Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The motives of an abstract artist

I heard the statement below uttered once amongst a forum of artists that truly shocked me....

"Art started as a history, a way to record the past! not, Ohhh! look at what the poor, depressed artist splattered on the canvas, then came up with an explanation for!"

Unfortunately, I believe this to be a sad social commentary on the general atmosphere that seems to surround the abstract artist.

It is true that there are artists who embrace abstraction purely for its markettability...but their dollar driven choices do not speak for all who choose to express themselves through abstraction, just as I do not expect a predominantly realist artist to even begin to attempt to speak for my motives as a painter of the abstract.

The sort of archaic way of thinking quoted above is the same sort of thinking that led the Impressionists of the 19th century to break away from the academically realist French Salon and create their own venue in which to be seen and hopefully, finally be taken seriously as creative forces with ideas and messages to convey - no less important than their realist counterparts. From this spark ignited an art for art sake revolution, leading us through Pollacks overly analyzed drip paintings at its height. Just why is it so incredible that more than one person might find paint splattered onto a canvas purely about the medium with which it was created fascinating in an early 20th century America and beyond? Is it more incredible that people would continue to piggyback off of an idea, be it splatter paintings, clothing styles - or if we really get philosophical - just about any idea or advance in an infinately evolving society? Furthermore, would it really be so amazing to consider the possibility that when an artist like Pollack has an explanation for his work, he might not be speaking out of his ass?

Could it be that when Joseph Albers painted his "Homage to the Square" series of minimalist, smooth, precise blocks of color, he really did want to "proclaim color autonomy as a means of plastic organization"? Or is it truly so incredulous to wrap ones mind around the thought that Albers had a vision and wished to convey it through large colored squares reminiscient of giant post it notes?

What about Chris Ofili's contemporary works, utilizing elephant dung? Is it outrageous to think that his fecal smeared portrayal of the Virgin Mary was a sarcastic commentary rather than an elaborately composed creation made to shock and dismay, lacking substance and meaning? What about the possibility that Ofili's driving force as exhibited through his use of elephant dung, racist symbolizm, pop icons, and the typical African American stereotype, is really meant to denounce the black stereotype in society? Or could it be possible that he looks to celebrate cultural differences through sarcastic and ironic works, all perpetuated by a Nigerian born artist living in a predominantly white UK? If we know the background of some of the choices made, does it change anything?

I am not laying these questions all out to confuse but to consider - I have my own thoughts and individual answers for each inquiry. Generalizing based on assumption or ignorance is a crime committed throughout time for when faced with confusion we as a species like to fit it into a little box and set it aside, rarely taking the time to open the box back up and consider the possibilities within. And I suspect as technology advances and life gets easier, even automated, the box will fill more and more with elements of life we believe to be trivial and too time consuming to understand. I believe that is where the abstract artist shines the brightest as we have the unique opportunity to unlock the box and create work based on our understanding of the elements long forgotten. It is through this constant sifting, creating, and presenting to the public a new perspective that we hand the keys to the box over to the viewer, even if it is just for a minute or two....