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 Pollock. 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 Pollock, I could no longer look at other abstract works and see them as art. I defended Pollock 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 Pollock, 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.