The elements of abstraction

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Dear Artist,

Abstraction ranges from the meaningless abuse of paint to the most lofty and exciting of surfaces. Each effort can be a creative event — a vehicle for the mysteries of the subconscious mind and an opportunity to flirt with pure forms, symbols and metaphors. It’s an art of hiding and disclosing. More than simply playing with the materials, abstraction is a discovery of motifs that happen to be part of a painter’s personal legend. Personality counts.

Abstraction also holds the promise of dreams, fears, fetishes, fancies, intangibles and wills.

The wilful artist marches to his own drummer. As in the composing of music, in pure and practical terms, the resulting work will be the painter’s own composition.

Perhaps one of the best understandings came from Marc Chagall: “Abstraction is something which comes to life spontaneously through a gamut of contrasts, plastic as well as psychic, and pervades both the picture and the eye of the spectator with conceptions of new and unfamiliar elements.”

Abstract art has the power to show us something we may not have seen before. It implies both thought and no thought. Thriving on unconventional tools and a unique sort of energy, it’s also a collaboration of mind and spirit. As a form of wizardry and magic, an abstract may speak both to you and for you. More than anything, abstract art can be a conversation piece.

“Abstraction is an esoteric language,” said Eric Fischl. It is a language unique to the individual artist. In a way, it can be more unique than the similarly legitimate language of realistic work because no matter how realists pull Nature’s reality this way and that, they still have Nature’s reality, however nuanced. The more modern idea, however it may be seen by some as flawed, is to be the inventor, creator and patent holder of your own Nature.

Painter and art instructor David Leffel regularly asks his students a simple but profound question: “How do abstract artists know when they’re getting better?” The answer lies in whether the artist is able to express will. Artists without the ability to express will will never know.

Best regards,

Robert

PS: “Abstract art requires something of the viewer. It demands contemplation. Study. Flights of fancy. Feeling.” (Svante Rydberg)

Esoterica: An overview of some of the central ideas of abstraction (and realism with abstract qualities) can be found in The Creative Edge  by Mary Todd Beam. This North Light book presents a series of acrylic and watercolour exercises exploring processes, tools and the kind of creative techniques that are simply fun to do. Chapters include the uses of symbolism, tactility, Nature and the soul. Mary’s book is filled with play. Serious artists will gain from it.

 

Sure to get a reaction
by Angel F. Matamoros, WA, USA

 

Dunas Olvidadas acrylic and mixed media painting 20 x 16 inches by Angel F. Matamoros

“Dunas Olvidadas”
acrylic and mixed media
20 x 16 inches
by Angel F. Matamoros

The quality of abstract art that I find the most powerful is how it involves the viewer. It’s almost impossible to view abstract art passively. As beautiful and awe-inspiring as great realistic work can be, it has a hard time equaling the interactive experience of the abstract piece. Whether the impression is awe or disgust, a great abstract painting is sure to get a reaction.

 

 



There is 1 comment for Sure to get a reaction by Angel F. Matamoros

From: Mishcka — Apr 14, 2009

I like your painting. I had seen very little abstract art I liked. It was either simply decorative or a simplistic shortcut. But then I also thought realism rarely got beyond illustration and/or technical prowess. I’ve been a realist all my life until I saw an exhibition by Josh Goldberg, an abstract artist. It brought me to my knees it was so extraordinary. I started studying with him. I find it difficult but profound on those occasions I am successful.

 

Art for square heads?
by Edna Hildebrandt, Toronto, ON, Canada

 

I have avoided abstract art because I don’t seem to get inspired to do it. I don’t exactly know how to start. I once painted a piece that consisted of squares and circles that were interconnected in red, blue and yellow. I actually did it because my husband kept saying that Germans are square heads who are mechanically inclined and sometimes unbending in their convictions. I considered other people like myself more adaptable to any situation without giving up my convictions. Could that be abstraction?



There are 2 comments for Art for square heads? by Edna Hildebrandt

From: Manuel, Long Island, NY — Apr 14, 2009

Yes. that is abstraction. Perhaps you are more square headed than you think, tho, since you’ve avoided abstraction. Start anywhere you like, in any manner you like– at the start the possibilities are infinite– but after that first mark, the following marks are finite. Vastly numerous, but finite. After each mark, I have to make the decision of what comes next. This is the part I find thrilling. When working realistically, I don’t get that thrill of “what the heck comes next?” have fun.

