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Lesson Plans

Re: Watercolor

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
Katherine Giltinan (k.giltinan)
Fri, 24 Apr 1998 12:27:31 -0500

Hi! I sent this to Maahmaah and she said the list had been interested in
her idea that watercolor is a less respected form of painting. So at her
request I'm posting. No offense intended to anyone! Please disagree, but
disagree sweetly - please. Don't flame me for spelling, grammar or content.


I agree with your observation on the lack of value accorded watercolor.
Yep! It's true.
There is a hierarchy of medium as well as a hierarchy of subject. Oil on
canvas or panel is more highly valued than watercolor, as you observed. The
status of these things is related to the value society places on many other
things. It's related to gender and race and political and economic values.

Grand scale paintings or sculpture of many figures and a major event are
the top status in the traditional hierarchy. These history paintings, war
memorials and/or a religious paintings are political and, therefore, highly
valued if they support the powers-that-be. If it doesn't support these
powers it will probably be destroyed. Think of the headless Roman
sculpture, beheaded by successive emperors or invading armies. Think of
the "pagan" sculpture or infidel art destroyed by conquering crusaders.

Think of how often you see this sort of art made by women or depicting
women. Queens. Madonnas. Only since the 2nd wave feminists stirred
things up in the 1970s has the U.S. responded to this lack. For example,
Maya Lin designed the Vietnam Memorial and Glena Goodacre was commissioned
to sculpt a memorial to women's courage and sacrifice in that sad conflict.
But, it still took an act of congress to bring the sculpture of the women
responsible for getting voting rights extended to their gender back to the
capitol rotunda - from the BASEMENT.

Western art has argued - since the beginning - whether sculpture or
painting is BEST.
But, the least valued art in the traditional hierarchy is art traditionally
made by women, such as needlework, quilts, china painting,
flower-paintings, pastel-drawing and watercolor. These were acceptable
pass-times for U.S. ladies. Again, 2nd wave feminists reclaimed these art
forms and gave them new improved status in the '70s. Any painting and any
sculpture by a woman artist continues to be less valuable than by a male

In the 19th century U.S. women were forbidden to study life-drawing, and
anatomy. They were, consequently. excluded from medical studies and the
high-status history paintings or sculpture. So, water-colors were usually
of low-status subjects such as flowers, children, & other women. (Think
Mary Cassatt.)

Watercolor was associated with amateur(not-done-for-money) art, even when
it was done by men, not high-status famous professional (done-for-money)
male artists. It, also, has more of the character of a study, as does
drawing, rather than fully realized art. The oil-painting is more
permanent, too. Paper can be destroyed by sunlight, dampness and even
self-contained acids.

Boston Museum of Fine Art presented a beautiful show, Awash in Color, of
watercolors. The catalogue is gorgeous!

Sorry I can't help with teaching the technique. But I bet you'll get lots
of great suggestions on that from artsednet! Hope this will be of use,

Best Wishes