When I was a young adult and a new student in the art department at Mott Community College, one of my instructors took his class for a walk down the halls, to talk about the artwork hanging there. As he paused in front of a large abstract drawing, one of my classmates snickered. That elicited a scowl and a sharp comment from the instructor…which caused me to frame my comment differently.
“What makes this piece work?” I asked.
“Now that is a good question,” he said. “It does work, though, doesn’t it?”
As soon as he said it, I knew that, in fact, it did. Though I had wondered about it hanging in the hall, framed as if it were “real art,” and had likened it to the scribbles of a small child, I had been drawn to it. I didn’t know why. I listened, then, to learn…and it changed my thinking forever.
The instructor explained how the big, deep red mass in the upper left was balanced by the rich, intense black on the bottom right of the picture plane. Other areas of interest gave a lighter, playful feel. He noted how the meandering – kind of scribbled – line actually led the eye around, from one area of interest to another, without letting it leave the page. These are tactics employed by all artists, whether they work from life, or in the abstract. “In fact,” he said, “If you were able to study the Sistine Chapel, you could see that Michelangelo used almost this same exact pattern”- he waved to the piece on the wall – “when he painted God reaching out to touch Adam.”
From that day on, I looked at non-representational art differently. I don’t like all of it, any more than I like every landscape or every portrait. I know, though, that there is something to it. It’s not simply the realm of people who can’t make “real art.”
The abstract artist chooses to convey a message, to elicit an emotional response or to display a mastery of the medium – and sometimes all of these things at once – without the shorthand provided by a picture. In many ways, the task is harder.
It was many years after that first introduction to it, before I chose to work primarily with color, pattern and texture rather than depicting recognizable images. It wasn’t an easy decision. I still appreciate the magic of creating a realistic two dimensional scene. I know that kind of art is easier to understand and appreciate. I enjoy drawing!
Whenever I hear a negative comment, or sense a disdain for my work, I feel the need to haul out my good drawings, to prove I had a choice. It’s silly, I know.
This time, I brought out an unfinished drawing. I probably have more than twenty hours already into this large piece, and it will take at least that many more to finish it. It has been waiting for quite a while, for me to find the time.
Meanwhile, I’ve done a great deal of what I love: playing with textures and juxtapositions of color; working with papers and found objects as collage; conveying moods and feeling through the thoughtful use of these elements. Most of the time, it has been great, exhilarating fun!
That, in the end, is the best reason for making art.