The What is Painting? Project: Featuring Richard Kooyman

What is Painting? Norbert Marszalek

I thought it would be intriguing to ask painters this simple yet complex question. This query comes with no ground rules—it’s up to each individual artist to find their own approach and direction.

This project will be an ongoing exploration … let’s see where it takes us.

What is Painting?
Featuring Richard Kooyman

The question of What is Painting seems more intrinsically important today than ever. It is certainly a question I have been asking myself for years. And during those years I’ve come up with many different answers which have shifted in importance and relevance. Now I think all of these answers I’ve listed are equally important.

Painting is Anarchy. In her book Painters and Politics, Theda Shapiro said that all art is a type of anarchy. Painting is both personal and social anarchy. It shakes things up. It mess’s with preconceived notions of shared reality and ideas.

Painting is Tradition. Tradition is still important. Even the Modernist idea of the new has by now become a long standing tradition. The reckless idea that painting is dead suggests that nothing in the past matters anymore. Utah Philips once said that he could grab a rock and drop it on your foot with the result being that “the past didn’t go anywhere, did it!”

Painting is working with your own hands. My father, after working all his life at a job he hated, once told me to never work for anyone else. Fortunately, my painting has been a way to follow that wisdom.

Painting is better than Religion. Painting is a means to transcendence without all the religious guilt and politics.

Painting ensures individuality. Business is about following conventions. Sports are measured against past standards and goals. Painting allows us to see something we have never seen before, even something we have never imagined.

Painting (Art) leads society. The role of the artist is to philosophically lead culture. That almost sounds ludicrous in today’s neo-liberal world. The fact that it does sound crazy is a measure of just how much we have drifted from the idea of art as philosophy.

Painting brings beauty into the world and that is still a good thing to do.

Painting records one’s life. Writers have journals. Painters have their paintings. I can’t take anything with me when I die but I can leave some good things behind.

Painting is Alchemy. Painting as James Elkins describes in What Painting Is is a form of alchemy. “Substances occupy the mind profoundly, tethering moods to thoughts, tangling stray feelings with the movement of the body, engaging the full capacity of response and concentrating it on unpromising lumps of paint and color. There is no meaning that cannot seem to flow from the paint itself.” While most painters no longer concoct their own paint from scratch we still mix stuff in the hope that if will have affect. Half the mystery of making a painting is the paint itself.

Painting is a type of bardo. Bardo in Tibet buddhism is a state of intermediate existence. Experienced in stages of life they are passed through from one form to the next. I have often felt my best painting happens when I was able to suspend myself and all judgement between what I thought should be happening to what actually was happening. In Buddhism the present moment, is a bardo, suspended between the past and the future. Painting is like that.


Last fall I began a project I call ArtCamp. Initially the idea was to paint a series of paintings that transcribed the variations in light, textures and temperatures as experienced in a small wooded parcel of property behind my studio in Manistee Country, Michigan. Part outdoor painting studio, part campsite, this project became an immersion into the power and presence of weather and nature, and a discovery of the effects this immersion has on the process of making a painting.

Richard Kooyman is an artist living and working in Michigan. He has been a recipient of the National Endowment For the Arts Grant, the Michigan Council For the Arts Grant, and the Michigan Governors Award in the Arts. In 2013 the artist was nominated for a Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters Grant. Kooyman exhibits and sells his paintings nationally and teaches workshops on painting and drawing as well as lectures on art and artists.

TThe What Is Painting? Project – More Featured Artists