Abstract art, by contrast, does not attempt to show things as they really are.
In realism the artist generally tried to portray things as realistically as they can; abstract art attempts a number of different things but what it does not do is aim at a realistic representation of some actual place or object. Abstract art can be about ideas, or feelings, expressions, mood. In effect pure abstraction is one end of a continuum and pure realism at the other, with most 2d art somewhere in the middle.
Attempting to paint things as they really are has a long history and was particularly popular in the mid 19th century. Realist painters wanted to make every day life and everyday scenes into Art. Previous to this the main focus of art had been on religious or mythological topics. Abstract art began to appear around the turn of the 19th/20th century with various movements being developed: Impressionism, Cubism, Fauvism – and many more, divisions and subdivisions!
|A Summer Day Long Ago|
You can take the same subject and paint it abstractly, realistically or somewhere in the middle: e.g. a landscape can be shown in as much detail as a photograph, or more impressionistically with the emphasis on the light and shade, or as abstractly as a simple grid using just the colors from the landscape. Agnes Martin’s grids have often been said to have been inspired by the Canadian prairies where she was born – or the New Mexico deserts where she moved after leaving New York. Interestingly, she herself always hotly denied this; she wanted her grids to be a picture of perfection, the abstract idea of perfection rather than a portrayal of something actual. And who knows what is true? I think we probably don’t even remember or have any idea of the power of our early visual memories.
The inspiration for abstract art can come from mood, emotions, observations, objects, geometry, patterns, details, even microscopic details – there are a myriad possibilities. Ideas can be developed from other artists’ work (a very common beginning point for artists ever since art began thousands and thousands of years ago), from nature, from the construction techniques themselves and these days, increasingly from computer manipulations! There are so many ways that can inspire us to create ever new arrangements of the basic elements.
I felt that I’ve always made some abstract work – when I added up how many of the 250 or so wall quilts or fiber collages (take your pick!) I considered that about 1/3 were purely abstract and another third significantly abstracted from my original sketch of a building or city or landscape. In reality, however everything I’ve done has been abstract. I’ve never once attempted a faithful realistic representation of anything – nature does that better, also an SLR camera !!
There are many regions of abstraction, though, into which I’ve never strayed and I think the task I’m going to set myself for the New Year, my second NY resolution after “Spend more time on Making Art!”, is to explore some of the possibilities for abstract fiber art that I havn’t yet attempted. I think it’s very important (unless one is a commercial decorative artist) to keep trying things you’ve not tried before, to be very adventurous in one’s art. In order to get into the better shows (the top handful of quilt shows and mixed media art shows) something different and venturesome is required. And I think that’s right – that’s what those shows are for. The other shows are for polished techniques and impeccable renderings of ideas we’ve seen before. I know for Quilt National this year I deliberately chose something strong and bold and a little out of the normal quilt range – and it paid off – or perhaps I was just lucky, who knows?!! But we do owe it to ourselves to not just keep reproducing the same thing, in many different colors, but instead to push forward, to be Bold.
And so with resolutions 1 and 2 in place, I shall go and make a nice cup of tea! Meanwhile, I’d love to hear what you have decided to do in your artistic life and what part abstraction might play in it. Also, d’you agree with me? Should we be bolder? Or is polishing better?
And, if you have been, thanks for reading! Elizabeth