Abstract Art – Where Are We Now?

If you’ve visited our exhibit of Rosanne Potter’s works you would have seen a good example of Abstract Art. Forms, brush strokes, and color are the hallmarks of this style of art.

We are all familiar with examples of this genre done by well known 20th century abstract artists Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian, and Marcel Duchamp. The Abstract Art movement of the 20th century had its beginnings in Romanticism, Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, and Expressionism. “Abstraction indicates a departure from reality in depiction of imagery in art. This departure from accurate representation can be only slight, or it can be partial, or it can be complete. Abstraction exists along a continuum. Even art that aims for verisimilitude of the highest degree can be said to be abstract. Much of the art of earlier cultures – signs and marks on pottery, textiles, and inscriptions and paintings on rock – were simple, geometric and linear forms that might have had a symbolic or decorative purpose. It is at this level of visual meaning that abstract art communicates. One can enjoy the beauty of Chinese calligraphy or Islamic calligraphy without being able to read it.” Wikipedia
For a comprehensive treatment of this era in art history visit wikipidia  

20th century abstract art followed trends that the well known painters initiated. Today the abstract art genre, like all art, presents the viewer with a confusing selection of variations in differing mediums. Elizabeth Baker, writing in the July/August issue of the Brooklyn Rail states in her essay “What’s New?”  “The profusion of art being made is daunting.” “Nowadays exhibitions of the latest thing attract enthusiastic crowds.” In our 3D quick moving world, abstract artists no longer see the canvas or pure sculpture as their primary means of expression. Multimedia works combining painting and other materials, large building wall murals, and other hard to describe pieces have taken center stage. Ms. Baker comments, “In the heyday of the modern period, new art unsettled people or even scared them. Those days are long gone.” “It requires repeated viewing and sustained attention to ascertain what is quirky, personal, and surprising; yet those qualities can still be found.” Oh, and you can even wear abstract art as this season’s fashion fabrics  and styles are showing.

To our reality centered world of iPhone photographs and HD TV, abstract art can be confusing. What on earth do all those blobs of color mean? Does the artist have a message to convey or is it all just randomness? Abstract sculptor Edward Tufte writes in his essay “See Now…Words Later”, “Abstract sculptors make objects that generate unique optical experiences in the real world.” “Our minds are quick to convert new optical experiences into familiar stories, favored viewpoints, comforting metaphors.” He goes on to advise, “In looking at abstract artworks, once words and story-telling starts, it’s hard to see anything else.” “ To see with fresh eyes and an open mind requires a deliberate, self-aware act by the observer. Abstract artworks represent themselves and should be first viewed for themselves.” This Peanuts cartoon says it all:

However, the process of creating a work of art has to start somewhere regardless of whether the artist is famous, or a hobbyist or 20th century or 21st century. As Rosanne Potter wrote in her artist statement “I start with a blank canvas and paint, without a plan and using whatever medium comes to hand from pastel chalks to watercolors, India inks to ecaustic waxes, acrylics to oils; I begin to lay color on and move paint around until something begins to emerge.”  A friend of mine, Theodora Tamborlane  who has been studying abstract painting and creating it for the last 6 years starts with ideas of what she wants to put on her canvases and how that will vary from painting to painting to create a “series”. My approach, and I’m just a “Saturday Painter” is that I see emotions as color. I take an emotional theme current in my life and select the colors to represent it, then just go wild on the canvas creating forms that “speak” to me.

So are our current trends in abstract art good or bad? No, they just are. More art is being produced then ever before in history. Artists don’t answer to patrons anymore and the great majority of artists don’t even care about the “market”. They just want get their ideas out on the medium of their choice. Will the current trends in abstract art survive a decade, a century? Only time will tell.
                                   “Painting with Words” – Leona M Seufert