A New Appreciation for Abstract Art

In the past I’ve had a somewhat complicated relationship with abstract art. To understand that relationship, I think it’s important to know “where I come from” in terms of art.

It’s often said that “every child is an artist”, but I take exception to that belief. I was never an artist. Even as a child, my attempts at drawing were so horrible that I was too embarrassed to even try. In school, I dreaded “art days”. While they were intended to be fun — lots of craftsy little projects for little hands — I always ended up with nothing more than a big mess, one that was only half-finished as often as not.

Although I was exposed to art, knew the names of several artists, and even had my “favorite” paintings — The Child’s Bath by Mary Cassatt, The Age of Innocence by Joshua Reynolds, Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth and all dancers by Degas — I was never given any helpful instruction on how to develop drawing ability. I was mostly written off, I think, as a lost cause.

I did, however, have a love for color and a very high degree of color acuity. I loved colors, and while I couldn’t draw a straight line even with a ruler, I could make lovely swirls of color. I could play with different patterns and designs. Yet no one ever suggested that what I was doing was anything close to art. I was just playing.

I can’t say when I was first introduced to the concept of abstract art. What I can say is that I liked a lot of it because of the colors, because of the patterns and designs that just went here and there, because abstract art bore a resemblance to the fanciful scribbles I loved to make. This, however, led me straight to the unavoidable conclusion that abstract art couldn’t really be called art.

Here and now, I want to apologize straight out to any abstract artists who might read these words. I was a product of my environment, and that environment didn’t include any genuine understanding or appreciation of abstract art.

But I definitely had an interest in it. I loved Jackson Pollak. Wasily Kandinsky caught my eye. There were other colorful pieces I saw by artists whose names I no longer remember. The experience of seeing abstract art caused a lot of confusion in my mind.

If the colorful “art expressions” I made weren’t art, then how could these drawings and paintings — so similar in their approach — be called art? What made these pieces different from mine? 

The answer, of course, was simple. The abstract works I saw were created by real artists, and that alone made them works of art. These artists had talent. They could draw — if they wanted — but instead of drawing they’d risen to a higher level of creative self-expression. They somehow knew how to put all the right colors in all the right places. They knew how thick or thin to make their lines. They knew how to put different shapes together. They knew all of these things… because they were artists.

If you have to be a real artist to create abstract art, it’s obviously something very, very difficult to do, something that ordinary people — like me — will never be able to grasp. Abstract art is so complex, so mysterious, so imaginative and so creative that it’s truly incomprehensible. All we can do is stand in awe and admire these artists and their genius.

And then I came to Mark Rothko, and again I offer an apology to those who love his work. I’ve come to understand it more now, and I can appreciate what he was doing. In my younger days, however, with all the confusion in my mind, I could in no way comprehend Mark Rothko and his art.

If this is art, and he’s an artist, what am I missing here? I can make colored squares. I don’t have to be a real artist to do that… do I? Anybody can do that, so why is he famous? If he’s really such a great artist, why doesn’t he draw something? Why doesn’t he create real art? 

In frustration and confusion, I had to simply shake my head and walk away. While I still loved Jackson Pollak, I could no longer look at other abstract works and see them as art. I defended Pollak for his creative spirit, for his unorthodox methods, for things I could see beyond his paintings. Maybe his works weren’t really art in the truest sense, but at least he was daring enough to create them.

As for the rest, well, sad to say, I wrote off abstract art, suspected such artists were having fun with the art-viewing public, and that, really, anybody could make abstract art, so what was the big deal about it anyway? That remained my opinion for a long time.

And then something odd happened. I decided to learn to draw. I somehow became an artist. Imagine that! Now, imagine my surprise at finding that even though I might be able to call myself an artist, I couldn’t create abstract art. I didn’t have a clue where to even begin.

Paint what you feel.

Trust your intuition.

Play with colors.

Let yourself go. 

I heard all of those suggestions. I tried to heed them all, but abstract art was impossible for me. My attempts left me bewildered.

Today, I believe I have a greater understanding of abstract art, and abstract expressionism as it’s sometimes called. Now that I’ve begun studying more about the principles of good design, I can see how different principles — balance, harmony, rhythm — are incorporated into abstract art.

My overall opinions about art have broadened considerably, as well. I can see art now in places where I never saw it before. I recognize that anything can be art, and conversely, art can be anything we choose to make it.

