top of page
Lecture: An Overview of Fine Art Painting & Technology


The history of painting from the Renaissance to current times has evolved from many sociological events and technological developments. Here I will focus on only some of the major technological advancement milestones in the evolution of painting from the development of oil paint, to photography, acrylic paints, and personal computers.


1400s - Oil Paint. The development and use of oil paint became popular in the 1400s and is generally credited to artists and their desire to create realism in their art. The technological development of oil paint changed how art could be produced. It superseded the fresco (egg tempera) technique of mixing pigment, egg, and plaster. 


Jan van Eyck (and Studio Apprentices), The Crucifixion; The Last Judgment,
ca.1430, oil on canvas, transferred from wood,  22-1/4 x 7-3/4 in (each panel) 


1800s - Photography.  Photographic permanent images were invented in the 1800s and had a dramatic impact on both traditional and impressionist paintings as artists began working from photographic images as references. In the late 1960s, the artists in the Photorealism movement abandoned the observation of their surroundings and painted exact replications of photo images. This can be seen in the work of Richard Estes, considered to be the leading artist in the Photorealism movement. The use of photography in painting is still a vital part of an artist's toolbox.


Richard Estes, "Ralph's Diner," oil on canvas, 1981-1982.

1950s - Acrylics.  Acrylic paints were developed in Mexico in the 1950s and adopted into the Abstract Expressionism art movement of the 1960s. The quick-drying quality of the paint was well-suited to the quick energized brushwork used by many of the artists of the day. You can see how the quick-drying immediacy of acrylic paint was an advantage to the way that De Kooning worked. Acrylic paint has become the leading medium of painters today due to its ease of clean-up and its lack of the fumes of oils. Acrylic colors have a different color sensibility. The color is seen as more of surface plastic color, whereas oil color is seen to have greater depth and subtlety to its hues.


Willem De Kooning, "Woman V," acrylic on canvas, 1974.

1970s - Personal Computers.  The advent of computers has impacted painting and art dramatically. For now, we are only talking about its impact on painting. Computers have given us other ways to interpret and manipulate images. We can see this in the simple pixels of a digital square that can be assigned a variable color value, and multiplied by millions to create vividly detailed images to paint programs that can simulate paint strokes. Take a look at Chuck Close's work and you can see the impact of how we can see images.


Chuck Close, "Bill Clinton," acrylic on canvas, 2006.

bottom of page