Perhaps labels to describe art are best assigned posthumously, but sometimes people need a word to better understand what someone is all about. This is not the first time this question has come up. There is "art making", and there is "art industry". The necessity for labels to describe art making mostly belongs to the latter.
In the past, people have interpreted my artwork as traditional because of some paintings they viewed, and would later be surprised to see different pieces demonstrating more contemporary ideas and form. One of my paintings will hang in a very traditional environment, while another hangs in a decidedly contemporary space. This variety reflects how I am approaching art making.
While I work to assimilate technical painting knowledge(technique, theory and influence), I do so with my feet and mind planted in the 21st Century. With a long held interest in aesthetic theory, art history and various art-influencing fields, I am fascinated by multiple period artists and the cultural forces that shaped their choices. Personal favorites are Early Modern(particularly Baroque) and 20th century painters. I avoid prejudiced selection for acquiring information about art production from the ancient to the present, including the explorations of the century in which I was born and shaped.
I am contemporary, I cannot help but be so, and you are too. I am a contemporary American, understanding the present world and it's history through my contemporary American mind. The major auction houses vary in assigning periods for Modern and Contemporary Art, but generally speaking the art industry defines contemporary art as being post-WWII. Using this period-based definition, I affirm that I enjoy and study contemporary art and artists particularly in areas of aesthetic theory, but also for painting style and language. If I want to borrow from abstract expressionism, minimalism, or neo-dadaism(or any ism) to craft a piece, I do. If I want to dive neck deep into studying intentionalist, instrumentalist, or postmodern theory I do. As one painter I admire likes to repeat, "All knowledge is useful." I agree. However, "contemporary art" as an allegiance occupies a limited and narrow space in time. While I study the 20th century I also look much farther back for echoes that influence, technical knowledge, and for theory that will help me express what I have to say about life in this 21st century. I am a contemporary person, but because the definition of contemporary art retroactively abandons me at WWII there is no choice but to reject a defining label of "contemporary artist" to describe my work. It just leaves too much on the table.
I also reject the label of "traditional artist" to describe what I have decided to pursue. The word "traditional" as used today often connotes an odd nonsensical definition from an art-historical perspective. In various descriptions and manifestos it has come to simply mean ''looks like something". Often "beauty" is invoked as a newly purposed platform, yet, the rich history of variation within objective painting also shows the range of expression beauty can occupy. What is this limited notion that beauty is allowed to morph and move but only within the confines of objective form, and that the boundary for beauty stops at the point recognizable objects vanish? For centuries there have been numerous opposing art philosophies, styles and painting schools that pursued art making quite differently, but today are generically blended lump-sum under an all encompassing "realist" or "traditional" label, and so are viewed singularly as such by the masses. The form and content driven by philosophical and socioeconomic influences in Classicism was very different from that in Romanticism was different from Realism was different from Impressionism was different from, etc.
Painters have argued and debated these ideas for centuries, but for most of the pre-20th century continuum these debates in art making and art industry were contained within a walled spectrum of figurative/objective painting simply because nothing else existed. No matter how loose or tight or idealized or gritty, no matter the narrative or style or genre, there was still a semblance of representation and so today this singular commonality is what the term "traditional" painting has evolved to describe.
The fact that great Art can exist in music, painting, sculpture, literature, cinema and dance summarily proves that the form she inhabits is flexible. We have enough evidence outside of painting to understand that Art will show herself in many forms. I am more interested in discovering what secret fold Art hides herself within, and how her quality can be invoked at will. I suspect the answer lies beyond form and content alone.
I am a painter pursuing Art in the stumbling infancy of the 21st century. It does not serve me to dismiss wholesale any period in the continuum of art making that has come before my time. Better for me to learn all I can and utilize the knowledge for my own pursuit of Art here and now. I do not reject the labels of "contemporary artist" or "traditional artist" because of any element they both offer me for knowledge, I embrace the knowledge in both. I reject allegiance to either court because they reject each other.
Should I poke out my left eye or my right?
I cannot call myself a "traditional artist" and subscribe to a limited aesthetic pursuit that ends at mimesis of nature and ignores Art outside objective form. I cannot call myself a "contemporary artist" and reject the pre-20th centuries vast store of knowledge, artifacts and enriching philosophical journeys. I do not place ideation over skilled expression, or vice versa. They are both inseparable synergistic components of a larger emergent system where transition reigns supreme. I seek to understand them both fully so I can employ them for my own art making in the 21st century. I profit not from wholesale exclusion, but only from analytic inclusion, and I can weed out the abominations in the continuum piece by piece. Most people can. They are self evident.
My idea of "transitional painting" is not a painting style, genre or a movement. It is a personal philosophy of aesthetics that in part describes the process of creation itself. It does not mean to bounce around, but to grow; to acquire as much knowledge as I can that will feed and expand my imagination and knowledge that will expand my ability to execute my ideas. Visual Art in the early 21st century is in an interesting time and space, a place of synthesis. We are spinning off a century of broad if not explorations in extreme ideation. We have seen the rapid decline of representational and relational painting skills only to be witnessing its resurgence. What will we do with both?
I don't see the 20th century as some "disruption in the understanding of art production" that worsened humankind any more than the automobile was an unwelcome disruption in grass-fed transportation.
I don't see the long historical path of technical painting craftsmanship, art theory and expressed objective form as any more "irrelevant" than the Sun is for human enrichment. These are arguments of art industry, not art making.
Art is in transition. The universe is in transition. I am in transition. I will continue to explore the entire continuum of Art, tasting and relishing the entire feast, her flirtations and life-enriching revelations, her bounty, as I pursue her.
I am an American Transitional Painter.