Why do we even need painting?

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My art professor asked us, a bunch of bright-eyed students, this back in 2002. Even then, we were still anxious about technology. Post flip phone, pre texting, my friends and I would type out messages to each other on our computers which sat on our desks, grounding us to a space. We’d write “away messages” when we went to the cafeteria or library where messages could not follow. 

My professor talked to us about those machines at arcades that could turn a photo into what would look like a drawing or a watercolor. We didn’t know that in a decade our phones would be able to do that, no problem, plus a good bit more. 

I didn’t know the answer to her question about painting, but the slowness of her words, the nonchalant tone, the thoughtful pauses were driving me crazy. I was hanging on her every word waiting; I had to know and already believed whole-heartedly in whatever it was she was about to say.  

She said she thought it had something to do with texture. 

Ah, glorious texture– that thing you can’t get from an app or a screen. Maybe that’s why I obsess over it, overdo it, and enjoy it so deeply. In a world where I can see everything and touch almost nothing, I throw overflowing globs of paint onto canvas (and sometimes the floor). Touch me, touch me, touch me, I want my paintings to say. (Below is a photo of my cousin and her baby who very much heeded that call).

texture painting

Texture is my anti-screen, my appeal to remain in this physical world. Texture is how I take up space when I feel most invisible, how I navigate abstract, intangible, and shape-shifting worries, scary narratives that play on repeat in my mind. Texture is the answer to more than the question my professor posed to me nearly twenty years ago. Texture is my comfort and my delight. 

I’m not sure texture fully answers why we need painting. I would bet there are hundreds of other reasons. But it certainly answers it for me. It’s why I need painting. It’s why, even as the world I inhabit becomes increasingly backlit and small, expanding with just two fingers stretching it out, I need changing contours and bumps, mountains and valleys, globs and goo. 

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Picture of Denise Hopkins

Denise Hopkins

July 5, 2021

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