Some people are a little mistrustful of abstract art.
Some people expect the painting to reflect or represent something.
Some people want the painting to symbolize something.
Or maybe to depict an experience.
What if the painting itself was the experience?
I see people, drift through a gallery, waiting for something to jump out at them.
They say, “Well, I know what I like, when I see it”
Others say, “the painting should speak for itself”
These ideas are perfectly valid, if a bit limiting. Because they are pretty much based on something you know about yourself already.
What if a painting could help you know a part of yourself you didn’t know?
. What if you took a moment to speak to the painting, that wasn’t speaking to you?
What if you tried to ask the painting a couple of questions, like, what’s going on here? How is this little squiggle down the centre, relating to the blue rectangles or cube forms. I see the whole painting is blue. It uses many tones or values of blue– and the lighter tones creates the illusion of light and the light seems to be coming from the top left corner. Oh and then there are shadows where the light seems to hit the objects. I am not sure what the objects are but they have shadows. And there is this one little flash of yellow. Hmm. Interesting. I wonder how do the lines and shapes create the illusion of depth and dimension on this flat surface? Is it a landscape? An arrangement of shapes that suggest the feeling of a landscape? It feels like water in a way, it feels like a torrent of water. Maybe that’s why it’s called A Northern kind of story. And so on.
This type of thing, these questions are called reading a painting, or formal analysis.
What do I see? How is it made? What is it made of? How is it designed? Does it refer to anything or quote another kind of painting? Is the painting thin and watery. Is it thick and textured? Is it light hearted? Dramatic? Epic? Uplifting? Puzzling.
It’s not about deciding how closely the painting resembles something you recognize already. It’s allowing the painting to tell you about itself, when you ask a few friendly questions.
You may still not like the painting but chances are you have slowed down your brain enough to experience something more worthwhile, when you go to the art gallery.
It goes the same for the painter. It’s not so much that I am painting the painting, as the painting is painting me. It’s not that I am depicting my experience of something, but more that I am having a new experience as I paint.
In any case next time you are visiting a gallery, have a chat with a painting you’d normally ignore. It’s a bit like being seated at a dinner beside someone who speaks a different language. With a little bit of effort, you can have a lovely time.
If you enjoyed this post, please share the link with any art lovers you know, or if or if you found it helpful sign up to receive more of my short musings on art and life delivered to your inbox.