Monday, March 12, 2012

Sticks, Stones, and other Compliments

     People often say to me, "I don't like abstract art, but I like your work." It's a compliment that both stings and soothes. A scar that never quite heals.

     While it is nice to be singled out and 'honoured' as a kind of token action painter or what-have-you; the one sole artist who can gain favour in the discerning eyes of those who would so easily cast aside all others in the genre.

'Laughing at the Cosmic Joke'
48 x 36 acrylic on wood
        Seriously, I'd rather see the appreciation spread around, even if it means more thinly. To be lauded (and highly paid) by those who fluently speak the language of pure form and texture is indeed my ambition, but I have another goal: to woo the poo-pooers!

     One person I know explained his anti-abstract position with the notion that he requires proof or at least "evidence of tallent". He considered the ability to replicate in paint what one sees with one's eye (or mind's eye) as such.
     And it is.

     What he is ignoring are all sorts of other ways in which one can demonstrate a mastery in painting. Many of the formal concerns can be applied to non-representational art as well, such as:

  • Compostion - is it pleasing, ballanced, does it lead the eye through, around or into the picture plane?
  • Colour - do the colour harmonize, vibrate, blend or compliment each other in a pleasing fashion?
  • Complexity - is there eough interest to engage the viewer?
  • Simplicity - has the artist used restraint and acheived a degree of elegance which can be felt by the viewer?
     These are just a few of the formal concerns which should be addressed skillfully by both abstract painters and representational ones. Perhaps they are all the more crucial for abstract work because one cannot be distracted by the denotation of objects, where there is none.

     It is strange to me that people seem so much more willing to appreciate abstraction in other forms. Music is pure abstraction, although sometimes accompanied by poetry in the form of lyrics. Likewise dance.

     Of course, there is good and bad abstract art in the world, but the same can be said for paintings of things. It may be easier to discern in the latter, but with minimal effort, one can appreciate it in the former.

     A great representationalist "speaks" eloquently in paint. S/He uses a repetoire of well crafted symbols with which s/he composes picture stories. S/He evokes a tangible (sometimes imaginary) world.

A great abstract painter "dances" with the paint, relating intimately with its qualities on a chromatic - even chemical level. This is not always done conciously, but sometimes through inuition and experimentation. After a few years or so, the artist gains mastery over the medium and can create wonderful elemental-esque forms never seen or even conceived of before.

If all goes well.

It's like Jazz, and as Tony Bennett said in praise of the late Amy Winehouse, "You either got it or you don't."

It's also like meditation - for both the creator and the observer. Abstract painting is like a meditation on the paint itself, it's colour, the feelings that certain mixtures and blendings produce. And the force and profundity and complexity of those feelings are a testament to the skill of the painter.