Andrew Lamprecht, curator

Monday 22–Wednesday 24 January 11.15 am COURSE FEES R330; Staff and students R165

A few decades back, the widespread chant in the art community and academia was that ‘Painting is dead!’ The years since have shown that nothing of the sort is true. Painting remains as vibrant, creative, responsive and engaging as it has been for the last 30 000 years. This course will examine just what it is that makes painting so attractive and important to almost all cultures and time periods. The richly illustrated survey will cover a broad spectrum of painting through past history as well as the contemporary, with a special emphasis on the holdings of the Iziko South African National Gallery, where the lecturer has recently curated the exhibition ‘Breaking Down the Walls: 150 Years of Art Collecting at Iziko’.

The first lecture is an introduction to the scope and variety of painting across the centuries and in many places. We will examine the traditions that emerged in painting in various cultures and how they developed and coalesced into what makes up the field of painting today. The lecture will examine what, if anything in particular, makes painting special as an art form. Is there something inherently unique and attractive to two-dimensional representations of the outer and inner worlds of human beings or is painting’s ‘hierarchy’ just a product of tradition and socio-economic conditioning? Why are people prepared to pay seemingly outrageous sums for these objects which have little or no intrinsic value and why is it that almost everyone gets some satisfaction of having something to show: be it a child’s doodle on the fridge, a poster of their favourite film star in their bedroom or an original work by Leonardo in their secret vault?

The second lecture will look at a survey of art produced until 1900, with a particular focus on art from Europe. The art of the Renaissance is often cited as one of the crowning achievements of human civilisation, but is this at the expense of many other traditions? There are many styles, movements and forms of painting that have been produced in the West since the Middle Ages. This lecture will address a few of them, notably Dutch seventeenth century ‘Golden Age’ painting and nineteenth century British art.

Since the beginning of the twentieth century and especially after the Second World War, art had to recover from two premature diagnoses of its imminent death: first from photography apparently supplanting the purpose of painting and then from the challenges of post-modernism, new media, ‘dematerialisation’ and other contemporary forms of artmaking. This lecture shows how painting weathered these storms and came back fighting. The lecture will conclude with a special focus on African painting since the 1950s.

Lecture titles

  1. Just what is it about the Mona Lisa’s smile?
  2. Glowing surfaces
  3. Painted into a corner?