From: Louise Weinberg — Apr 19, 2009

 

Looking in abstract terms
by Helena Tiainen, Berkeley, CA, USA

 

Centered original painting by Helena Tiainen

“Centered”
original painting
by Helena Tiainen

Everything can be looked at in abstract and symbolic terms. The more I draw and paint, the more I am aware of my desire to do this kind of “relative” thinking. I like to look at physical items in terms of color, tone and form. This is abstract thinking. And when it comes to color, tone and form, my mind looks for recognizable shapes. Just like the famous Rorschach Ink-blot test, my mind always looks for forms it can recognize in anything abstract. I cannot stop this process. It is the way my mind works. Colors create feelings in me. They resonate with emotions. But colors in form go further and my mind instantly looks for connections with recognizable physical forms. In my art I have sort of created an interplay with the way my mind likes to work naturally.

 

Let the process guide you
by Cindy Frostad, West Vancouver, BC, Canada

 

Old and new original painting by Cindy Frostad

“Old and new”
original painting
by Cindy Frostad

Thinking in the abstract creates a certain sense of isolation. However, doing something in the abstract has brought me a sense of belonging and a certain peace. Abstract art appeared as a collaboration of mind and spirit very early on in my art making. At first, I did not control it. It led me. I let it. It came out abstract naturally. Tendencies and similarities emerged. When I started paying attention to my thought processes, I realized these abstract works were not just coincidences. I was having intellectual discussions, something my soul craved, on canvas. This discovery came with impact and release. Thinking and painting in the abstract is my spirit’s place and way of communicating. The freedom of working in the abstract goes so far beyond limits that, for me the possibilities are incontrovertibly infinite. If abstraction is the essence of expression of the creative individual, surely it exists in each of us. I concur with Eric Fischl: “Be the holder of your own Nature. It is a joyful responsibility.”

 

A personal response
by Terry Rempel-Mroz, Ottawa, ON, Canada

 

Rictus acrylic painting 36 x 24 inches by Terry Rempel-Mroz

“Rictus”
acrylic painting 36 x 24 inches
by Terry Rempel-Mroz

The abstract artist lays open their soul on canvas, and if they’re good enough, opens a door into that of the viewer’s as well. The beauty of abstraction is that its meaning is so very personal. The artist’s cold black vista may be the viewer’s warm enveloping cocoon. Abstraction has the ability to uncover an emotional response from viewers so that two people standing side by side see completely different things.



There is 1 comment for A personal response by Terry Rempel-Mroz

From: Brigitte Nowak — Apr 15, 2009

Terrific comment, and gorgeous painting.

 

The scene within the artist
by Gwen Fox, Colorado Springs, CO, USA

 

Untitled original painting by Gwen Fox

Untitled
original painting by Gwen Fox

People either love abstract art, don’t understand abstract art ( “I could do that, why pay money for it?”), or they dismiss it as total rubbish. I have seen some works that should have been thrown under the bus. Abstract art comes from within the artist. Not having a subject matter in front of them means that the artist must pull from a hidden form to bring forth what their heart is trying to convey. Abstract artists tell their stories with shapes, color, edges, movement, and value — just like when one is painting a beautiful scene. The difference is, of course, there is no scene. The scene is within the artist. I often get asked, “How do I know when I am done?” You are done when the story is told.



There are 2 comments for The scene within the artist by Gwen Fox

From: Carol Jessen — Apr 14, 2009

I love this work! Great shapes and exciting color!

From: D Benjamin — Apr 14, 2009

There is a problem with Gwen’s two possibilities – don’t understand or dismiss it as rubbish. I love well-done abstract art and, yes, it is the viewer that must decide whether it is well done. The artist must remember that the viewer makes the decision and if the viewer cannot understand the artist’s intent, then the decision is usually negative. Clean flow and construction usually solves this problem.

