“Why Abstract Art?” Part III: Abstract Purpose

What is the purpose of abstract art, you ask? There are many. Abstraction can be considered a collective reaction against the social enlightenment, since everything always has an explanation, abstract art puts something out there that can’t be explained simply. Since photography has become prominent, art has been freed from the responsibility of representation, because only a camera is needed. Now instead of the subject being the object of the artwork, the artwork became the subject of focus: “…when form, now recognized as independent, began to liberate itself from content, to become its own content—and its liberty, was bound to lead it to abstraction” (Vallier 10). Abstract art moved away from the subject matter to manifest “art for art’s sake.” Art and idea, form and function, and the interaction between form and idea, took on a whole new dimension: “the imagination, freed from all ties, is sheer impetus. It stretches the forms, propels them, and exalts the colors as though the unconstrained space of abstraction demands this launching into lyrical flight” (Vallier 294). Abstraction also puts stress upon the ideas and reactions and expressions in combination with the aesthetic form to present a total package that could be unwrapped by the viewer.

So what can we do to better understand and evaluate abstract art? Be willing to let go of any recognizable image. Recognize the power of line, spatial interaction, color, balance and composition, rather than content. For a moment, drop all the things that you know, that might seem familiar; drop anything that you would like to see in the piece; drop whatever is going on in your own mind; and absorb the abstract for what it is, without any strings attached, without any preconceived biases, and without fear that you may actually find yourself lost in the piece. Don’t pass the work upon first glance; the intent of many artists is to hold your attention, to make you look again, and continue looking—something will eventually happen. After this happens, then one may ponder the psychological meaning behind the piece: What is it of? What does it…signify? What does it express?…What is its meaning?” (Frascina 191). These are the questions to be pondered and considered.

Another element that may make cynical viewers upset with abstract art is the way in which it approaches the viewer. Traditional paintings are a window to another world, another moment, another place: viewed calmly through the lens of the frame, selecting an appropriate perspective and accepting the logical image before us. Abstract art is confrontational. It invades the viewer’s space; it goes all the way to the edge of the frame, its presence is loud and undeniable. The irrational lines and colors contradict any logical pattern or familiar image that the viewer’s mind attempts to conceive. This is where the viewer may become frustrated and annoyed, and may justify their own stubborn will not to take a second look, and to pass it off as “bad” art, or not as “art” at all. This confrontation of abstract art and viewer can be resolved if the viewer takes a little more time to look into the abstract piece, to explore its every asset and to discover the secrecies of its intricate complexities. The abstract piece is an enigma that must be figured out; it is a riddle that must be solved; it is a question that must be asked. These mysteries can only be investigated if the viewer is willing to open their mind and look again at the many possibilities the abstract piece has to offer.

 

 

 

 


Works Cited

  • 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&gt;.
  • 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.

“Why Abstract Art?” Part II: Abstract Process

The long and expressive strokes of the “action-painter,” as such type of expressive painting is called, is not just the result of a “wild, fast, and frenzied slop-and-drip manner. On the contrary, most of these artists, slowly and meditatively, [consider] the implications of each possible move… accepting or rejecting it” (Mackie 77). In creating their pieces, the artists have a “dialogue” with their pieces, in which they must respond to every stroke, every color, every shape, that lands upon the canvas. In evaluating these developments, they must be critical in considering how each move is achieving the purpose they wish to convey or the image they aim to create.

Many elements of design and consideration are incorporated into the work of an abstract artist, in the same way that they are applied to any other style of art composition.  Artwork is created by the very fine interaction of conceptualization with medium.

The symbolic content and use of color is significant to a piece. Often certain colors can evoke certain emotions or psychological connotations. Color interaction is essential for the artist to consider, because the combination of certain colors, either conflicting or complementing, can make or break the purpose of a piece. Often the combinations of colors and the way they interact can be the sole subject of an abstract painting, and it is the aesthetic quality of this that is celebrated.

Balance and composition determine what role space is used in the painting or the sculpture. Large amounts of empty space act very differently from a canvas containing very little amounts of empty space. The interacting of shapes and lines is also important to the abstract piece, in that the lines define the shapes, and the variety in the lines can also convey different senses of imagery and expression. Very dark and thick lines thrown across the canvas feel very different than the light and intricate thin lines dancing across. Texture, repetition, variation and rhythm are also essential ingredients in the recipe for the construction of a work of art.

 

 

 

 


Works Cited

  • 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&gt;.
  • 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.

“Why Abstract Art?”: A Blog Series, Part I


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….

 

 

 

 


Works Cited

  • 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&gt;.
  • 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.