Wednesday, 13 January 2010

In defense of Abstraction

I equate abstraction in art with rhythm and harmony in music.. words in music are much like realism in art for me. Words in music can convey human emotions and create pictures in the mind etc.. but the "words" depend absolutely on an underpinning of rhythm and harmony. Likewise realism in art can convey direct human emotion.. but this emotive quality in realism is dependant on an abstract visual composition of basic shapes and colour.

Is instrumental music somehow less than music with words ? I doubt many orchestral conductors would agree with you on that.
Is abstract art somehow less than realistic art.. not at all.

They are simply different.

The relationship between realism and abstraction is a fascinating historical one.. "realism" as we know it is a relatively recent phenomenon and arose in public consciousness after the Renaissance... with the emergence of engineering and the material sciences. IMO certain aspects of visual art practice somehow got mixed up with scientific thinking and practice..(probably due to the Royal Academy's) in the sense that accurate observation and description in art i.e. "Realism" became the artist equivalent of accuracy and precision of scientific experimentation. Its is not in my opinion co-incidence that the rise of realism has occurred at the same time as the rise of scientific thought and practice. Precision and accuracy of observation and delivers good science so the argument goes this must also be basically true in other areas of human activity... including art. This idea has certainly stuck in the public's mind in western cultures.. how many times have we heard someone equate accurate depiction with the quality of the art ?

But "abstraction" is not really concerned with accuracy or precision of depiction so abstraction in some quarters is somehow devalued in the same way that religion/spirituality has become devalued by the prevalence of our scientific based philosophy. As Darkest said at the start of this thread.. why do people "switch off to abstraction" ? I believe they "switch off" because of this basic taboo towards anything not quantifiable in culturally established scientific terms.

But artists have been using pattern, texture, colour, shapes and rhythm since time began.. every mark made by an artist is basically abstract.. a line or a splotch, a block of colour is basically abstract.. all art starts as abstraction.. abstraction is at the core of visual art. I think artists who are musical are more inclined to understand the true nature of abstraction as the building blocks of art... as rhythm, tempo and harmony are the building blocks of music. Here the comparison between music and art breaks down in a revealing way for me.. because there is (as far as I am aware) no similar comparison to the scientific method influencing music in recent centuries.. music in all its forms is still just music.. as art in all its forms should simply be the many varied and wonderful forms of visual art.

I have no problems with experimentation in art and visual perception.. I don't really like any artificial boundaries or restrictions.. that we ALL just do art will do for me.

But I do have more of a problem in this respect with contemporary conceptual art.. when Art deals less and less with the timeless basic constituents of visual art i.e. colour, shape, rhythm, pattern, texture.. and even accuracy.. for me it becomes less and less art. Its no surprise to me then that it has to rely more on context to be accepted as art at all.. place a bucket of rice with a light bulb in a field and its a bucket of rice with a light bulb in a field.. place a bucket of rice with a light bulb in a gallery and it becomes art. But I'm not sure that a devalued art.. is not ultimately devaluing the context.

I would never agree with the idea that art only exists in the gallery.

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