 

Oh, what joy!
by Carol Beth Icard, Landrum, SC, USA

 

Tiber
 oil painting by Carol Beth Icard

“Tiber”
oil painting by
Carol Beth Icard

My need to express myself through color, line and form is made easier when I allow myself to get out of the way of judging, and let spontaneity lead me. I hold the brushes. I choose the initial colors, but I let each passage direct an ensuing exploration. At times I paint over and over and over until I feel inside that what appears satisfies some deeper part of me. Then, oh, what joy!

 

 

 

 

The expansion of ideas
by Beth Deuble, San Diego, CA, USA

 

Flight Simplified
 acrylic painting by Beth Deuble

“Flight Simplified”
acrylic painting by Beth Deuble

Indeed. I just wrote this thought in my journal this morning: “I am so over the struggle for money; I press on, but it’s a drag. I am still into my art and music (playing and listening) ; I am still happiest doing those things; I can ride along the melody line, the guitar riffs, the singers voice, and that gives me a sense of freedom — inner freedom; In painting, I do the same, riding the paint, the lines, the sweeping motions, the expansion of ideas into abstraction, without boundaries – freedom. I listen to Peter Green’s Albatross or Supernatural, or Bill Frisell on his jazz interpretations, like Baba Drame, and that’s all it takes — I am on my way.”

 

Define ‘plastic’
by Claudia Marie Person, Sacramento, CA, USA

 

This may be an odd question, but just what is meant by “plastic” in reference to art works and materials? What word was used in the arts for this quality prior to the existence of the word “plastic”? (Which I am assuming came into existence when plastic itself was first made.)

(RG note) Thanks, Claudia. The word “plastic” used to bother me too, but it was around long before the stuff they make kids toys out of. In our case it means those visual arts that use materials that can be molded, modulated or pushed around in some way, like paint, clay and plaster.

 

Take time to look
by Dennis Marshall, Paterson, NJ, USA

 

Contrary to what I was told I find that abstract art is far from “child’s play.” A well executed abstract painting has a deep sense of wonder contained within. As well, a really good abstract painting has ambiguity. I can always go back and with each viewing find something new. I found those qualities while viewing the exhibition of paintings by Sean Scully at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. His exhibition, Wall of Light, was very moving experience for me. What some people do not understand is that when viewing an exhibition of abstract art they need to take time for the paintings to reveal themselves.

Painting abstracts draws upon all of my skills in design and past painting experiences. When I was an undergraduate in college the class went to the Whitney Museum. Our professor stood before a Rothko mesmerized. While some of the students snickered at her behind her back I knew that there was a reason why, although at that time I could not understand it. Over the years I have come to understand why this professor, who is herself a superb abstract painter, stood before that Rothko deeply engaged. If anyone thinks that painting an abstract is about slopping paint on a canvas, they are in my opinion mistaken and misinformed. To paint an abstract is to go beyond where you have been. An artist can really get lost in painting abstracts. Painting this way challenges you differently than realistic painting. Painting in a realistic style there are always reference points to guide you. An artist can refer to the still life set-up, the model, the landscape or a sketch, but where, when painting an abstract, are those reference points?

 

Searching for the essence
by Vivian Kapusta, Maple Ridge, BC, Canada

 

Fire & Darkness original painting by Vivian Kapusta

“Fire & Darkness”
original painting
by Vivian Kapusta

My work is generally realistic and often incorporates landscapes. After ‘chasing the sun’ from east to west across Canada, I found images of the sun’s energy sitting in the back of my mind. An abstract idea requires an abstract work. I wanted to illustrate energy & fire exploding in darkness. I work in fabric. I did it as a sketch and as a small project. The final project is 33 x 30 inches. Each of the three steps took the idea further. The method uses two layers of fabric, sewn together in curved and horizontal lines. I then cut out sections. I am fascinated with the shift that happens when the logic portion of the mind is taken over by the intuitive areas of the mind. I’m not sure how long the cutting took; I worked across the fabric making decisions based on how the colour shift affected the next part. When I was finished, it was done! I was satisfied with the effect and didn’t go back in to cut again. I felt as if my intuitive mind knew more about the creative process than my logic mind. Abstraction to me? Searching for the essence!

