Abstract art is the visual that goes beyond the representational. Abstract art does not depict accurate forms or reality, but relies on colours and their juxtaposition, form, line, shapes and marks to tell a story.
So, not limited by any representational form, abstract art should be easy, right? With no template or box to restrain your creativity, it can look like just about anything. No one can decide whether it is good or bad. Perception is in the eye of the artist, as much as the viewer.
Is any of this true? Can you create bad abstract art? I won’t get into the nitty gritty of the abstract work I like or dislike (I’ve strong views on the topic – covered before in my blog post Reading Too Much Into Malevich, but I’ve come to realise that it is very difficult to get abstract art right.
I say this because I’ve been experimenting on and off with abstract art for a few years, and I’ve studied some contemporary and some modern artists, refined my colour theory and tried various mediums. But I can’t ever get it right.
I’ll share some of my abstract failures in this post, so you can see what I mean.
In order for abstract art to work, it doesn’t have to look like anything in particular, but there are little rules and tricks that I believe makes a piece of art successful. A pleasing composition that draws the eye to a particular place or traces an invisible path through the painting. The rule of thirds. Colours that support and elevate one another. Proper use of mark-making for more than just mark-making’s sake. There may not be a story, but there should be a sense of coherency, movement, emotion.
But when you ditch the representational, where does it leave you? Having painted animals within skies and landscapes for so long, it’s difficult for me to let go of them and let background elements do all the talking. Are shapes alone powerful enough to tell the story I want to tell? Can a colour represent that moment accurately? Will all of this be lost on the viewer?
Developing your own artistic style is tough. Many of the best artists took decades to refine theirs, hit the high point of their stylistic journeys and then met tragedy, or moved from style to style gradually over their lives. But developing an abstract style is even tougher. Just look at the early works of Piet Mondrian or Joan Miró and see just how far removed their abstract works are from their origins.
Perhaps this is why my abstract art sucks. Perhaps I’m not yet comfortable enough in my artistic style to take such a great leap in the opposite direction. Or perhaps I’m so comfortable with it, that I’m not willing to change. I hit the same road blocks every time: the piece says nothing, looks like nothing. There’s no focal point, no direction for the eye. My typical compositions are pretty simple: an animal front and side, with landscape or sky behind. It’s simple but it works.
I’d much rather paint feathers and fur than make unknown marks. I’d rather have an animal, a landscape, an object to start from. I need a photographer’s eye for little details, interesting shapes in the frosty trees or a starling flock’s path across the sky. So my next challenge will be looking for these building blocks, these tiny fragments of beauty and attempting, yet again, to paint abstractly. I have a brand new little sketchbook which will be home to these explorations, and only these.
Maybe next time, abstract art won’t suck.
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