if i could pinpoint a date when i fell in love with abstract art, i would hazard a guess that it was the spring of 1973 when i was in chicago auditioning for the goodman school of drama. i’ve written before about that trip & my love for the painter, Clyfford Still, elsewhere in this blog, but to limit my emotional attachment to only one abstract expressionist/color field painter would be unfair when there are so many powerful painters from that period, so i won’t, nor will i mention any other names such as motherwell, rothko, frankenthaler, hoffman, louis, kline, & smith (david, the sculptor whose work brings the concepts, the arguments for abstraction to 3-dimensions.)
what set me on this discussion was the discovery of these photos i took of san clemente island off the coast of southern california in january & which i had forgotten about until a photo contest recently encouraged me to look into my archives for appropriate material to submit.
i think what struck me then about these images & which i may have commented on in other social networks at the time, was how they referenced color field painting, frankenthaler comes to mind immediately, followed by pousette-dart perhaps. the clear fields of delineated color washed & saturating the substrate, perhaps with a bit more shine than the painters who eschewed gloss & preferred unprimed canvas on which to paint, but with much the same intent.
(please note: i do not consider myself on a par or as an equal of any of the aforementioned artists, i am only using my imagery as a jumping off point for discussion.)
why do we respond to abstract art? what about it triggers that appreciative button? it is guttural, gestural, emotive, evocative, & punishingly direct. it can push you, shove you, force you to face your subconscious, & at the same time be sublimely beautiful, peaceful, playful & brilliantly simple.
it’s said that we humans like landscape paintings more than any other style of painting, particularly landscapes that place the viewer in a vantage point where they may survey their domain (the fight or flee position, as basic to human nature as walking upright. that defensible vantage point, elevated above the landscape below.)
i believe that may be true too of the work of the abstract expressionists. they are presenting our primal being from a vantage point of placing the viewer directly in the picture plane, compelling us to explore ourselves, our thoughts, our emotions, our motives as humans much as we would the land before us were we viewing a landscape.
of course, we may not exclude beauty from this discussion. just pretty may be as compelling as emotive expression, drawing the viewer closer; that personal reflection, a mirror turned toward our own hearts/souls/consciousness as subtle & intriguing & captivating as one can hope to find.
but where landscape may comfort & ease our fears, instilling a sense of calm/peace/joy, i believe that abstract expressionism just may lead us that much deeper into our inner lives (the one we keep from view out of diplomacy & ease of social interaction, because if people really knew…besides our therapists, it would be a fright, wouldn’t it?)
of course, you shake your head “no, not me. i have no inner life that i would not share with you,” but when you allow yourself the freedom to truly look inside the work of many of the artists i mentioned earlier, you may find yourself delving deeper into your psyche than you may have thought possible (or were willing to allow yourself the luxury of that close of an inspection.) to me that’s the beautiful part of this genre. the brilliant, subtle way they get inside you & make you feel alive.