Thursday, October 24, 2013

Looking for the abstract

As you know I’ve been studying abstract art, and there’s a lot more abstract photography than I realized.  Alfred Steiglitz (1864-1946) was one of the first photographers to work on abstract ideas with his “Equivalent” series.  He wanted to use a camera in the same way that the painters in the 1920s were painting – aiming for a freedom of expression and a new world view.  He made about 200 Equivalent photographs in the late 20s and early 30s – some of the very first abstract photographs ever made.  Well, abstract photos made deliberately that is!!!  I’m sure that sometimes they photographed their fingers holding the lens as I know I’ve done – later puzzling over the giant pink things blotting out half a landscape – probably where Philip Guston got the idea for some of his iconic shapes!
Most of Steiglitz’ Equivalent photos were of clouds – just clouds, no landscape, nothing even to show which way up he was.  I’ve always loved lying on the ground looking up at the clouds moving…preferably of course with a nice warm breeze and the sound of the ocean in the distance!

Here’s an early quilt of mine: Scud which was about lying on the floor under the skylights watching the clouds – if you’d like to pop round for a cuppa tea, we can lie there together!  You have to pick just the right kind of clouds though..
 Steiglitz said about his cloud photographs:

 “I know exactly what I have photographed.  I know I have done something that has never been done…I also know that there is more of the really abstract in some “representation” than in most of the dead representations of the so-called abstract so fashionable now”.

A perspicacious, important and thoughtful observation, and one to mark well.  Sometimes the best abstracts are those that begin with looking at something that is already there but looking in a different way.  Look around you!  You’ll see abstract compositions everywhere! Enjoy them – some are fleeting like the clouds, others are well recognized like the patterns of bare branches in winter, others are subtle (shadows on a wall).  But look at what Warhol and  John Singer Sargent did with shadows!  Why do we, as quilters, tend to go for rather predictable grid patterns, or slapdash lumps of corblimey dyesplatter artfully arranged rather than looking around us for the abstract in real life?  Let us all seek to do something that has never been done!

Well that’s a nice high minded goal!  Think I deserve a great cuppa tea for that one! 
What do you think?  Are you looking for the abstract?  Or do you seek a closer representation of reality? Please comment.
And, if you have been, thanks for reading!  Elizabeth
PS It is with great sadness that I just read  that the painter Robert Genn who has inspired many of us twice weekly with his thoughtful newsletters has pancreatic cancer and has only a few months to live. His message to us all is: "For years I've been telling artists to do it now, not later". Thank you, Robert, for all you have given us over the years.


Gerrie said...

Food for thought. You might be interested in my friend, John's photo project for the year.
25' RADIUS refers to the size of my apartment. Each day of 2013 I am publishing a photo taken from within the confines of my abode in an effort to push myself to find inspiration in unexplored compositions and natural light.

The Idaho Beauty said...

Thanks for the link, Gerrie. I think I see a lot like the images he captured, yet I don't know what to do with them. I think I don't know how to make them interesting or worry that viewers won't find the shapes as mysterious or engaging as I do. There's abstract and then there's abstract done well. I feel challenged! Thanks, Elizabeth, for this thoughtful post and calling us out on our predictability.

The Idaho Beauty said...

And as I continue to look at Rendell's photographs, I realize composition is everything...

Jackie said...

I enjoy pushing an idea to degrees of abstraction; sometimes with color, sometimes stark simplification, it's always intriguing, always more to learn and to attempt. Thank you for the reminders!

Anonymous said...

Love this post!
I also read about Genn. So sad.
I love that he quoted Maya Angelou.

Maggi said...

Having just started experimenting with abstract in my textile work I have found that my better attempts come from reality and things that I care about. This post has certainly given me food for thought.

Elizabeth Barton said...

Thanks, Gerrie, for the link - some beautiful the teapot of course!
And yes, Idaho Beauty, I agree so much - anything can be done in a hohum manner, or beautifully - look how the Japanese traditionally treat the preparation of a nice cuppa tea!
and Jackie - the wonderful thing about life is that there is so much to learn!! and it's so important to love learning and share this love with our children and grandchildren.
To Anonymous - it is so sad about Robert Genn, I just looked it up and he's 77 - but one of our Supreme Court judges is older and she has made it through pancreatic Ca so maybe there will be a second chance for him.
wherever the inspiration for the abstraction comes from, the important thing is to make the piece full of beauty - I agree with Agnes Martin on that - it's all about beauty and no one could be more abstract than she!!

Anonymous said...

Steiglitz photos will be on display at Crystal Bridges Museum in Arkansas this month so now I Must go and see them!