Let’s talk today about abstraction. I like a lot of abstract art…to look at. I’m not so keen yet on painting it simply because it’s far more difficult than a lot of people imagine, and I haven’t yet developed enough artistic skill to know whether or not my abstractions have any merit whatsoever.
People will say, “Well, do you like it?” The thinking is that, as artists, it’s only our personal feeling about a painting that matters. If we like it, all’s well and good. I suppose there’s some truth to that, but I’m not sure how far that truth can take us.
If I like something I’ve done, that’s a good thing. If I don’t like a painting I’ve made, that’s not so good, especially when I feel I’m trying to express something. I paint what I think I’m trying to say, but then I step back and shake my head.
Oh, but it’s abstract, I tell myself. It’s not supposed to be anything, and if it represents anything, it’s only in my mind and my imagination. I don’t have to like it, do I? Someone else might see something in it. With abstract art, who knows?
For many, many months after I started this art journey, the question uppermost in my mind was “Am I an artist?” Today, I do call myself an artist, and a new question has emerged. Because I am an artist, does that mean everything I draw or paint — or craft in another fashion — should be considered a piece of art?
No, of course not.
Herein lies my dilemma with abstract art. What makes it art?
It doesn’t become art because an artist created it, nor does it become art because an artist might like it. Does an abstraction become art only if someone else likes it? That leads to more problems, because abstract art is certainly not for everyone, so if I think something is art and you have a different opinion, who’s right? Is it art or not?
Let’s look for a moment at an acrylic abstract I recently painted. I don’t like this painting. In my eyes, I ruined it by going too dark with the color in the lower right corner. Now, intellectually, I have a lot going on in this piece. It began with more of a concept than a plan, and as I painted, I allowed that concept to develop on the paper. Note: Unlike my other acrylics, this was painted on watercolor paper, not canvas.
As I explored the concept — or the theme of the painting, we might call it — I looked for different ways to express it. I experimented, and in my quest to be bolder with my brush, I deliberately took a lot of risks. Instead of whispering what I wanted to say, I was shouting it. But do my efforts alone turn this mess into a piece of art?
Not in my eyes. In the end, I was unhappy with what I’d done. Oh, well. Live and learn.
The painting, however, sparked many questions in my mind, not only questions about what makes a painting a piece of art, but questions about how we approach abstraction, both as viewers and as artists.
How much planning and preparation should go into an abstraction? Should we have a detailed “road map” of the creative landscape we hope to cover? Or should we begin with a simple idea and see where it takes us? Perhaps it’s better still to have no ideas in mind, to simply pick up a brush and do what we will.
Elements of composition are important in abstracts, of course. Or, are they? Must we have a specific focal point? Should an abstraction have balance and harmony? What about movement, contrast, gradation and repetition? Does an abstract piece have to evoke a mood or is that left up to the viewer?
Here’s one additional question. Should an abstraction be given a name? If we title a painting, won’t that suggest what the viewer should see? Or more to the point, won’t it affect what the viewer does see? I won’t divulge the title of the painting I’ve shared here because I don’t want to influence what you might think you’re looking at.
Although I don’t consider this painting a piece of art, I do consider it a creative expression. Creativity can be messy, as this abstraction turned out to be. But messy or not, the painting brings together a number of the different thoughts, ideas, and feelings I experienced during the creative process. That doesn’t make it art…but then, what does?