Painting in the Era of Socially Engaged Art

Alex Katz, Penobscot, 1999, Oil on board, 23 x 30.5 cm, Acquired jointly with th
Alex Katz, Penobscot, 1999, Oil on board, 23 x 30.5 cm (© Alex Katz/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY)

On the occasion of the exhibition Alex Katz: Give Me Tomorrow recently on view at Tate St. Ives, Simon Bayliss considers the role of painting in a world of "socially engaged art."

Bayliss writes: "Katz... honours the grand tradition of painting... What Katz and his chosen artists share is a life devoted to practice involving the same framework, and engaging in the same activity that has been in place since the history of Western pictorial painting began. As mastery of materials and authorship over work is being increasingly rejected, social practitioners are free to dip into an array of knowledge and expertise in order to negotiate within specific sites or contexts. During a lecture painter and Katz expert Merlin James contested that in pursuing an interdisciplinary approach 'deep communion with individual art forms might never take place.' To be a painter requires great commitment to the medium, and the act of painting must become instilled over years of practice."