Encaustic has reached critical mass. Many artists are working in the medium and showing their work. There are encaustic shows, encaustic groups, encaustic forums. These are all good things. But where does the medium end and the ghetto begin?
When I wrote my book in 2000 and had it published in 2001, I thought that within five years—which would be right about now—encaustic would cease being a novelty and find its way into the mainstream of artistic expression. That hasn't happened yet, but it will.
But here's what concerns me: Some artists who work in the medium have been defining themselves by the medium. Not, "I am a figurative painter," or "I work in geometric abstraction," or even, "I’m an abstract painter who works primarily in wax." No. Typically I hear, "I paint in encaustic." I love encaustic. But what kind of art do you make?
Is Jasper Johns an "encaustic artist?" Or is he an artist—a painter and printmaker? Does he make "encaustic art?" Or does he make paintings, some of which are executed in the medium of encaustic?
Is a painter who works in oil an "oil artist?" Is a painter who works in acrylic a "polymer artist?" (Imagine calling Agnes Martin a "graphite and acrylic artist," or Richard Serra a "steel artist.")
Maybe I’m being too touchy about this because I just got listed on an artist’s website as an "encaustic blogger." I love the way the web lets us link to one another, and I’m pleased that this artist thought enough of my blog to cite it. But….I type my blog on a computer with word-processing software. My comments appear on a cyber screen. There is no wax involved in the process. And I don’t always write about encaustic.
Let me be clear: I love encaustic. I love encaustic. I’ve been working with it for 16 years. I participate in, and go to see, "encaustic shows"—they’re a great way to see the wonderful variety of artistic expression in pigmented wax. (Though I make a point of participating in thematic shows as well.) And I admire and respect the work of many, many, many artists who work in encaustic. I just think we need to think hard about how we define ourselves and our work.
Actually, let me be clearer. You should feel free to call yourself whatever you want. But I am not an "encaustic artist." I’m a painter. Who works with wax.