There is a certain fear associated with abstract art when it comes to public perception and acceptance of the style. There is an understanding that appreciation of abstract paintings is reserved only for the select few; the eccentric “artistic type” who never pays the electric bill on time, the spoiled kid educated in a liberal arts college, or the one whose diet consists of sprouts and exotic teas. The rest of the mortals are destined to enjoying flower bouquets and respectable sunsets over the sofas and dining room tables of their sensible dwellings.
The public demands the familiar and the comprehensible. This is an apple and a lemon in a basket, a tree and a flowing creek. Nothing personal, nothing odd, or thought-provoking–merely a background noise to the visually cluttered world.
But what if a painting could reach inside the viewer and demand a response? What if it trespassed on the imagination and the suppressed emotions?
I recently sold one of my paintings to a collector in Virginia. I rarely know who buys my art. I trustingly release my paintings into the world, hoping that they will find safe havens for themselves. But this time I received a letter from the buyer who felt compelled to describe the impact of the painting he recently purchased.
“I just wanted to drop a line again and let you know how much my patients and I are enjoying your painting. I am a clinical psychologist. Your painting has become a spontaneous marvelous ink blot with people trying to see as many different things as possible in it. I’ve been impressed with the playfulness and creativity. Thank you again for this wonderful addition to my practice. It’s taken on more meaning than a painting on the wall.”
What a wonderful testimony to the power of abstract art. This is precisely where the beauty of abstract art lies. The color, the texture, and the form do not resemble anything the viewers are familiar with, but instead prompt the audience to create a meaning in their imagination. The responses to the same painting will be as varied as the individual internal worlds creating them.
Therefore the question of “understanding” of abstract art is pointless. It is not intellectual or objective. It is purely emotional, subjective, and personal.
Try a simple exercise today. Walk around your home or work place and consciously look at the artwork displayed on your walls. Does it elicit a response from you? Is it positive or negative? What element in it speaks to you the most? Is it the color, the texture, or the form (composition)? Does it stir your imagination? Does it effect your emotions? Why or why not?
©2008 Dosia McKay