of Art in Chicago since 2001, and over the years have seen my share of watercolor shows. Pretty much without exception, they are interchangeable collections of beautifully crafted images: still life, landscape, figure, etc. Once you get past the technique, what's left? Nostalgia? Don't you ever feel that if you see another bowl of fruit you're going to wreck something? There are many painters in other media who deal with the "pretty," but there are a great number of artists who are out there creating images that are intended to make us think - to enlighten us, to scare us and make us ask questions - image with content that we can agree with, disagree with, be revolted by or find great joy in. I find it hard to believe that so many talented watercolor artists are only interested in creating images of decoration. I'm also amazed at how revered this practice is within the watercolor community; it's like a self-perpetuating type of inbreeding.

Maybe it's the show scene reinforced by the "how to" art book publishing industry. Maybe the watercolor painters of content are more common than we realize, but the watercolor establishment seldom exhibits them. Perhaps it's the notion that unless a piece is pretty, it won't be accepted in a watercolor show, so why pay the fee and go through the trouble of entering it if there's no chance a provocative painting is going to be accepted, much less win a prize? Yes, you will see the occasional watercolor appear in broader or specialized art shows, and there are even the occasional watercolors that show up in museum shows. But I'm afraid that the passive contentment for the status quo continues to cause watercolor to be marginalized by the greater world of art as a second-rate art form.

Do you believe that there is a status quo in watercolors?

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