Abstraction

We have removed the name of the artist, on the first painting below. I hesitate to criticize any artist, as I do not want any sincere artist to feel rejection, or negative criticism of his or her work. Every artist has a right to express themselves in the best way that they can, and who am I to discount any authentic, creative act?

However, after studying art and abstraction for a lifetime, there are some things I have to say about the quality of abstraction in art. I lived through the 1950’s, and was in art school in the 1960’s. We were bombarded with abstract expressionism. DeKooning was our hero. One can wonder why. Why did this man, who’s paintings were crude, huge, and often done on newspaper, with house paint, leave such an impact on us? Why do his paintings move us to such deep reactions? Why is he a great, great painter –Perhaps one of the greatest painters of the 20th century?

In looking at the two paintings below, I see why the purity of abstraction, done in the mid-twentieth century, stands head and shoulders above the abstract painting that is being done today. Today’s artists seem to be pursuing novelty, technical toys, and pat designs and colors. Abstract art today seems so contrived. Where is the gut wrenching honesty? Where is the artist’s soul expressed?

To use these two paintings as examples, one can see that the first painting is a “design”. Shapes and marks on a canvas, honestly made by an artist who is interested in filling the canvas with colors, shapes and lines that are pleasing to look at. For me, that is mostly all that is there. The title implies that these shapes may be inspired by music. We can see the rhythm of some musical composition. The overall impact of this painting is shallow. It captures my attention, but for a moment. It is much too easy to read.

Look at the second painting by Frankenthaler. ┬áSeemingly a simple composition, at first glance, it draws me in, and makes me want to look more, and look carefully. I am intrigued by the shapes and the references to objects from my experience. Can it be a human figure splayed across the canvas? Are there references to landscape? Of what does it remind me? ┬áThen, I take it apart formally. Look at the color…Look at the line. Look at the shapes, and the sizes of the shapes. How does this make me feel? The artist has given me so much to look at, on so many levels. What is the meaning? What is the poetry? Why is it so appealing? What is that small shape of green doing there? If one blocks out the green, the composition completely changes and becomes shallow, and contrived. The green clicks the composition into place, and completes the painting. The line drawn through the white shape is pure poetry. It adds visual texture to the work. It implies form. One sees the artist’s hand, and one is moved by the confidence, the sensitivity, and the complexity of this line. It says so much. There is mystery. What is the red shape? What does it tell us? Why is it there? It helps to lead our eye around the canvas. It points the way to the green, and the bottom of the canvas. It acts as a counterpoint to the very strong white shape that diagonally slices across the canvas. I feel the soul of this artist, and I want to look and look and look at this work. It is like a great musical composition that one wants to listen to again and again.

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