 

Rejecting universal symbols
by Rick Rogers, St. Albert, AB, Canada

 

Nereid 2 original painting by Rick Rogers

“Nereid 2”
original painting by Rick Rogers

Personally, I enjoy trying to express my own will in abstract art. I particularly enjoy when a viewer is able to identify the feeling or concept that I am trying to express. So, I guess regarding my own art, I’d agree with your answer to David Leffel’s question.

However, there are many times when I really enjoy the work of an abstract artist, but my interpretation of that work is not consistent with the artist’s intention. Yet I can still believe that their work is improving in terms of expression. So, I’d suggest that because this kind of expression is so personal, it is unreasonable to measure improvement based solely on how clearly the artist’s will is expressed to others. An artist’s point of view may be “accurately” interpreted by only a small segment of the population for cultural, educational, familial, genetic, or occupational reasons, but still resonate with a much larger segment. I’d say that a focus on expressing will in abstract art might push artists to consciously leverage many of the same archetypes, symbols, colour associations, and so on. In the end we would more easily be able to interpret abstract art, at the expense of the work being less interesting.

 

Get real
by Elsa Bluethner, Sunshine Hills, BC, Canada

 

A12 - Crescent Beach Autumn
 oil painting by Elsa Bluethner

“A12 – Crescent Beach Autumn”
oil painting by Elsa Bluethner

Skill is required to do a good abstract painting. Splashing paint around, using tooth brushes, combs, rakes, straws, plastic bags, tin foil, salt, is an unskilled way of obtaining results and a complicated way of obtaining the same. Abstract paintings that employ these methods remind me of a Debbie Travis wall. I’m not knocking the decorative art thing, but I fail to see how “deep and meaningful” these processes are. Abstract art can and does convey powerful messages if thought out. Expecting the painting to lead you to a message seems a bit contrived. If an artist truly has something to say, then SAY IT! Splash paint around, but know where you are going with it. If the abstract artist’s purpose is to make an interesting eye catching piece with graphic soundness, gradations, opaques, solids to rest the eye and all of that, then please don’t put some profound title to the work. Call it Experiment #61927-12A because that’s really all it is.



There are 5 comments for Get real by Elsa Bluethner

From: Anonymous — Apr 14, 2009

You obviously don’t get it but that’s okay. Keep painting.

From: Grace Cowling — Apr 14, 2009

I suggest Elsa consider toothbrushs,combs, plastic wrap and salt can be just as much tools in the hand of a skilled artist as are brushes and pigment. The soul can speak through any material if the mind is willing to be adventursome.

From: Anonymous — Apr 14, 2009

While I disagree with Elsa concerning what tools an artist chooses to get the desired results, I would agree that abstract work, as well as objective, needs to begin with a “concept”. If a writer just puts words on a page with no idea of what he wants to say, the result is incomprehensible to the reader, as are a bunch of discordant notes for the musician…although these examples are readily apparent to the reader/listener. Not so it seems with visual art…we can mush paint around, title it and fool the viewer….some of the time. Even in abstraction, concept must rule for it to mean anything…it gives power and longevity to the work.

From: Anonymous — Apr 14, 2009
From: Laury Ravenstein — Apr 15, 2009

Having patiently spent the last 20 years trying to perfect my realistic works and succeeding to about the 90% perfection ( by my standards) and then suddenly finding within myself the magical method that was waiting and asking to be born for much of that time, I find myself in a transition period from realism to abstract. Painting realism allows the artist to follow the signal from outside their mind. We are able to use an image to “pull” the information from. Painting abstract asks the artist what is in their heart and gives no real clues what is the “right way” to portray something. One must go deep, and be in tune with themselves, to paint the next step. I had felt trapped by the limitation of realistic art and joyful when I finally let go of my prejudices and jumped wholeheartedly into a method that fit my mind perfectly. It took 20 years, but I am finally doing work that excites me completely, and I am without the weight of others judgement on my back. I use all my skills as an artist and my work is well designed and painted in a way that meets all my expectations for colour, value, line, movement, texture and form. Abstract art can be the door we move through to find higher purpose in our lives. The process has certainly open doors for me.

 

 

World of Art Featured artist Bob McMurray, Surrey, BC, Canada  

'Reignat, From a Ballon, Early by Bob McMurray, Surrey, BC, Canada

Reignat, From a Ballon, Early

oil painting 30 x 36 inches
Bob McMurray, Surrey, BC, Canada

You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.

