Artisan – Post 57 – About Abstract Art

Artisan by Dan Joyce


Post 57

About Abstract Art


Recently, I entered into a debate with a younger artist from a popular local coffeehouse/gallery regarding her talent, or should I say, lack of talent. Not intending to insult her, I told her that her compositions of portraiture where somewhat cubist. She in turn became very angry saying she was a realistic artist and nothing about her work was abstract. Further, she claimed great detail in her art using a magnifying glass guider her and made the audacious comment that anyone can do abstract art. After accusing me of scribbling my subjects instead of taking great time to do something flawed like her work, I said to her, “At least I scribble with correct proportions.” This brings me to the most important rule of good art. Do what you’re trying to do!

What is wrong with viewpoints of modern art? People just don’t know what they’re talking about and make ignorant claims about what is often the artist’s hard work. Yes, anyone can throw paint on a canvas, but then try to sell it, try to convince people it is good art. Abstract art, like music, has rules the artist usually follows to make the painting more pleasing. What is the color composition? Is there a sense of depth in the perspective or overlapping shapes? Is it simple or did the artist take time to make something complex? Saying anyone can make successful abstract art is like letting a monkey pound a piano and calling it music. To paraphrase my mother, if you don’t know what you’re talking about, then don’t speak at all.

True she exhibited great detail in her portraits claiming she even used a magnifying glass, but her initial sketch and measurements were so grotesquely misplaced her figures literally looked deformed. It’s like building a beautiful house with a foundation that is going to fall apart.

That leads me to my biggest point regarding all arts. When looking at a work, always ask this question, did the artist accomplish what he or she was obviously trying to do? An abstract artist may seem to do this with greater ease, but a trained artist can create a realistic image by what they have learned and therefore find it easier to create and sell a work of art that more people will understand.

There is a medium point between abstract and representational art that artists love to walk on. The impressionists, the fauvists and the surrealists have introduced us to this place of being years ago. Sometimes, I like to get out my old college skills and draw something photorealistic, sometimes I just want to express an emotion in a complex non-representational piece. Usually, like LeRoy Neiman or Vincent Van Gogh, I like to explore a line in between. But skill and talent are always developed by the discipline of working at it everyday.

Which leads me to my most important claim on this subject. Strict definitions of art inhibit creativity. Loose definitions say art is anything. True, no one in the main population really thinks Damien Hirst is doing anyone a great favor placing a formaldehyde shark in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But I argue that he is. First look at what you think art is. Michelangelo? Da Vinci? Lucian Freud? Ok, I can agree. Now sit down and try to do this! Obviously most will fail. Our false beliefs on art have told us that it’s a magical gift from God that people just grab a paint brush and start doing. I would say no! Art is for everybody! If you can’t do Da Vinci, do what you can do! Local schools are selling representational art classes and calling it “Classical Realism.” I as a former student of art history would like to ask what the hell “Classical Realism” is? Is it Renaissance? Mannerism? Baroque? It can’t be Roman or Greek classism, because no such paintings have survived through the wear and tear of history. All they are really doing is teaching kids a closed minded view of the art world that has nothing to do with the historical progress of art at all.

I have been able to draw and paint many extremely realistic images throughout my career, but chose today to try something different, something that is more myself in my art. It took me years to develop as a realistic artist and even more as an expressionist. Talent not only allows one to do what they love doing, but do what they are trying to do with a sense of ease. That takes practice and discipline, for me, for Nancy Kerrigan, for Jenny Saville, for Harry Connick Jr., etc… for about anyone who wants succeed at their craft. To leave you with a comment a former girlfriend made, “I’d give up everything just to paint realistically!”

I told her, “I did!”

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