Today's post is slightly different from usual. This isn't news about events or artworks, this is my thoughts on abstract art, following many conversations both those taken part in and those overheard.
Many people struggle with modern, abstract or conceptual art. They say they don't understand it
"What does it mean?"
"What was the artist trying to say?"
"What am I supposed to make of this?"
are things regularly heard.
How often do you hear this said about Constable's Hay Wain or Turner's The Fighting Temeraire?
Were they just copying what they saw or were they trying to capture a feeling or a dream?
Most people accept these works at face value, but struggle to do the same with abstract art. Yet the Hay Wain didn't sit still for Constable to paint it (well I presume not) he must have made a quick sketch and completed the work after the cart had gone on its way. Some things will have changed as a result, maybe the clouds or the light on the water. Was he trying to portray a man at work, capture the feeling of country life or just paint a pretty country scene?
Contemporary art could be taking a feeling and expressing that, it could be providing something to provoke thought or it could just be working with the media at hand to make something pleasing to view. Whatever the starting point, the end is whatever the viewer takes away from it, which could be something completely different from that which the artist intended. As long as the viewer feels a connection with the art and it suits its environment, these questions in themselves have little meaning.
Some of these questions arise as the result of education. Certainly, the art taught in schools and colleges has its basis in realism and many hours are spent at art schools working with life models learning about shape, light, mark making, proportion, perspective and foreshortening. All of this is very important, both to understand how to really see the world and for those who wish to go on to careers in representational art. It is also necessary for those who wish to work in the asbstract arena. Without the understanding of form, balance and colour theory, abstract pieces are unlikely to achieve the desired effect on any consistent basis and a great deal of time and resources can be wasted.
Much of my work is abstract. Sometimes the inspiration is a photograph or still life, sometimes I wake with a picture in my head or a feeling I need to get out on paper; other times I find pleasing patterns whilst working with different media. Often after a piece is finished, both others and I will see things within it that I had not noticed whilst working. There is no set answer to those questions. I would only respond:
"What does it mean to you?"
"What does it say to you?"
"What do you make of it?"
And if the answers to those questions are that it makes you feel good, it intrigues you, if you feel you could look at for hours. Then buy it, hang it on your wall and let it speak to you.