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More Than a Matter of Taste


All About Abstract Art: More Than a Matter of Taste 

There are few simpler ways to frighten a newcomer to the world of art than to attempt to start a discussion about abstract art. The majority of people are intimidated by this kind of work because they feel that they do not understand what it is or what it is supposed to mean. Acquiring an understanding of abstract art is also no guarantee that an individual will be drawn to this kind of artwork. Discovering that they themselves might be responsible for developing their own meaning for the artwork does not always sit well with people of a more concrete and pragmatic disposition. However, the basics for developing a vocabulary for this kind of artwork can begin with a simple definition of what “abstract” art is and, specifically, how you might categorize one piece of artwork as being abstract rather than representational.

An abstract painting is essentially one in which the artist is representing something that exists concretely in the world but taking certain liberties with how he or she is portraying it. They may warp or fragment the object to suit their goals or desires. However, the viewer can still recognize it as being some form of some object that does or has existed. The name “abstract” derives from the basic intellectual process that the artist is using. By taking something from the real world, an apple for example, they are “abstracting” or “extracting” it from reality and then distorting it in their artwork according to their own means. In the case of the apple, it may appear to be purple rather than red. The artist may show two different perspectives at the same time rather than giving a traditional angle. That is the point of abstract artwork in a nutshell. Of course, the goals of the artist and the level of abstraction can be highly varied.

You might ask yourself, “Why does an artist choose to do this?” Pablo Picasso, one of the artists primarily responsible for bringing the idea of abstract artwork into the mainstream of artistic consciousness through his efforts in developing Cubism, claimed that the invention of the camera freed the artist from depicting reality in the exact way in which it appears. That was the job of the camera. The role of the artist was then to explore art on more emotional, spiritual, and intellectual levels which were only attainable through abstract means. Another misconception by the layperson is that abstract artwork is a Modern or relatively contemporary invention. In reality, the first “non-objective” paintings, or pieces that could be considered “abstract” in the philosophical sense, were produced by Wassily Kandinsky around 1910. Art history defines the modern period as having its zenith between the 1930's and ending in 1950. Although the inception of abstract art is over 100 years old, it has yet to totally saturate the psyche of the public at large.

Another problem that has plagued abstract art is its confusion with the term “non-objective” painting, as mentioned above. These are artworks which do not seek to represent anything tangible in reality. Kandinsky's work and the “drip paintings” by Jackson Pollock can fall into this category. The words “Non-objective” and “abstract” are often used interchangeably. This can be correct if you dig into the terms in a deeper, philosophical manner. If an artist were to use only the color blue in a piece, then it could be said that they “abstracted” that blue from some colored object existing somewhere in reality. However, if the intention of the artist is to simply present the color blue as means of representing spirituality on a personal level (much like Kandinsky aimed to do), then the piece would be more aptly described as “non-objective.” The lines can certainly seem blurry at times, and the real distinction must often be subject to the intentions of the artist. Nonetheless, the subtly of the content and the subject matter in an abstract piece of artwork certainly finds its strength in the freedom it presents to both the artist and the viewer.

Posted by Mirek Jan Bialy on 3/16/13

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