Art News & Views

Between Ambivalence and Criticism: Why Abstraction?

"The more frightening the world becomes ... the more art becomes abstract."Wassily Kandinsky

Abstract art, or art that does directly depict things of a familiar reality, is often decried as a lesser form of the art. This art form is often seen as, at best, an esoteric activity for a few die-hards, and at worst, it is considered extremely elitist. The general public, who are attached to movies, television, and computers, barely see abstract art as having anything relevant to say. The only question left is whether there is any audience at all for painting, and if there is, how to preserve it. As people who are immersed in an image of art-soaked culture, we should take a valued interest in understanding the importance of all art forms in our society. Although it is not commonly understood, abstract painting, focusing on its own flat reality based on colour, surface, shape, mistakes, and changes, is a valuable art form which should be appreciated and created even when perhaps there are seemingly many more visually powerful media possible.

First, it is crucial to understand that abstract painting is not meant to be anything, that it must be understood as self referential. All you are meant to understand from the painting comes by looking at it and appreciating the colours, the forms, and the intricacy. According to New York dealer Kimberly Venardos, as quoted in another edition of Art and Antiques, 2006, “Sometimes it's just a mood that a work generates and which captivates a viewer. Although many abstract artists do refer to forms from nature in the colours, shapes or patterns they employ, I let clients know this art is wide open to interpretation.”

Though the galleries and the art market have sporadically recognised and celebrated working in the gharana of abstraction, history (s) of modern and contemporary art have largely neglected these artists. Maybe that is because much of the art has been introspective and poetic, largely choosing to ignore discourses around nation, history or progress. Abstract art is more personal than figurative. It means something to the artist who created it because the image appeals to him in some way, but the viewer does not have this personal relationship to the work. The viewer is often left clueless to the entire project. To have a good appreciation of the artwork the viewer needs to have some idea of what the artist was trying to do. A totally abstract work of art provides little lead as to what the artist was thinking. It does not make it easy for us to know what its meaning was for its creator. By contrast, representational art deals in familiar shapes, which evoke familiar responses in each viewer. Yet, by moving away from representation, the art engages directly with our senses...choosing to evoke rather than to communicate. We live in an era of spectacular images, sounds, lights...we are all making a culture where speed overtakes slower and softer approaches to life. Maybe that is why over the years abstraction is getting obliterated from our visual culture, both inside the gallery and outside it. Through its position in our present cultural landscape, abstraction has come to occupy a space which is rather a quiet antithesis to our culture's reliance on things and fast-paced images, and should be seen as a place for the eye to finally come to rest.

The world we live in today has a very high level of visual saturation. There is a certain violence of images that dominate the contemporary urban visual culture. Generating desire, rage, lust and anxieties, such images not only reflect the post capitalist world of confusion and never- ending generation of desires, but also in a certain sense fuels them. It is at this juncture that one needs to seek islands of rest and meditation. The practice of making and viewing abstraction has the potential to take us beyond the cultural materiality bombarding us through a breathless onrush of images.

At a time when we have grown used to the 'easy' and 'understandable', a crucial element for understanding and appreciating abstract art is to remember that abstract painting is not a story. Our world is relentlessly cluttered with television soaps, advertisements, novels, movies, and virtual-reality games. Picking up on that aspect of our culture, many representational painters have inserted stories, or “narratives,” into their paintings. According to the National Post in 20071, “[Their aesthetic] is informed by a global awareness, the Internet, travel. Abstract art can transcend borders and religion….” But abstract painting resists narration and presents itself all at once, as a whole or an oneness that cannot, and never will, tell a story. Abstract painting is very un-camera-like, un-computer-like in nature. The camera is so powerful that many people have reached the point where they can see the world only photographically or cinematically. Abstract painting offers us a slower alternative to the instant capture culture.


By Rahul Bhattacharya   





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art etc. news & views is a monthly magazine published from India in order to promote art and culture. It intends to raise awareness about art all around India and the world. The magazine covers art exhibitions, auction highlights, market trends, art happenings besides Antique, Collectibles, Fashion, Jewellery, Vintage, Furniture, Film, Music and Culture.