That includes Nancy Pruden of Houston, TX, USA, who wrote, “I am trying to get mystery through simplification of shapes. Am I on the right track?”

And also Linda Murray who wrote, “Abstract art stems from the language of feeling rather than words. It comes from the deeper self, the soul, the source. If done well the viewer will recognize the language and respond to it on that deeper level.”

And also Peter Berger who wrote, “I agree with Al Capp for the most part, especially in current times. ‘Abstract art:is a product of the untalented sold by the unprincipled to the utterly bewildered.’ ”

And also oliver of TX, USA, who wrote, “Abstraction is an excuse to play with the tools and is the bridge between reality and chaos.”

(RG note) Thanks, Oliver. Almost all of the quotable zingers like yours are permanently entered into our Resource of Art Quotations. It’s the largest collection of art quotes anywhere.

And also Katherine Chang Liu who wrote, “One of the best books on Abstraction besides Mary’s book is Pictures of Nothing: Six Lectures by Kirk Varnedoe.”

And also John Burk of Timonium, MD, USA, who wrote, “This is the first clear and intelligent assessment of what an abstraction is that I’ve ever read. I still wouldn’t know how to begin one of my own, except to do as Turner did: start with a topic and a title then paint it so it’s barely recognizable.”

And also John Nolan submitted a quote by Wassily Kandinsky: “Of all the arts, abstract painting is the most difficult. It demands that you know how to draw well, that you have a heightened sensitivity for composition and for color, and that you be a true poet. This last is essential.”

And also Sherry Glanville of Winnipeg, MB, Canada, who wrote, “I am mainly interested in the process, particularly with the elements of color and texture. I often ask myself, ‘Is this something?'”

And also James Fancher of MI, USA, who wrote, “Do you know of any galleries that actually like crazy people? I mean, really. You know? I guess it’s my fault for always introducing myself whilst completely blotto. Where did I put those mushrooms anyhow?”
 

 

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for The elements of abstraction

 

 

From: Michael Dominguez — Apr 11, 2009

This one was a well crafted crescendo… to the v e r y l a s t sentence. Bravo!

From: Bob — Apr 11, 2009

The term ‘abstract ‘ is usually used to describe a painting which should actually be referred to as non-objective. Unless we paint in a style that is absolutely photo-realistic, then we are painting an abstract to some degree. Non-objective refers to an image that is not recognisable.

From: Daniela Ionesco — Apr 12, 2009

“The answer lies in whether the artist is able to express will. Artists without the ability to express will will never know.”

The question is wich kind of will is all about and I think there are more that one unswer, I don’t want to be shut by any other painter, I just do it my way.

From: Larry Moore — Apr 12, 2009

I always tell my students to think abstractly and paint realistically. Really, what is the main difference between abstraction and realism? Both utilize shape, line, mark making, texture, color, value and edge to move the eye throughout the canvas. Both rely on pattern vs rest, hard and soft, warm and cool, light against dark, rhythmic movements and the sheer beauty in paint itself to connect mind to viewer and viewer to his or her own response. I always get a kick about the rift between the two. The main difference is that one movement uses recognizable icons and the other uses more psychological elements in the process. Can’t we all just get along?

From: Asheley Elizabeth — Apr 12, 2009

I remember (years ago) beginning my B.F.A as a realistic portrait painter… after 4 years of playing snakes & ladders with outward vs. inward vision, I came out of the institutional wormhole as an abstract mixed media artist. :) :) :)

I think it was the ‘happy mistakes’ that broke through the mind barrier of ‘what is’ to ‘what could be’. Texture suddenly became metaphor and scale, once serious, became a playground. Abstract art is an invitation of abandon. It breathes a wider expanse of interpretations between the artist and viewer. Each interpretation becomes its own springboard of inspiration.

How does an abstract artist become better? When they put down their tools, surveying a piece finally finished… and already crave to create what is moving anew in front of their eyes. It is perpetually striving to attain into form the leading edge of who they are.

