Painting survives because the subject survives.
To put it another way: As a technology of “representation,” painting is obsolete. Photography supplanted that role as soon as it was mature enough to become the dominant mode of image circulation. Although, subsequently as, among others, Gerhard Richter revealed, painting becomes a means of arresting photography’s arrested images and reintroducing into the forensic record a mournfulness that photography would otherwise disavow. (Photography a perversion? Perhaps.) As an adjunct of photography, painting delays the reception of the photograph, subjects it to an extended and fascinated gaze, lingers on a surface that repels lingering; it counters photography’s power to distract. The blurring in Richter’s paintings is not merely a simulation or evocation of the photographic field. It is also allegorical of the slipperiness of the photograph, of the way that the closeness of the photographic signifier to the referent tends to encourage the same hasty viewing that takes in the latter as we restlessly scan the world with our unfocused predatory eyes looking for prey or threat and quickly filtering out everything that doesn’t qualify. There’s an inherent banality to the photograph that can only be set aside by the intervention of painting but always at the risk that the photograph will banalize the painting, that the photograph will devour the painting rather than be disarticulated by painting.
But painting’s relationship with photography is not the primary reason for painting’s survival.
Painting continues because it is unique as a medium in its ability to retain the memory of its own hesitant, agonized elaboration within its body. Not as a supplement (say, as a collection of photographs of its various states) but integrally, as the layers it absorbs into itself. This gives painting a special ability to allegorize both body and interiority. One need not equate interiority with authenticity to recognize that painting’s ability to construct interiority has libidinal significance for the subject, which would otherwise lack the fictional means to compel acknowledgment.
Painting persists as symptom of the subject’s desire to mark itself, suffer its marking, and enjoy its marked suffering.