Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What is the skill required for making abstract art?

People put down abstract art on the basis that there is no skill required. It is commonly believed that it necessarily requires skill to make representational art, but that it does not necessarily require skill to make abstract art. It is also commonly assumed that an abstract painter cannot necessarily paint representationally, but that a representational painter can always paint abstractly if he/she wants to. This, again, is the assumption that there is no skill involved in abstract art making, or that the skill involved is something of a subset of representational skills.

We know that there is skill to representational art, because we usually can't produce it until we have spent time and energy "learning how to" make it. The proof is easy to see. Our initial efforts are far less representational than our later efforts. The improvement is due to learning skills. The main skill is  the heightened awareness of the visual world. We learn what to look for. This heightened awareness is gained in unison with the actual act of drawing, and so our ability to see and our ability to render are really just two aspects of the same heightened awareness of the visual world.

So we see that there is skill and learning involved. One could argue that there is skill involved in making representational images, but that representational "art" is quite another matter. But for the moment we'll assume that a competently made representational image is art, and that the competence of the image is based on it's correspondence to something we can look at in the world.

With (non-objective) abstract art, there is no referent to the outside world in the artwork, no illusion of normal reality. Instead, it seems to be simply mark-making, with no way to assess from the image, whether those marks are correct. With abstact art, the correctness of the marks isn't based on external reality, but on the internal reality of the artist. Representational art is extrospective, whereas abstract art is introspective. But, being introspective, we have the seemingly impossible task of corresponding the image to the internal state of the mind from which it was born.

If a tree falls in the woods, does it make a sound. That is the conundrum of abstract art. Whether the tree makes a sound or not is based upon how we verify sounds having been made in the world. If sound requires a human to hear it, then the tree made no sound. However, if we consider that sound is the product of vibrations carried through the air, and we infer that a tree falling in the woods would certainly have to create such vibrations, then we can know that the tree would make a sound... that it DID make a sound.

The same logic applies to non objective abstract art. If we define "art" as being able to verify the image in reference to reality, then non objective abstract art is not art at all. However, if we realize that mark making can be made in a mindful, introspective manner, then we can see that it is art.

Anyone can throw paint at a canvas and insist that they are an artist working in the manner of jackson pollock. And a canvas produced this way might not be difficult to debunk visually. However, whether or not it is art is not based upon our ability to verify it, but the process of working that went into it. The random paint slinger did not employ a mindful approach, and therefore did not engage in an artistic process. Hence, the work is not art. If the artist worked earnestly and honestly in making the image, it is art... and the process he employed is an artistic process. This artistic process is a certain activity of mind which, like any activity of mind, has a certain nature, and probably is not something that everyone can necessarily do. I see it as primarily introspective... a way of relating imagery to the mind, often in a very fleeting way. This is certainly not a perspective that everyone shares equally.

No comments:

Post a Comment