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Saturday, October 22, 2016

A Comment on a Comment

Way back on January 12, 2011, I posted one of the most popular (in terms of readership) items I've ever composed. I titled it, "The First Abstract Painting." It has long been in the top twenty. Today I received a lengthy comment on the subject from a reader, Ricardo Carbajal Moss. I began writing back an even more lengthy response at which time I began to realize the topic he wanted to discuss needed a broader stage from which to speak. For that reason, I'm presenting here, first of all, the original post in its entirety, then his comment, and finally my comment on his comment.

The First Abstract Painting

First Abstract Watercolor, 1910, Wassily Kandinsky
Russian born artist, Wassily Kandinsky, painted what he blithely named First Abstract Watercolor in Munich, Germany, in 1910. The title is apt. Only after a deliberate struggle with your imagination can you visualize any recognizable subject matter, which is just as Kandinsky intended. There is a kind of colorful swirl of activity of reds, pail blues, blacks, and yellows indicating some kind of maelstrom of activity in which any suggestion of external subject matter seems totally accidental. The painting had largely the same impact in the eastern European art community as Picasso's (non abstract) Cubistic Les Demoiselles de Avignon did during roughly same time in Paris. Only the differences in size and media would account for any differences in the impact these two paintings had upon the art and artists of that time.

In the East, artists such as Kasimir Malevich took toward stark black on white geometric symbols to fuel his Supremacist movement while Piet Mondrian took a much more gradual "wading into" abstraction of his own design with his ongoing study of trees, which ultimately ended in total abstraction but with a distinct set of "footprints" leading back to subjective painting. Like the first Sputnik, Kandinsky's efforts were like a wake-up call to the entire world that nothing less than a new threshold had been crossed after which any representational subject matter would somehow seem traditional and retrograde. It was not a moon landing, which allegorically we could say was left to the Americans of the New York school, but it was a ceremonial throwing down of the gauntlet declaring that this is the direction art will go in the twentieth century!
The comment (unedited):
Ricardo Carbajal Moss, October 21, 2016, at 5:42 AM--

Abstract art is a none real bunch of paint on something. The so called painting shows nothing. Paint is just paint. A thing painted is art. A none thing is a nothing. Nothing is nothing. The so called Abstract art is a way to give nothing something. This is like singing a song with no sound and call it a song. We should remember that Pollock wanted to go back to his first paintings was told not to by the gallery owners who sold his work. Today you can spend 20000000 dollars on a Pollock abstract painting if you can find it in a gallery. Perhaps in the near future we will buy and show art work that will be nothing. The so called artist with no results. The so called artists of abstract nothing are cold and dead. Realism is the only form of art. When we lived in caves many years ago we created the first form of art. As long as we can see real things in a painting we are looking at real art. Even if the painting is about a religious idea we are looking at forms that represent legality that represent what we can see. We can see paint in art but is the so called abstract art about real things???? Think about seen a something that represents a written story in a book but you see no words on any of the 300 clear pages in the book. This book could be called Abstract literature. But it would be as stupid as what we call abstract art. Art is art and art is a reality we know about.
My response:
Nowhere is it written that art MUST be about real life. First of all, you're equating Abstract art with non-representational art. They are NOT one and the same. An abstract (as in a legal context) is a shortened or abbreviated version of a longer, more complex document. The same applies to painting. Abstract art is not necessarily without content or meaning, it only abbreviates one or both, simplifying it and/or condensing it. Non-representational art, on the other hand, is ALWAYS and ONLY art about art. It has no other content, and is never intended by the artist to have any other frame of reference. You mention Pollock as an example. His paintings are about color, about texture, about lines, about shapes and space. They're about the way he could use all these basic elements to effect the psyche of his viewer. Pollock was not the first to do all that, but he was one of the best at doing it, which accounts for his dealers' attitude and for the kind of money you ascribe to his work.
You worship Realism. I, myself, tend to paint realistically so I'm far from biased against Realism. Yet even at that, only about ten-percent of all painting is truly realistic, in the absolute sense that it might be mistaken for the real world. Virtually all artist inject some of themselves into their work, thus separating the painting (or other media output) from the real world. This causes it to be, at the very least, an abstraction of reality--to some degree shortened, simplified, or abbreviated. I have long defined art as "creative communication." To quote the Captain in the movie, Cool Hand Luke, "What we have here is failure to communicate." In order for communication to take place both the sender (the artist) and the receiver (the viewer) must speak the same (or a very similar) language. Unless the artist is using a language which no one else speaks (as sometimes happens), the responsibility in understanding is cast upon the viewer. Obviously, many (apparently very wealthy) people DO understand Pollock's visual language. They have taken the time to learn his language and thus allow him to communicate his thoughts THROUGH art, ABOUT art, and ONLY art.
With all due respect, you apparently have never come to understand the language of art. Your statement, "Realism is the only form of art," proves that. To put this in a literary context as you tried to do, it's the equivalent of your denigrating the Bible simply because you don't understand Hebrew. Pollock, in a sense, has translated art (the Bible) into a visual language you CAN understand IF you make the effort. Remember, the first modern translations of the Bible were not from Latin into English but into German. Aren't you glad you don't have to learn German to understand the Bible? Abstract art, and especially non-representation art, is NOT easily understood in the sense that Realism is. Realism, as in the case of Norman Rockwell, for instance, is EASY art. Pollock and the other non-representational artists of his time produced HARD art. To put this in a musical context, you no doubt understand the songs written by Chuck Berry. But do you understand the music written by Rachmaninoff? In an artistic context, you understand the drawings of Charles Schulz, which are in no way realistic but, in fact, quite abstract in their simplistic style. The difference is that they are NOT non-representational (and the titles are a bit longer). In fact, Peanuts was seldom art about art.
To put all this in an abstract, simplified form, you need to study art beyond an elementary (Realism) level in order to understand and appreciate the HARD (difficult) art as seen in the work of Pollock, Kandinsky, Malevich, Picasso, Rothko, Gottlieb, Hofmann, Newman, Noguchi, Kline, de Kooning, Nevelson, Gorky, and a host of others. If most of those names mean little or nothing to you, then that only goes to prove my point. Fortunately you've come to the right place. Click on each of the links above for a quick and easy primer. Then hit Wikipedia to deepen your understanding of each one and, in essence, the whole area of Abstract Expressionism and non-representational art. And remember...they are NOT one and the same.

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