On Abstract Art . . .

I was listening to the radio when I caught this: Apparently a cleaning person at a gallery accidentally caused an estimated 1.3 million dollars of damage to one of the abstract pieces of art. The structure consisted of some kind of a basin which had liquid dripping into it from an upper portion, and the conscientious woman felt the basin looked dirty and gave it a good scrub, then tackled the rustic boards at the top part of the display. I wonder if she called a plumber about the drip. Obviously, she was mortified when she found out what she’d done, and apologized profusely. She explained that she’d just had no idea it was art.

I remember reading a similar story a few years ago. In this situation, the janitor said he thought he was just sweeping up some of the “garbage” that the gallery patrons had left behind. The artist, if I’m remembering right, shrugged off the incident and even seemed to find it humorous. Maybe he didn’t think it would be that much of a problem to come up with another million dollar (or so) piece.                                                                                                         A PICASSO                     

Now I need to word this next part carefully because I don’t want to give the impression that I’m not an advocate of originality. That wouldn’t be true. I consider originality intrinsic to art and the very essence of art in any field. Back when I still agreed to judge writing contests, freshness was one of the first things I looked for. I’ve also learned from experience that some pieces of work can take study and analysis to be appreciated. In my major, there were poems I didn’t “get” when I first read them that are now some of my favorites. In connection with that, I readily acknowledge that although I’m somewhat familiar with art and art history, I’m not nearly as sophisticated when it comes to the abstract or modern art portion of it. I haven’t taken the time to study some of the acclaimed Pablo Picasso’s works, for instance. Consequently, I react to some of his paintings like my grandchildren probably would, and think,  “That’s not a very good picture.”

And even though I am aware that sometimes some of the most beautiful works are the most simple, I also tend to be less impressed with paintings or pieces that seem like something I could do. When I went to an art show not too long ago, there were some amazing paintings that showed great talent and effort. But one award-winner consisted of three thick stripes. I studied those stripes for quite a while trying to figure out what I was missing. Then I found myself remembering a documentary called My Kid Could Paint That, and for a wicked second or two wondered whether the artist’s  four or five-year-old had painted these stripes. Was this a joke? A test? How could we know for sure?

So here’s my concern: Because originality is so esteemed in the art world, (and rightfully so) do judges and critics sometimes feel almost obliged to give merit to the most unusual and unorthodox and even in some cases the most bizarre and weird for that reason and that reason alone? A talented landscape artist lamented that “they” (I’m thinking she meant her art teachers) always instruct new and talented artists to enter a few contests before they try to sell their work, in order to better their reputations and become known in the art world. “But then,” she went on, “I see the pieces that end up winning these big shows and they’re the craziest and grossest entries.”  She mentioned excrement in plexiglas and a half cow.

You’ve probably guessed by now that I’m more a fan of realistic art. My daughter (who’s taken upper level art classes ) and I have gone the rounds about this. “If someone  just paints a scene or an object exactly the way it is, he might as well just snap a picture of it,” she’s let me know. I understand what she is saying. On the other hand, a photograph can become a work of art through the choices the artist makes in subject matter, balance, lighting etc. Rembrandt, who painted portraits so breathtakingly real that the subjects look as if they can step right out of their frames, made artistic choices that weren’t always popular with his patrons. After he painted the powerful (and huge) Night Watch, some of his sponsors who appeared in less than prominent positions in this painting, were upset. Rembrandt could have made these patrons much happier (and been a richer man) if he’d just painted them across the canvas in a nice straight row, equally illuminated. But he was an artist, not a businessman.

"Night Watch"

Still, 1.3 million? It would be tempting to do some reevaluating for that amount. We remodeled our kitchen not too long ago and I think our old sink is still in the garage. I could add a couple of bricks and throw in some of my husband’s plumbing or electrical stuff. He’d never miss it. I think I could even find a dead bird or something. Seriously, I may be catching the vision.

………………………………………….NIGHT WATCH

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One thought on “On Abstract Art . . .

  1. Hi Anya,
    I think your point about celebrating originality is interesting and I agree on a certain level. I’m consistently disappointed by the kinds of things many people make at my school. For a lot of people, art school is a place where it is easy to get away with making shocking statements. But I’m amazed at how unoriginal most of the statements people are making are. I’ve seen so many disgusting and blatantly offensive drawings, paintings, photographs, films, and prints in critiques that the artist has very little or nothing to say about. That is not art to me. Art is supposed to provoke the viewer to expand their mind by considering a new idea, or an exciting re-examination of an old idea. Pornography is not a new idea. If you have nothing to say about making such a bold statement with your work, then get lost. To be honest, very rarely am I stricken with so much excitement over the conceptual background of a piece of work from the fine arts departments at my school that I would want it purely for that reason. In my opinion, art is the conceptual background (the design, the message, the idea) and craft is the physical and visual skill that goes into creating something beautiful and can enhance the power of communicating that message. I have a lot of respect for many pieces of abstract art after I have had time to study them and how they make me feel, and learn about the ideas that come behind them. But while there are many beautiful pieces, there is some abstract work that I don’t enjoy because I don’t appreciate the craft. That story about the woman ruining that piece in the gallery, I think is ridiculous. Paying that kind of money for really anything is stupid to me. I don’t get very attached to my work because I constantly want to make something better. If something of mine got destroyed I’d get over it pretty much immediately because I enjoyed the process and don’t want to get stuck in any one place with the way I’m working. That’s just kind of how I am, though. Anyway, thanks for asking me to read this, it was very interesting.

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