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Apr 12, 2009

Will I? Or won’t I? Being an abstractionist and a fiber artist from the get go- childhood- I learned that realistic art embroidery was too often described as cute- one of my 2 favorite 4-letter words- the other being nice. If something I’ve created gets described as cute or nice- I’ve failed. So for me- self-learning design basics and creating my own abstract language was really the only possible pathway. I have little interest in creating representational work. At 55- after climbing out of that black hole of depression over the years- my work IS the expression of my will. So yes- I will. And recently- it paid off handsomely- not so much monetarily- but by being juried into the Colorado Art Open presently hanging at the Foothills Art Center in Golden, Colorado. 529 artists entered- they picked 98- and only a very few are fiber artists. Out of the almost 1500 art works- jurors Michael Chavez (FAC Curator) and Christoph Heinrich (Denver Art Museum Curator of Contemporary Art) selected 104- including many of the ‘names’ here in Colorado. What must be understood is that entering juried shows is the pathway to exposure for some of us outsider artists with no gallery connections. Regardless- I win! With my completely unique abstract art.

From: Beverley — Apr 12, 2009

Is there a choice to make between creating abstract or realistic images? For me there’s not, I simply can’t do ‘real’ – it doesn’t come naturally, its like rolling a snowball uphill.

I’m a Textile/Mixed Media Artist, so perhaps more abstract in that I like to use paper and stitch, fibres in the broadest sense of the term.

I’ve been told a few times by those who prefer realism, that my work isn’t worth as much as theirs, I’ve not put as much effort into it, no comparison. It is true that the end result may appear simplistic or just a ‘pretty’ – but I can spend hours on research, investigating symbolic meanings of shapes, colours. For me it really is “a discovery of motifs that happen to be part of a painter’s personal legend.” I get on much better with my art work, now that I’ve stopped beating myself up because I naturally go to the abstract. If you want to see my work as just a pretty decoration or read into it deep and meaningful concepts, that’s fine, but ultimately it’s simple, I make the artwork I make, the way I see it, just the same as anyone else of any genre.

From: Heidi Hehn — Apr 12, 2009

I often have students say to me that I am doing something that another painter has said is “not the way it should be done.” I have little patience for other people who believe that their way is the only way and then impose their blinders on their students. That is completely inimical to creativity.

I have been painting full time for many years now. For me it is an exploration, an adventure, a discovery. As I evolve I develop my own ways of doing things that are often outside the experience of other painters. That is what makes it a discovery and that is why I keep on painting – to discover new ways of getting to a place or solving a problem. And when I teach I offer those new methods to others in the hope that my path will provide them with something that will open a door to a new adventure for them.

Great discoveries in science and exploration and the arts have always required a breaking of the rules.

I would enjoy hearing your opinion on the ‘rules’ of painting.

From: Russ Hogger — Apr 12, 2009

One of my favorite non-representational artists is Jack Bush. Whether viewing non-representational art or making it, I would say it is a bit like going on a mystery tour. You don’t know were you’re going so just enjoy the ride.

From: Susan Avishai — Apr 12, 2009

Having moved from tight realism to abstraction in the last few years, I have noticed three things: (1) viewers seem less afraid to respond, (2) I can’t seem to write a statement that makes any sense, and (3) I’m having truckloads more fun.

From: Rick Smith — Apr 12, 2009

I think you need to be abstracting something. It can be a figure or a thought or a feeling but to just make a piece for the sake of making it without it coming from somewhere, is an exercise in design.

From: Bruce Ulrich — Apr 13, 2009
From: Linda Saccoccio — Apr 13, 2009

I love the ‘thought no thought,’ because it implies so much. It speaks of the process of trust and letting go, which all good art has in it. It also speaks of many eastern spiritual beliefs. I walk that line of wizardry and magic, because it is so vivifying! It takes me along as I allow it to.

Regarding David Leffel’s question and the answer of ‘expressing will,” it is interesting but not enough. I think it is also about building a relationship with what we cannot see and what comes through visibly that we work and play with. We learn about the way we make marks and use color and how that affects us and the visual situation we create. So it is very much about a will and a drive to know and experience the nuances and find our own visual language for them, encouraging and following leads that arise and inspire the habit of painting. It’s a healthy habit that assists us in evolving !

