This is a blog series taken from excerpts of a paper I wrote in college that helped me to understand abstract art better, and which later lead me to prefer the creation of abstract art. Later I encountered several people (friends, family, students) who were vehement critics of abstract art, and instead favored traditional realistic art. It was my hope –through many conversations with these folks– that abstract art would be more accessible to them if they came with an open mind, and if I offered them a perspective on abstract art that they may not have considered before.
A few of these friends, after discussing the topics brought up in this paper, and after understanding my own personal motives in my own abstract art, actually informed me later that they had come to an appreciation of my work. It is my hope that in posting these excerpts here that you will gain some insight into some of the process I have put into thinking about my artwork, as well as to open another forum for artistic discussion for those who have frequented this blog.
Part I: Introduction to the Arguments
“What is it supposed to be?”
“I don’t see anything.”
“I don’t understand it.”
“You call that art?”
Have you ever heard someone utter something like this, as they look upon an abstract painting? Have you, yourself, ever uttered something similar in viewing a piece of abstract art? Have you ever prematurely judged a work of art as bad, just because you could not understand it, or because it did not look like a DaVinci or Rembrandt? Have you ever passed off a work as inadequate because it seemed to be nothing but a bunch of misplaced brushstrokes, paint splatters, and odd scribbles? If so, perhaps then you are in good company. People generally tend to judge abstract art in comparison with other more traditional forms of art, which tend to depict or represent something from the real world. People also sometimes feel some hostility toward abstract art. The general reaction to them is one of disparagement and disbelief (Taylor 54). But why is this? Can people stop condemning, and start to appreciate, abstract art if they understood the separate criteria by which it must be judged, and the struggle of the artist in creating it? Must the end always justify the means, or can the means be just as important as the ends? What if nothing can be justified, explained, or understood, but just accepted? Such is abstract art, wherein often a meaning is searched, a representation is desired, but only an impression and reaction exist.
When a person says, “I don’t understand,” he or she is either blocking the reaction intended to strike him or her, or just not getting it. People often expect to see something in the image that is not there. They try to understand a meaning that doesn’t exist. They try to recognize something familiar in that image. When they cannot achieve any of these things they become frustrated. The most common problem with people’s misperceiving abstract art is that they bring “set expectations” to their viewing of an abstract work, and expect to see imagery from real life. “They’re not tuned into what the work has to offer,” my college art professor commented. Sometimes this stems from an unwillingness to change from traditional rules of understanding art.
Abstract art is also often underestimated by the general public because of the different “look” and craftsmanship of its style. This is because this type of art is completely different from all of the art that preceded it. People assume that an artist has not worked as hard in his creation of the work, because the paint strokes sometimes appear quicker and more spontaneous in comparison to the slow and meticulous strokes of a traditional representational painting….
- Baxter, Gary. Personal Interview. 3 December 2002.
- Frascina, Francis, ed. Pollock and After: The Critical Debate. New York: Harper & Row, 1985.
- Griefen, John Adams. “Art, Intuition and ‘Understanding.’” Art Students League. 02 December 2002. <http://newcrit.art.wmich.edu/plain/jgword.html>.
- Mackie, Alwynne. Art/Talk: Theory and Practice in Abstract Expressionism. New York: Columbia UP, 1989.
- Rhett, John. Personal Interview. 22 November 2002.
- Taylor, Roger L. Art, An Enemy of the People. Sussex: Harvester P., 1978.
- Vallier, Dora. Abstract Art. New York: Orion Press, 1970.