Abstract Art. What Do You Think About It?

Many people prefer realism because they do not understand Abstract Art.

The Artist Expresses Feelings and Thoughts Differently.

My objective is to give you some pointers about :

  • Why artists make abstract art
  • Some of the ways an artist develops an abstract painting
  • Famous artists who did abstracts

So what is abstraction?

“Abstraction allows man to see with his mind what he cannot see physically with his eyes… Abstract art enables the artist to perceive beyond the tangible, to extract the infinite out of the finite. It is the emancipation of the mind. It is an exploration into unknown areas.”
– Arshile Gorky

There comes a time when an artist needs a new challenge.

I have been painting for 50 years, long enough to get good at it. Long enough to get bored doing it. I needed to punch my way out of the paper bag of complacency and risk doing something different.

My mind still fought me. My mind would not release me to think abstractly.

What is interesting is that I was teaching advanced painting in high school and we did many units using abstraction. So, what is my problem?

My students had no problem abstracting when I taught them about cubism because they understood what the artist was attempting to do.

I was my problem! In short: I needed to get away from my studio and give myself PERMISSION to abstract. I know that sounds peculiar.

Unfortunately,I was programmed to please. For years, I painted in realism because my viewers preferred it. In other words, I painted for them, not ME. I was not being honest with my work.

I flew to North Carolina to take a week long workshop with Mary Todd Beam, whose work I loved. She painted in abstract compositions but also incorporated realistic symbolism into her work.

Beam had me dabbling in strange stuff. Sand and gesso. White gesso on black canvas and drawing with flow-release. Line work with my non-dominant hand. She was a plethora of information about abstraction and how to dive in and just enjoy the process.

I loved what I was doing! I was totally involved.

This work uses some collage elements of diatoms from a science handout, a drawn portrait and actual cheesecloth for texture. It earned BEST IN SHOW at the Florida Art Educators Exhibit. 2014.

The first painting I did when I returned home from NC, flowed from me. In fact, I painted it in a few hours, not days, and it won two Best in Show awards. Yet, if you asked me HOW I did it, I could not explain it to you. I never stopped to think how I painted it.

I followed my inner instinct. ‘This doesn’t feel right’ or ‘ Yes. This is the way to go!’.

Honestly, it was a continual inner fight. I am a classically trained artist with four years of university fine arts and a BFA. I had to train myself to think and critique differently.

In my era, Expressionism was just beginning to take hold.

Actually, I was not attracted to the movement or artists like Jackson Pollack and his “dribbles”. My university didn’t push the movement because my profs were just starting to dabble in it but didn’t fully understand it enough to teach it.

Yet now I was taking risks with abstraction. Unfortunately, my audience didn’t understand abstraction either. It was much easier for them to collect realistic landscapes or still lifes.

So I painted what my viewers liked because their approval fed me. Sadly, this fettered my creative growth.

After getting my head straight, and painting for ME, I discovered more pleasure with the process of thinking through my abstract works.

Now I love painting abstractly because it comes from within me and it is honest.

Sadly now, much of the watercolors I see are painted from personal photos. I feel the art is losing its spontaneity. It is a ‘reproduction’ of the photo in actual paint, but without the essence of the subject. The reproductive craft is applauded.

I began to notice lost ‘essence’ when my students preferred using photos; it was easier, they said. Their technique and craft was excellent, so why were they were copying all the subjective details of a photo. The photograph did all the work; they just copied what they were seeing. As a result, copying photos was banned in my classroom.

My Process

When abstract artists develop a painting, photos are used sparingly, and we paint from an inward vision and use experimentation in our process.

I will paint something, and not ‘feel’ it’s right; I remove the paint and re-edit.

Sometimes, I might paint on a piece of acetate, hold it over the work, move it around to find the perfect spot and then paint in what I did on the trial acetate piece.

A Famous Abstract Artist

Wassily Kandinsky loved lines and geometric symbols. He painted what he heard in music, but visually.

Composition 8 by Kandinsky. You can almost hear the music.

I anticipate when you understand why artists do something and what they want to say, it helps you grasp the meaning of abstract work.

By taking time to really look at a work, it will begin to ‘speak’ to you. Interestingly, you will start relating it to your experiences that feel similar. Finally, you begin to appreciate the artist and the work.

Give abstract art a try! It helps to look for the Artist Statement that explains what motivated the artist. Start from this point.

Next, explore the work itself. Find hidden things in it. Play hide and seek with it. How does it express a mood? How do the colors or brushwork explain what the artist was saying visually?

This is just the beginning.

You will find abstracts exciting as much as the artist was excited to create it.