Monday, February 27, 2012

Why Abstract

February, 24" x 48", oil on canvas, 2012. (Click on image for larger view.)

It is difficult to articulate what makes abstract art attractive. But I think it is because painting does not rely on language. It transcends rationality. Abstract painting communicates without spelling everything out in logical terms.

Some people struggle to accept any type of abstract art as good art and limit themselves to pictures which represent familiar forms, such as people, landscapes, or other recognizable things. But while some paintings which represent recognizable forms can be considered good, others may still be considered bad. These same principles apply to abstract art.

An analogy could be drawn to music: some songs have lyrics which follow linear, logical thought; others have ambiguous lyrics, while still others (instrumentals) have no lyrics at all. Instrumental music still holds the potential to move people even though words don't spell everything out.

Abstract art is somewhat like instrumental music. Although anyone could pick up a brush and paint abstract, so could anyone pick up a guitar and strum an instrumental. Good instrumentals still require musicians to understand and control their instruments. Likewise, in order to create a good abstract painting, an artist is required to understand and control the paint, even if the paint is thrown or dripped on the canvas like Jackson Pollock.

I think perhaps abstract art is susceptible to the cold shoulder because we, as humans, have been trained to use our eyes to make sense of the world. From birth, we are bombarded with visuals on a daily basis and sort through the chaos by placing definitions on what we see or filing this information into familiar categories. We live in a society based on logic and reason.

Society, however, is a human construction and not an entirely truthful representation of life on Earth. Logic and reason do not encompass all experiences of living on this planet. Moreover, our eyes are highly sensitive organs (probably the most complex of our senses) trained to decipher and distinguish between slight differences in color, shade, and tone. Visual art feeds into this and becomes a form of communication through the sense of sight. Abstract art then breaks free of logical constructions, rationality, and the limitations of language - potentially becoming a form of communication on a complex level.

A painting, whether completely abstract or one with recognizable forms, is an object (not an image), with a composition and texture, a relationship of repeating and contrasting elements. In this regard, abstract painting is the same as any other form of painting. It is therefore also true that many bad abstract paintings have been created (I hope mine depicted in this post does not fall into this category, but I leave that to others to determine). That itself is insufficient reason to discount abstract painting altogether.

Painting in general has been around for a long time with a long list of masters. Our standards are high. Abstract painting is relatively young (less than 100 years old) and will eventually form a family of agreed-upon masterful works. No matter what style we consider at this point, the bottom line is: Painting is hard!

February, detail (click on image for larger view):

February, detail (click on image for larger view):

February, detail (click on image for larger view):