From: Sally Martin — Apr 14, 2009

Bravo Larry Moore!! Thank you for the beautifully concise and clear explanation and comparison which bought some measure of clarity to my frazzled mind after reading all the previous responses. Phew!!

From: Carol Joy Shannon — Apr 14, 2009

Robert, your essay on “abstraction” has made my week. I am a self taught painter who works in this genre with some success (i.e., people buy my paintings!) The hardest thing for me is to answer the question, “What is the meaning of this?” or “Where did this come from?” Answering, “I have no idea!” — which is usually the truth — sounds cavalier and callous, as if the painting had no value, which is not at all how I see it. I often joke that “we’re putting our subconscious on display” and that seems to fit much of what you have said and others have commented. Thanks for making me feel much, much better about what I do!

From: Nancy Paris Pruden — Apr 14, 2009

I have also been exploring abstraction in landscapes and have sent examples of 2 paintings to illustrate this but guess they were lost. If I symplify every shape around the focal and just paint the focal with more detail the painting is stronger. Also I try to keep value shapes interesting but not too detailed the painting is stronger.

From: Jeanne Fosnot — Apr 14, 2009

I’ve been teaching painting for many years and I hit on a good way to prove that all good painting is, in essence, abstract. To prove it, I show slides off-focus of great artists (abstract as well as concrete) and have the students paint it…all start with “the bones” and elaborate on what they see there that is “real”; we compare and it’s hilarious to see what each has painted in response to the off focus structure of a Velasquez, Manet, Gauguin or Joan Mitchell! Fun.

From: Manuel, Long Island, NY — Apr 14, 2009

Absolutely– I was teaching a workshop to junior high schoolers and brought figurative and abstract work to show. they spent far more time “deciphering” the abstract work than the figurative.

From: Bill — Apr 14, 2009

One benefit that abstract artists have is that their works can never be critiqued as bad art – the response is that it is “not understood”. Bad realist work doesn’t have such escape as an option.

From: Tricia Earle — Apr 16, 2009
From: Mary — Apr 16, 2009

P.S. By the way, I sing your praises in my workshops and I always have. I give my students your website. They love it. Take care.

From: Beth Stafford — Apr 17, 2009

This is one of your best! I have always tried to tell my students that ALL art is “abstract”, since it is taken from something else, whether that is a bowl of fruit or inner vision. After reading the comments, I’m reassessing the tags “representational” and “non-representational”. Hmm…doesn’t any style of art “represent” something?

From: Jeanne Krabbendam — Apr 17, 2009

Good day, Robert!

I have a question that I would like to ask you since you have a lot of experience in the art world and meet many people who do:

I am a Vancouver based artist and I sold a large piece about 6 years ago to some one in West Vancouver. Last week I received an email from another person – also in West Vancouver – who said he owned that piece and because of financial needs wanted to sell it. He asked me if I knew of somebody who would like to buy it.

Today early morning he called me and asked the same question again. In the meantime I have tried and contacted some people who were interested in the piece years ago, but all of them weren’t able to purchase it at this moment.

Have you ever dealt with anything like this? And how do you think should I react? Does he mean I buy it back from him, you think? For how much though?

Could you please give me some advise?

Thank you so much Robert!!!

E: jeanne@axion.net

W: www.jeannekrabbendam.com

From: Amy Barker-Wilson — Apr 17, 2009

I don’t understand Bill’s comment that abstract art gets a special dispensation in critiquing. All art no matter the style or age is built around the universal elements of design, which we feel in our gut. . ‘does it work?’ applies to all art. Abstract art infact has ONLY this to go by as it loses the reference from external picture to use as a reference, making it in general more challenging. Most abstract artists I know have been good representational painters but wanted to go beyond the image, toward more interior processing. Sometimes I like to go back and forth between image and non-representation, but I assess both with same criteria.

From: Jodie – Sydney, Australia — Apr 22, 2009

We paint because we have an impulse to paint. We paint because the important thing is what it feels like to be painting when you are unaware of money or time or dinner. I paint anything I like abstractly or figuratively, whatever, it doesn’t matter because when I’m painting I’m experiencing joy and that will resonate with somebody somewhere.

 

 

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