Abstraction or I just don’t get it

“Every image is man-made and every image embodies a way of seeing. The photographer’s way of seeing is reflected in the choice of subject. The painter’s way of seeing is reconstituted by the marks he makes on the canvas or paper. Our perception or appreciation of an image also depends on our own way of seeing.” p. 10

John Berger Ways of Seeing, Penguin Books, 1972

In my last post I noted that through my art classes I discovered a completely surprising love of abstract art. Prior to taking a class in abstract painting, I can honestly say I had zero appreciation for it. I would quickly walk by abstract pieces in galleries in favour of more representational works. Then the class I was supposed to take was cancelled and I decided on a whim to take abstract painting. I would not say I was a natural. I struggled with trying to abstract imagery, the type A part of my being was not happy with this departure. Then came the class where we painted to music, and that was the “aha!” moment. Getting away from images altogether and just feeling the music and putting brush to canvas to try to capture it. I also felt freed from trying to represent what I saw in front of me. I was much more willing to experiment and risk wrecking my work when there was no image there to hold me back. For me, the challenge of abstraction is to take an idea or a feeling and try to translate it into a visual, a visual with no physical representation.

I understand when people look at an abstract piece and say “I don’t get it”. Sometimes I’m not sure we’re always supposed to get it. I find it interesting that when people view an abstract piece, they try to find something representational in it – a snake, a face, a shoe… anything. I will admit when I am working on a piece I can see those things too, and then I work hard to make them go away!  I also try not to seek out images, as once you see them, they cannot be unseen, and I find it hard to see the piece as a whole after that.

So what do I think about when I look at a piece of abstract art? How does the piece of art make me feel? Does it draw me in? Why or why not? Is it the subject matter, the colour, the lines, how it is positioned in the space, etc? What is the title? What was the artist thinking? I look at colour. What colours were chosen and do I like them? Am I supposed to like them? I look at shadow and light (I love strong light and shadow).  I think about where my eyes go first, and how they move through the art piece.  Are they getting stuck in a particular area? Why? I get in close to see details that I might not otherwise see, and I move way back to see it as a whole.

Everyone has their own way of seeing things, influenced by all of their experiences. In the end after I have looked at an abstract piece I may love it or I may hate it, and maybe I still won’t get it, and that is ok. I think the point of art is not to love everything you see, but to look at it all. With that time taken, you discover you own way of seeing.

Image: ©Deann Stein Hasinoff Force of mind 2014
Digital drawing

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