It’s okay, I don’t get it either.
Abstract art can be a big hurdle for some folks. I’ve known this for a long time. But just recently, I have understood it personally as I’ve gone headlong into this type of work.
I’ve been painting abstract images. I like it a lot. I enjoy the freedom to create and destroy without being tied to a concept or premise. (Check out my Instagram account for my most recent work, click the Instagram icon at the bottom of this page).
To be clear, I consider the type of imagery that I am pursuing to be more along the lines of the abstract expressionists (think of artists like kandinsky or willem de kooning). These artist do something different than "simple" abstraction.
Abstraction is an action. To create a painting is to abstract reality into the form of paint, even if the image is perfectly rendered to be “life-like”. Therefore, all artist work in the abstract. It’s implied in the job description.
This overlooked truth of making art is what has always made me think of art as trickery. It is very common for the average person to look at a carefully rendered image and like it because, “it looks just like a photo.” But it is not a photo, it is an abstraction of reality and it is saying something about reality. The fact that realism is easy to visually understand makes this type of work very accessible. Historically though, realist painters lean on a narrative in context to communicate complex purposes for their work (look at Goya's Third of May, https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/becoming-modern/romanticism/romanticism-in-spain/a/goya-third-of-may-1808 ). Therefore, most realist master works can only be truly appreciated by possessing the knowledge of the narrative and the historical context in which the painting was made.
Abstraction that sits in between realism and nonsense can be very effective & accessible. This type of art will take the elements of reality and abstract them (think of artists like emile bernard breton women or picasso guernica). Artists like this take the familiar substance of life and they distort that substance to produce an effect. It can be a shortcut to the emotion that the artist hopes to convey. This kind of work can be more accessible even if a distinct narrative and context is absent to the viewer.
Then there is the type of image that I want to make currently. I’ll call it nonsensical imagery in the hopes that it will soften the blow to most viewers.
I’m certainly not wanting to diminish my work; however, when you’re looking at this work, you are looking at an effort towards nonsense. I do care about fundamentals; composition, balance, color. But when it comes to execution of the image, I’m shooting for no recognizable image—I’m trying to paint nothing.
“Why,” you may ask, “would you try to paint nothing?”
Why does a child scribble the first time you put a crayon in her hand? Why doesn’t she render the face of her mother?
The simple answer is, making the mark is enough the first time she expresses her creative compulsion. I find great joy in mixing color on my palate, but you won't see that. I find great joy in pushing the paint against the surface, & you'll miss that as well. The joy I'm having in my studio, by myself is the basic thing I hope to exchange with my viewer. But that's not all I hope for. That purpose gives momentum to my production but I have found that the images will evoke very specific ideas and imagery for different people. These moments extend my joy to a place I couldn't fabricate on my own; and therefore "completes" in some sense, my relationship with the viewer.
Many people will approach abstract work and think to themselves, "I don't understand this." And that is an acceptable first thought. For my part, this work isn't intended to confuse anyone.
When it comes to the final non-sensical imagery, it's okay to not understand it. I often don't either.