On Kawara’ Depiction of History

painter ≠ artist

Most elementary school class excursions to the museum conjure childhood memories of paintings by Rembrandt, Van Eyck, Picasso, Miro, Kandinsky, Dali etc. The artist they didn’t introduce you to on those field trips was the late Paul Delaroche who said:

  “Painting is Dead.”

Now let me clarify, painting is not dead, per se,  but it is going through a crisis.  Since the advent of the camera photography has super-ceded painting as the predominant media for most accurately depicting visual reality.  So in this sense I would venture to interpret Delroches prophetic pre-Duchampian dictum as a call to liberate artists from relegation by conventional media.

Most artists today work outside of the traditional.  Since the death of “avant garde” the battle cry of post-modern art has been “make it new.”  So those artists who use paint do so in very unconventional ways. In the 1960’s the painter On Kawara  rose up to face this painting crisis. For centuries painting had been the method for capturing the spirit of the times.  It was a typology for events and moments in time.  In this way art kept track of human history. Kawara saw this and created a strict set of rules for his new paintings.  He would give himself one day to paint them, if the painting was not finished it would be destroyed and the image would be a simple reference to the days day in a Gregorian format.


By doing this Kawara makes a depiction of history into an interpersonal affair.  By referring simply to a date we need not be fixed to a myopic depiction of the artists immediate environment but a call to the viewer to recall his or her own history.

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