Run for the hills! It’s abstract art!

     When confronted with “non-traditional” art (abstraction, surrealism, non-objective art, etc.) some people are shocked and confused by it.  But we can learn to look at this art with appreciation.  Notice I did not say “with understanding.”  It’s not necessary to understand an art piece in order to appreciate and/or enjoy it.

     Definitions might help us understand a little more.  Abstract art, according to the North Light Dictionary of Art Terms, is “an art form in which the essence of a subject is stated in a brief or simplified manner, with emphasis on design and little or no attempt to represent forms or subject matter realistically.”  Surrealism “seeks to broaden reality by dealing with the subconscious, the result often taking on the form of fantasy, dreams, symbols or the grotesque.”  Non-objective art is “art arrived at without the influence of real or natural forms,” and its cousin nonrepresentational art is “art that does not represent real or natural things in any manner.”

     An artist is the sort of person who is excited by things they see, dream, or visualize.  Eventually, the artist will put these impressions into works of art, which are a form of communication.  In all good original art, whether it is realistic or abstract, the artist is saying, “This is how I feel.  I am sharing this feeling with you.” 

      One of the biggest things to overcome in appreciating and even enjoying “modern art” is the idea that all art must be realistic.  If you think about it, many widely accepted art forms of the past are not accurately based on nature.  For example, ancient Egyptian art depicts people walking around with their head and legs in profile and their shoulders and visible eye facing front.   Yet this is accepted by most of us, and ancient Egyptian art is enjoyed by many people.  The “modern art” of our time will also find its own place in history.  And new art forms will arise to shock and startle people.

     If we look at modern paintings and sculptures with an open mind, we can learn to enjoy them, and maybe even get some understanding of the artist’s message.  But people who approach modern art with a negative attitude will have a negative experience.

      One of those negative attitudes comes from a natural fear of the unknown and is usually expressed (either aloud or in thought) something like this:  “Abstract art is a waste of time!  This doesn’t make sense!  The artist must be crazy!” 

     Another negative reaction comes from the person who says, “My five-year-old kid could do better than this!”  This kind of comment shows misunderstanding of the artist’s aims.  Many artists who work in non-traditional styles are perfectly capable of making excellent realistic art.  The great non-traditional artist Picasso could draw and paint with absolute accuracy when he chose to.  However, modern artists aren’t always concerned with making a pretty, perfect picture.  They want to express their ideas in the way that feels best to them, even if it looks distorted or childlike.  In fact, the freedom, imagination, and symbolism of children’s art have inspired many artists, including Matisse and Picasso.

     If you look at the art of the 19th century — or even much of the art of today (for example, the work of Thomas Kincaid) — it is intended to be soothing rather than startling or thought-provoking.   Throughout history a huge amount of uninspired artwork has been produced with no aim other than to make a pretty decoration. Although this is not a bad thing, art has more to it than just being decorative.  Some artists want to make us think.   When artists create work that is shocking or startling, it is often a way of standing out from the crowd of images we see every day.

     Modern art is a natural result of democracy.  If we look at the “official” art of Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany (where all “advanced” art pieces were hidden or destroyed and replaced with bland “party” artwork) it’s easy to see that modern art is one of the results of political freedom.

     With that said, we don’t have to quietly accept every piece of modern art.  Like all other types of art, some of it is excellent and some of it is junk.  The decision is for each viewer to make.  But we can’t decide what is good and what is bad if we don’t at least look at each individual piece of artwork with an open mind and think about its message.  Some of the messages simply have to do with color, shape, line and texture.  Others say something about a situation or problem.  Or, the artist may be expressing an emotion — sorrow, joy, misery, excitement, or even humor.

     If we reject a piece of artwork without trying to understand it, we lose out on the chance to analyze, learn, and grow. 

By Kay Sluterbeck/AAPJ

Published by on December 2011. Filed under Paint Box Section. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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