First Tier Painting: A Definition

We celebrate many first tier artists who are second-tier painters.  Second-tier painting is a closed system.  Loose ends are all tied up, all ambiguity is resolved,  Chuck Close, Wayne Thiebaud, Richard Estes and John Currin come to mind.  Each of these painters has proved that second tier painting can be first tier art.  It takes a particular strain of courage to leave room in the work for viewer participation.  When the viewer is included you double the brain waves in the art experience.  Second-tier / closed-system painters erect barriers around their work that says: “Keep your distance - admire my skill, my obsessive tenacity, my hard work - don’t stand too close (pun intended), don’t block the sunlight  - I’m  the artist - you’re not - I’ve got to spell this whole thing out for you”  or perhaps “I’m just insecure and must prove to myself that I have the skill to resolve all ambiguity as if it were a sign of weakness not to have all the answers.  The top rank of painters do not pretend to have all of the answers.  They admit they are not God even on their own small model of the universe, their canvas.  Great painters invite the viewer to help them close the gap and thus invited, the viewer engages the work, looks more closely, he can’t help himself.  The mind of the viewer must try to fill the voids that remain perhaps unconsciously as a seductive invitation by its author.  It is this subliminal interplay between a painting and a viewer that sets off the spark of life in the work.  This spark is rarely contained in the work alone no matter how many amazing picture-making strategies are employed.  This explains why so much truly mind-bending photorealism leaves one undernourished.  A painter might ask herself: how might I offer this invitation in my work because painting elk nostril vapor at sunrise is not enough.A late Cezanne painting looks very finished to us now,  as does a Monet or a Rose Period Picasso.  At the time these were created they were seen by many as mere daubs, far from completed work.  We have been trained throughout the past one hundred years to see a lot with little modeling of form or rendering of space.  We now see with potent suggestions only.  Picasso and Braque taught us a code for human body parts:  faces, hands, hair, limbs, therefore, the amount of visual information required to start a dialogue with the average gallery / museum visitor becomes reduced over time.   This leads to engagement occurring in work that is entirely non-representational, non-narrative, non-anecdotal.  Paintings such as de Kooning’s “Women” of the early 1950s now appear as fleshed out as a Rococo maiden (Boucher, Fragonard).