My abstract art adventure has been interesting. I like learning new techniques for putting paint on canvas, especially in wild and crazy ways. So, I’ve splattered and dripped, I’ve poured, and I’ve liked some of the results I’ve gotten.
I’m definitely coming to a fuller appreciation of art — in an overall sense — and to abstract art more specifically. I see how creativity can find a wide range of expression within the realm of non-representational painting, yet I still wonder how far we should go with that line of thought.
I don’t want to go back to those same tiresome questions about what is or isn’t art, or if it is, what makes it art. We’ll never come to any conclusions on any of those questions. There simply are no answers.
Yet having this dichotomy in my head that sees abstract art as both the highest form of visual creativity and the same time one of the least creative ways to make art has left me feeling discombobulated. That’s an old-fashioned word, and maybe you’re not familiar with it. I grew up with it. It means confused. It means being in a quandry. I learned the word from my grandfather who would probably have described it as running around like a chicken with its head cut off. Yep, that’s sort of how it feels to be discombobulated.
I have a good use for that word today, not only as the title of this blog post, but as the name of this most recent experiment in my abstract art adventure.
You can probably see for yourself the technique used. First, after choosing my colors — magenta, white, and a silvery gray — I created a background, simply applying those colors in various places on the canvas and brushing them together to cover the sheet with a base coat of color. I allowed that to dry.
Next, I took strips of tape and created different shapes, some boxes, some triangles. I added paint to each individual shape, varying my colors between the three I’d chosen. Again, I allowed it to dry.
I repeated this process a couple more times. I was finding that I liked the painting less with each new application of tape/shapes. Maybe I would have liked this abstract if I’d done the taping part once and left it alone after that.
Finally, feeling dissatisfied — and discombobulated — I brushed a thin coat of white acrylic over the entire thing. Nope. Didn’t like that either. So, I took a wet rag and pulled off some of the paint here and there. I still wasn’t happy with the painting, but so be it.
There was another aspect of this project that I haven’t mentioned, and I think it’s important to consider in light of my very mixed feelings about abstract art and my dissatisfaction with this particular piece.
Art needs meaning.
That’s the current state of my thinking. Abstract art especially needs meaning. It must be more than just random paint splatters or puddles of paint. Those things are fine — if they’re done with intent. If there is a purpose behind the method of application, a reason why a particular narrative requires a particular means by which the paint is applied, then yes, indeed, that’s part of the creative process, and yes, indeed, that is art.
So, I began this painting with some thought. I needed a narrative. I browsed through a bit of poetry I had saved on my computer, and I chose a poem. I think now that I chose the wrong one. The poem, much like the art that resulted, has a lot of mixed messages, a lot of uncertainty, a lot of ambivalence. I tried to focus on one singular, positive aspect of the poem. and I used that to guide me in choosing my colors and in the way I put down my first layer.
For me, as the artist, the ideas behind the painting kept changing as I worked. First it was saying one thing, and then it was saying something else. In the end, it seemed to be saying too many things all at once. I was discombobulated by the whole painting experience, and it seemed like the most fitting title for this painting.
I still don’t like it. I’m not sure if I’ll ever use this taping technique again. It’s a good technique to know, of course, and I’m happy to have added it to my repertoire of abstract art methods.
I invite you now, to look at this painting and make of it what you will. I could, if I wanted, look at Discombobulated and find many things there. I can make up meanings and give the painting different stories to tell. My question is whether or not, in the final analysis, it’s really worth the time and trouble.