Simulated Materialism and 21st Century "Malerisch"

The ontology advocated by James Elkins in What Painting Is reduces painting to paint. “A brushstroke is an exquisite record of the speed and force of the hand that made it,” writes Elkins. “Painting is scratching, scraping, waving, jabbing, pushing, and dragging. There is a wonderful liquid complexity of thoughts that accompany painting, but they are all in, and of, and through the paint.” Elkins’s description is seductive. It is also stringent, invested as it is in a rigid opposition between the tactile and the intellectual, between the body and the mind of the painter. Does the brush simply move matter, or is it not also a tool for organizing information? Is the surface merely a receptacle for a variety of deposits, or is it not also a terrain along which energy and thought converge and flow? As much as anything, the term “painterly” characterizes a manner of behavior. Moving into the cultural space of painting, materiality is simulated. Moving side-to-side along the picture plane, the hand routinely samples passages, and data is insistently cloned. The painter’s thoughts are thus encoded.