What makes a painting a painting? It used to be simple—wet pigment applied to a flat surface. Paintings were made on cave surfaces, walls, canvas, linen, ceramics, and objects. The genres included historical, allegorical, religious, landscape, portraiture, still life, and abstract.
But time and technology have changed painting. From the prehistoric era until the 19th century, painters had to mix their own paint from dry pigment. Then, in 1841, John G. Rand invented the collapsible zinc paint tube. It had a “stopper” rather than the twist-off cap we see today, but otherwise it was virtually identical. Paint was now portable, and artists could travel freely and paint outdoors.
In the 1950s the world became familiar with plastics, and so did artists. Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, and David Hockney all explored acrylic paints—the brilliant, fast-drying, and color-fast qualities allowed them to develop new and different painting styles and techniques while maintaining many of the most attractive aspects of oils.
More recently, artists have turned to industrial paints, which are plentiful and cheap—scaled for billboard-sized images lifted from the world of advertising. Painters have also experimented with tools and surfaces. Brushes have been replaced by airbrushes, ladles, rollers, and miscellaneous tools used to drip, hurl, and fling paint onto a surface; high-shine industrial paints are applied to steel, recycled objects, and even cars.