12 November 2012

Pablo Picasso Month - Day 12

Abstract art often confuses people.
There is no abstract art. You must always start with something. Afterward you can remove all traces of reality.
~ Pablo Picasso

I don't like all the art I see. No one does. We all have our preferences. I do try to figure out why. Sometimes it's as simple as the lack of skill, or a theme or color scheme that puts me off. Sometimes it's much more subtle. I'm sure it's the same for you.

The important thing to remember is that art is supposed to generate ideas and feelings. It's supposed to make you think about something or feel something. And it should be more than "that's pretty" or "that's horrible."

So many people struggle with how to react to (or interact with) abstract art. We don't know where to look. We don't know what we're seeing. And facing the unknown we become uncomfortable and make the assumption that we really don't like abstract art. I think it's important to take a step back when we find ourselves making those assumptions. It's easy to like art (or explain why we don't like it) when the artwork depicts what we think we recognize (however I would caution against making that assumption too). What we really need is a way to approach abstract art that allows us to experience it without prejudice.

I've heard a lot of ways to approach art – both from the consecrated academic establishment and from others not so lofty... ways that are good and valid and valuable. When you are new to art school or art circles you get told how to do things – by everyone. However, I think each person has to come up with their own way to experience art (and only those who really want to will).

My approach to experiencing art is a bit like what C.S. Lewis recommended (or was it Tolstoy? I can't remember). The most important thing is to really take the time with a piece of art. I don't make way through the gallery/museum/exhibit quickly. Well, I try not to. This means that I often don't get to see all the art that's available – and that's okay. When I know that I've only got a short time I will sometimes do a quick scan and pick out the art that I feel drawn to ( I might love it or I might hate it).

When I'm in front of the artwork, taking my time with it, I try to find the story it is telling me. I look for recognizable imagery or imagery that I can associate meaning to. I make a story about it in my head. I really do try to keep it inside my own head and not tell others the stories – I don't want to annoy them and most people already think I'm a bit odd... and even more importantly – I might derail their efforts to create their own story with the art. Then I try to put myself in the story. After I've spent some time with it I will turn away from it (maybe even visit with another piece of art) and then I'll return to it and see if I see anything new.

I had this conversation last week with someone who thought abstract art was pretty useless... I think he left my office with a new appreciation for his ability to appreciate abstract art... maybe.

Why Pablo Picasso Month?

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