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In his essay “Pintura e Iconoclastia” [Painting and Iconoclasm], the Colombian artist Carlos Salazar attempts to explain why painting has been declared dead at different times in history. According to his thesis, painting is an atavistic, instinctive, and sexual activity rather than a product of culture. He supports his argument with statements made by painters such as Nicolás Poussin and Joan Miró who in turn endorse the philosophical-psychoanalytical ideas advanced by Sigmund Freud, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Arthur Schopenhauer. Salazar goes a step further by quoting a generous number of examples from the animal kingdom to substantiate his claim that the origin of painting can be traced to “an evolutionary drive inherited from the aesthetic sense of animals” that is, therefore, older than mankind. He mentions, among other examples, the female bowerbird (3) that chooses its mate according to its suggestions concerning the nest decoration, and the cats that prefer to paint with acrylic paint, rather than oils, because the smell is similar to their own urine. Salazar explores the work of the English zoologist Desmond Morris, who concluded that there are six biological principles that apply to painting: from Leonardo da Vinci to Congo (the chimpanzee that was used in the research project). He therefore argues that the roots of art can be traced back to our ancestors and to the animal kingdom. Salazar refers to the stimulation of hormone production generated by the pleasure involved in the act of painting, and explains painting from a scientific perspective as an innate and therapeutic function of the nervous system, but not as a moral outlet as proposed by the North American art critic Arthur Danto and the feminists. Among the latter, Salazar singles out Naomi Wolf, who claims that beauty is a weapon created for domination by the male of the species. Following this introduction, he reviews the phenomenon of iconoclasm (in terms of its various genres, including medieval, protestant, and nineteenth-century political militancy, according to Hegel), and contemporary iconoclasm.
The essay by Carlos Salazar (b. 1957) “Pintura e Iconoclastia” [Painting and Iconoclasm] is a brief history of kalophobia (hatred of beauty) as applied to the deaths of painting. The essay is posted in the virtual debate forum esferapública [Public Sphere], though it was originally the text of a lecture given at the “Arte y Mercado” [Art and Market] series of talks organized in 2006 by the Universidad de Los Andes at Bogotá.
This essay is important because of its reference to scientific research that relies on a number of studies involving different species in the animal kingdom to date a range of aesthetic experiences and the development of painting to before the emergence of mankind as a species. It is interesting to note that Salazar is not basing his perception of the production of art on a romantic or ethnocentric notion (such as: art as witness to an era), but on purely biological and evolutionary data.
Assuming that human beings have fully transcended the pre-Darwinian dogma that excluded us from the animal kingdom on religious grounds, this essay disputes the moral conceptions (via Danto) that persist in our era (see feminism) to portray both the production of art and the idea of beauty as essentially evolutionary traits that we have inherited.
Salazar is a Colombian painter whose pictorial and written work has, for over thirty years, sought to rehabilitate “beauty” in an era that apparently rejects this value in art. He was awarded the Premio Nacional de Artistas de Colombia [National Prize for Colombian Artists] (1985). As a committed painter, Salazar ignores the announcements of the death of painting, and similarly ignores the apocalyptic claims of a generation of artists that see painting as a vice in a time of particular political unrest.