Friday, December 28, 2012

considering Abstraction in 2013

Ambivalence 1
  Representational art is art that involves some representation of the real world.
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.

Fall Study
 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 !!

Forcefield 2
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


Deb Lacativa said...

timely, timely!

I've been working in the fully abstract realm for a long time but I'm working a new angle with a B&W series. Taking color out of the design equation posed new and interesting problems.

Olga Norris said...

I think that we should constantly polish our thinking - and that certainly we should boldly keep pushing into the as yet unknown. Even if that apparently looks like a move sideways, or even backwards.

I too am trying to push out of a kind of comfort zone, but am as yet unsure where this will go.

I look forward to seeing how your work develops in 2013.

Terry Grant said...

Bolder! I am trying to unpolish, trying to slide down the continuum more in the abstract direction with a looser, free-er approach. Your class this fall was inspiring, but the inspiration is taking me someplace different from what I expected!

Elizabeth Barton said...

Hi Terry! I'm glad you're open to trying new ideas, going new places..and I do hope they work out for you!
I'm hoping to be bold myself! Not necessarily bold work, so much as a bold approach, take more risks, have a more definite point of view.
good luck!

Liz said...

Why choose? Why not do both? Sometimes you innovate, sometimes you refine. I've found new ideas yield rougher results and further explorations of the idea allow for refinement. It's all good.

PJ said...

I am currently struggling with the idea of abstraction. I have a past experience that I need to get out of me and somewhere else and it is a feeling not something that can be done representational. I don't know how to do this yet but I am studying what I can and following your current pathway.

Pam in Oregon