The elements of abstraction
by Robert Genn April 10, 2009 Dear Rodney, 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.