In recent months, I’ve learned a lot about “loosening up”, about “letting go”, and about trying different things. I’ve played with mixed media techniques, learned various methods for creating fluid art, and have practiced using different color schemes.

Am I ready now to EXPLORE — there’s that 2021 word again — abstract art? Yep, you betcha! Even while I’m working on tonalist landscape painting and doing exercises to improve my drawing skills, I’m taking time to make abstract art a part of my art journey.

Here’s a recent abstract work I completed.

It’s bright. It’s bold. It’s a bit adventurous, I think. In so many ways, it’s all the things that are usually not a part of my art. It’s loud. It’s meaningless. But, to me, it’s something else.

It is art.

How can that be?

I say this is art because it was made with intention. I deliberately created this piece with conscious awareness of color and design. I created it, too, with a sense of purpose, with definite thoughts about the colors I was using and where I was putting them.

That’s not to say that this painting was planned. It wasn’t. But it was shaped by my knowledge of art. You might like it, or you might not. You might hate it. You might think, “Nope, she hasn’t got a clue yet.” All of those responses are possible, and all are acceptable.

But in the end, it doesn’t matter, does it?

Earlier, I said this piece was meaningless. As I think more about it now, I see it differently. This abstract painting is very meaningful to me. It represents a step forward, a greater feeling of artistic freedom, and a huge leap of confidence for me as an artist.

As I once did with Jackson Pollak, I will now defend myself and this painting, not for what it is but for what lies beyond it. Creativity. Freedom of expression. Daring myself to do something far removed from the limitations of conventional art.

So, regardless of what you think of this, I love it. I call it art.

 

16 Comments

  1. fabulous..i couldnt have said this better.. i too was absorbed for a long time about abstract art. i know i even said 100 times “a child could do that”. Then, one day i tried to replicate the style myself. I struggled and struggled. It never looked “right”.In fact, they were so bad that even now i look at them and cringe! It totally gave me a new perspective and to this day i am apprehensive about doing anything abstract. I mean, i have tried but nothing serious.. i applaud you for your willingness to go forth ..spirit of adventure!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m enjoying abstract art now — a lot. The alcohol inks I bought are lots of fun to play with, and the acrylics are fun, too. They’re so inexpensive that I can use them quite generously and not feel that I’m wasting money. LOL. Studying design principles is helping a lot, too. You’ll be seeing more little “abstract expressions” coming up. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. i cant wait to try alcohol inks..i cant afford to buy them right now but a friend keeps promising me she will send me hers because she didn’t like them..i’m excited to try them on yupo paper- which i have a bunch of..those inks though- natural abstracts!!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. They really are fun to play with. The colors are so bright and vivid — unless you accidentally end up letting them run together too much. I’ve done that more than once. Learning to “control” the inks in any way is a challenge. But even that is fun most of the time. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right. The past year has really helped me loosen up, become more confident, and take more risks in art. It has made a huge difference. I love this new “art attitude”.

      Like

  2. Right! abstract art is complicated species…but like it’s said: “beauty is the eye of the beholder”. Or it could also be: “art is the eye of the beholder”. I’ve also learned to appreciate abstract art. At it’s best it’s great…at it’s worst it’s not so great…

    One thing I’ve been wondering. No one is painting anymore real exact genuine looking paintings. You know, like 1800’s 1900’s paintings which were almost like photos. Does no one know how to paint like that anymore or is such no longer valued so much. I think those are the real masterpieces!

    I use to paint myself too…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A lot of graphite artists are doing “hyper-realistic” drawings (mostly portraits) but that style isn’t as popular now with painters. I’ve been reading art history a lot lately, and it’s interesting to see how “art” changes as society changes. There are still some very “realistic” artists. I wrote a post on the subject last month. It features works by Richard Estes as well as links to several other “realist” artists. You might want to check it out.
      https://artistcoveries.wordpress.com/2021/01/12/lets-get-real/

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  3. I’m glad that you found your spot in the world of art, and I can definitely see evidence of you loosening up and letting go in this art piece.

    I absolutely love the balance between the red and the dark green and the lighter lime like, colour.

    I think the lime colour give off this 3D effect, where I could sort of peel it off from the rest of the painting 👌🏽

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! The color is called “lijmeade” — like a lime drink — and I was a little hesitant about using it at first. I thought it might stand out too much, but your comments are reassuring that my instincts were good. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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