What is a painting?

Having struggled with the definition of art, I found myself fundamentally questioning what is a painting? The stimulus for this was reading about Gerhard Richter’s Strip Paintings one of which I had seen at Tate Modern. The Tate website says that although Richter refers to the Strip works as paintings “despite their name they have no actual paint on their surface. The digital prints are laminated onto aluminium behind a thin layer of Perspex. It is significant, however, that Richter refers to the Strip works as paintings, since this indicates a widening idea of what a painting might be in a digital age”.

Examples of the paintings can be seen on Richter’s website.

So what is a painting?

If one considers that painting is the application of a pigment (paint) to a medium (e.g. canvas or paper) by a person (an artist) most usually using an implement (a brush or possibly a palette knife). This seems fairly simple. But in the same way would the application of a pigment (Ink) to a medium (e.g. paper) by a person (a Gerhardt Richter) using an implement (a computer and printer) constitute a painting?

Arguments could be made either way as to what constitutes a painting – does it require direct application of a pigment by an artist to produce a unique piece of work? Does the latter process simply produce a print rather than a painting? Is what David Hockney produces on an iPad a painting of any description?

I think that perhaps we need to be less concerned with definition and to recognise the huge changes that technological advances will effect in our conception of art. Artists have always applied pigment to a medium using the tools available to them. Does our conception of an historic view of what art is dictate what we are prepared to call a painting? Does it matter that there should be a distinction between a painting and print? I think that it was always taken that paintings were unique one-off products whereas prints (whether etchings, lino cuts, engravings et cetera) will be produced in a limited volume. But what if the artists use the computer and printer to create a single, unique image and in some way prevent the possibility of further copies being produced. Is it a print or painting? And does it matter?


Tate website reference