Abstract Expressionism - Again


What Makes an Abstract Expressionist Painting Good? Though broadly interested in using abstraction as a way to convey individual emotions, the painters who worked in an AbEx mode actually spanned a wide range of techniques, styles, and intentions. In short, like all art-historical groupings, AbEx is both broad and somewhat limiting in how it brings together a diverse range of artists. Each artist had a signature style, from Pollock’s spontaneous, chaotic drip technique to Rothko’s atmospheric squares.

The fact I don't like abstract expressionism is not news to anyone who bothers to listen to me rattle on about art. I find it - in large part - unattractive, noisey, and unfinished. I won't go on about the other reasons I don't like it, because they're too nit-picky for public consumption. I do, though, not mind the paintings of Franz Kline; but I think that's got a lot to do with them being fairly monochromatic - all black and white. They are not a mess of colour as Willem de Kooning's works were, nor the pantone book on acid works of Mark Rothko (although some of them do put one in mind of looking out of a window that's frosted over in condensation, so you only get a vague idea of the world on the other side of the glass. Geezuz, took me over 30 years, but I finally found a point to Rothko), nor the bird shit of Pollock. But, these people did do one thing for which they do deserve a lot of credit: They opened a door. That door had nothing to do with what they did, but with the fact that it allowed people another layer of freedom when it came to painting. It took off yet another layer of fetters.

But, as with all abstract art forms, to my mind, the whys of it can be summed up in that it "can elicit an emotional response from viewers that requires a physical, often prolonged, encounter with them". That's what the point of a lot of abstract art is - to make you feel something. The colours, the shapes, the patterns, the mess, the size, whatever it is, is designed to get a reaction from you. Jackson Pollock got it out of me, by the very fact that he made something I hate to look at; a lot less vehement than the self-loathing that poor bastard experienced for much of his life before he drank himself up a tree trunk.

I love abstract art, but something a lot less frenzied than much of the world of the abstract expressionist. I like a less violently jarring and frenetic use of colour. I like recognisable shapes, even if they aren't shapes out of reality. I like patterns. I like shading and gradient. I like the kind of abstraction that comes out of surrealist creative techniques. I like surrealism itself.

And to anyone who says "I could do that" or "my kid could do that" - if that's so, then by all means go home and do it. But, otherwise, keep it to yourself if that's your only criticism. If you're saying that because you hate the work, then just say you hate the work. If you are saying it because you - like myself - think that Pollock looks like bird shit, then just say Pollock looks like bird shit. If you don't grok what you're looking at, then say that - maybe someone can give some perspective. But if you think you can do better, I won't challenge that. I'll help you select the paint and the canvas to use. I'll tell you the cheapest places to shop. I'll give you names if you need some works to be inspired by.

I find that most criticism of art comes from a lack of understanding. Hell, I've been an arty kind of person most of my life - in one way or another - am familiar with most major schools and genres, have taken art history courses, have been to galleries, looked at books, read articles, listened to artists - and I still very frequently look at something and think, "I don't get it." I don't blame or fault anyone for not getting it. It's a legitimate visceral initial reaction to anything, especially abstract works. So, if you don't get it, look at it for a while. Don't try to figure out what the artist was trying to convey, just have a reaction to it. Enjoy the colour, the brushwork, the pattern, whatever it is. If you don't get the artist's point, at least you've given yourself one.

Also, remember that not everything can appeal to everyone all the time. There are seven billion people on this planet, each with a different perspective. Just as not all of them are going to like your cooking, your taste in music, or even you, they sure aren't all going to like the same kind of art; and even if they do, they might not all be liking it for the same reasons.



2017 09 07 - 15:37

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