Saturday, February 6, 2016

268: Realist vs. Abstract

RECENTLY a friend and fellow artist told me about a new website and movement called In the United States the level of political discourse has eroded to the point where meaningful conversation is almost impossible. This new organization attempts to solve that debilitating problem. Unfortunately divisiveness is not isolated to the topic of politics.

It might be Internet culture, a phase we're going through made worse by anonymous internet communication. But for one reason or another when we communicate there is now more division and less harmony. In the arts it seems the division between abstraction and realism is as wide as ever. I see no need for such disharmony.

A friend and fellow artist and I visited a museum in Dallas, Texas. He was an ardent anti-abstractionist and when we entered the abstract section he pointed out the inhumanity of many of the paintings. One of the paintings was a large, black square that looked like a layer of asphalt had been laid over a female form. My response was that, in addition to inducing a general negative emotion, it was also anti-woman. I directed attention to other paintings that had no negative agenda.  My point was that although some of the paintings were repellently negative that did not mean that all the paintings were of a negative nature. Even in a gallery curated by a small number of people there was no evidence that all abstract painters ascribe to a single world view.

He countered that all nonrepresentational art was a hoax. But as I thought about the difference between a splash of paint on a canvas that didn't look like anything to a splash of paint on a canvas that looked like a tree I concluded that if one was a hoax then both were a hoax.

I was in Scottsdale on another visit when it occurred to me that I didn't like about 80% of the art in the galleries regardless of whether the art was abstract or realist. Both genres could be expressed in ways I did not like.

What does this tell us? We learn that abstraction can be a means of expressing a philosophical opinion. This should bother no one, it is just one potential facet of the genre. We should not expect to like such a work if we disagree with the philosophical idea being expressed. Abstraction can express philosophical ideas but it does not mean that all abstract art is philosophical.

We also learn that realist art and abstract art can both be done poorly and we have a right to reject art that does not meet our personal criteria. We should not use the bad art of a genre to condemn the good. 

— To be continued


  1. Hi Brad:

    I can appreciate both. I'm not really a fan of realism at all, and abstract can be taken too far to the point where it is no longer ART, IMHO.

    I intentionally do not put any meanings into my paintings. No philosophy. No politics. No hidden messages. I simply try to create enjoyable paintings that uplift.

    It would be EASY to be contrarian and offensive in painting. Happens all the time. While I love a good political or socio-economic debate, I don't want that in my art.

    The thing is, if that's your thing...making statements...go ahead. That is anyone's right, just as mine is NOT to.

    One thing I am passionate about is that I think many forms of art are getting sloppy. Plein air for sure. Where's the study, the design, the intention, the planning? There are very few who do that when doing plein air.

    Same can be said about writing. There's a lot of slop going on. Just read MSNBC, Fox, or even Washington Post or NY Times. Or look at photography, too.

    So much of our culture today is focused on fast and cheap (emphasis on the latter). The days of studying and building mastery are gone. The days of "deserving fame" without study, without practice, without failure through the journey, are the norm. Look at the Voice or AGT.

    (Frankly, I was one of the fans of the way in which Simon Cowell was brutally honest to the cheaters, to the snake oil entertainers, to the untalented, unstudied, and ill-equipped. "But I know I'm just as good as Michael Jackson...!" Sheesh. )

    There are things I do enjoy controversy and opinion in: Graphic Novels. Reading the Watchman or V for Vendetta. Now there is a great work of art with a platform in which you can adequately communicate with. A single painting is very hard to do, though possible.

    The thing is, at the end of it all, I'm not a fan of labels or being put in a box. We are not red. We are not blue. WE don't all just like chocolate, or hate vanilla. As human beings, we all are made uniquely with unique and complicated beliefs.

    It sounds as if the conversation you had was an interesting one, IMHO. I don't see any evidences of name calling or slinging insults. Just point/counter-point in a conversation.

    Wouldn't AMerica be great again if we just did that? You say something. I listen. I consider. I offer a different view. You listen. You consider.

    What a world must be like if we had that maturity?

    1. I agree, Bob. I think we're in a current phase where mediocrity is being rewarded. Part of this is because of the Internet. When there is too much choice to be made our ability to discriminate is disabled. I think we will grow out of it. Partly because people will get sick of mediocrity. There really is no reason to pursue an art form in the absence of real growth. I think people will get that eventually.

      The pendulum will swing back again. And I Think we will have learned a lot, both aesthetically and politically.

      I like your thinking. Thanks for taking the time to share your ideas.


Thanks for your comments!


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