Does Abstract Art Confuse You?

     “I don’t get it!”
     “My kid could do that!”
     “Who’s he trying to fool?”

     I think people are just more comfortable with realistic art because they say they can “get” it. That means, to them, that the only true Artists are the Old Masters, those dodgy Europeans who painted before 1800. However, if they knew that so many of those Old Masters relied on the new (about 1430) optical instruments to reflect an image for them to trace, they might not hold them in such awe.

     But that would be a shame. Why spoil a Viewer’s romantic idea of realism anyway. I don’t begrudge the Old Masters for using technology just as I don’t disapprove of any Artist that was inspired by the camera in the 1800’s. New exciting work resulted from that invention, and it freed Artists to be more creative and to experiment.

      I often say that if Leonardo da Vinci were alive today, he’d be all over that computer!

     Getting back to unbalanced comparisons, I don’t remember anyone condemning an author for typing his book on a computer instead of dipping his quill in a messy ink pot. Or what about a musician? Do listeners long to hear that string bow from prehistoric times instead of an acoustic, or even newer, a digital guitar? Or can you blame a flutist today for not blowing a tune through a hand-carved reed?

      So, let’s all agree that visual and performing Artists are not cheating when they take advantage of new inventions including advancements in technology. After all, where would art history be without the Impressionists? Had the collapsible tin paint tubes not replaced pigs’ bladders and portable box easels not substituted for those heavy floor models, painters would have been stuck in the studio forever. We would still be painting on toned canvases and slaughtering little piggies all the way home!

      And abstract art would never have happened.

     When the Impressionists went outside, they “saw the light” (hallelujah!) but because it changed so quickly, they had to paint just as fast. Luckily for us Artists, that meant they also had to be satisfied with simpler paintings…no time for detailed brushstrokes.

      So, you see, to abstract means to simplify. If you come across a white canvas painted solid white, you now know how it started even though that is an example of the extreme sport of abstract, simplifying the image to empty space. But to each, his own.

      Is it Art? Yes, buddy, it is. Humans are sentient beings who make conscious decisions to intentionally create art. Wasps make beautiful artistic nests, but that’s their home, not art. If a human decides to say something is art, it is art.

     Do we have to like it? Of course not. We don’t like every piece of music we hear nor every film or play we see, but they are all art. We just have to feel…good or bad, it doesn’t matter. The work does have to make us feel if it wants to be considered an art form. If we are numb, it didn’t succeed.

     And abstract art is complex. If you are studying a painting or sculpture that contains recognizable subject matter, it’s as if you are reading a really good short story. The Artist and writer are helping you explore your own world.

     If you are gazing “into” an abstract work, it’s as if you are reading a poem. You have to read a great poem at least three times to grasp its meaning. How could you expect to labor any less when you are viewing an abstract painting or sculpture? Think of it. The Artist and writer are asking you to explore something intimate, their own souls. Maybe you might see your essence in their inscapes.  

      You still don’t “get” abstract art after all of this? Then think of it in the same way you would think of instrumental music. When you step on an elevator or enter a dentist’s office, you may hear music with no lyrics. You don’t turn to someone next to you and say, “I don’t get it!”.  You just listen to it and feel, and, sometimes, your body even moves.

     Then look at abstract art as music for your eyes. Don’t worry about figuring it out. Just get lost in the surface and “feel.”