ABSTRACT art IS NOT ART
ROBERT J. LEWIS
are in a diseased state
because we mix up art
with a respectful attitude
towards decoration. Le Cobusier
art, is the question now being asked of abstract painting? In
his brilliant The Voices of Silence André Malraux
characterizes abstract art as something about nothing, and then
laments that the word ‘art’ is used when referring
to both good and bad art.
1989, the National Gallery of Canada purchased Barnett Newman’s
"Voice of Fire" for 1.8 million. It’s a work comprised
of 3 vertical stripes. For many, myself among them, this purchase
and others like it constitute overwhelming proof that our most
esteemed curators -- the first-world’s elite untouchables
-- dwell in catastrophic hebetude. They are complicit in a century
deep fraud distinguished by highly inventive art criticism that
is typically more substantial than the vacuous artwork itself.
Among the rush of critics who have shown themselves incapable
of distinguishing between decoration and art, I mention Toronto’s
John Bentley Mays in his salivations over Agnes
Martin; Robert Fulford in his waxations over Mr.
Newman; the late Anne Duncan in her extolations of
Yves Gaucher and Guido
Molinari; and Henry Lehman for whom relativism
in the visual arts is not a symptom of cultural suicide but a
point of departure. No less responsible than the artist for bringing
the visual arts to its nadir, their serene pronouncements would
not have been possible without the constancy of unbonfired vanity,
and illusions of grandeur that come from being able to program
the content of the spaces we set aside for art.
best that has been said about abstract painting is found in two
seminal essays written by Meyer Schapiro in 1937 and again in
1957. His aim was to articulate the principles and motivation
underlying abstract’s fresh approach to painting, but he
may have inadvertently provided the best arguments against it
as a serious art form. From his essay entitled "Recent Abstract
abstraction . . . are endless tangles and irregular curves,
self-involved lines which impress us as possessing the qualities
not so much of things as impulses, of excited movements emerging
and changing before our eyes.” The genre introduced “chance”
and “randomness” that “corresponds in turn
to a feeling of freedom, an unconstrained activity at every
point . . . painting, by becoming abstract and giving up its
representational function, has achieved a state in which communication
seems to be deliberately prevented.”
to get a critical handle on an art that is opaque and self-referential,
Schapiro introduces the notions of “mastery of the formless
and accidental,” and “impulsively scribbled forms.”
help but notice that all of the above could be used to describe
the method and art of the child.
is perhaps most telling – code for disconcerting -- as it
concerns the genrefication of abstract art, is that for the first
time in the history of the visual arts there need not be a consensus
on what an individual painting means. What can we say about the
word ‘book’ if for someone it means egg, for another
ice and for another sub-atomic particle? In order for a word to
become meaningful, to enter the stream of language, there must
be a consensus on what it means. For meaning to be meaningful,
it must be shared. The red traffic light at the corner of Sherbrooke
and Atwater is meaningful because it means ‘stop’
to those who encounter it.
Gogh’s “Potato Eaters” is meaningful precisely
because it gathers to it a consensus of meaning. Art critics and
layman alike encounter unhappy as opposed to happy faces, deprivation
instead of plenitude. The work stands and endures as art because
it evokes a consensus of meaning that transcends both the passage
of time and unlike cultures. It is a landmark in its depiction
of poverty and deprivation and fills a gap in an idiom where previously
there had been none.
a broken off satellite component no longer subject to gravity
and drifting in outer space, abstract painting represents a radical
break from everything prior to it, especially since it is no longer
the artist but the viewer who determines the content and meaning
of the work. As a manifesto, its unspoken founding utterance can
still be heard: “unskilled, unschooled painters of the world
falls roughly into four broad categories, with only the first,
Cubism, worthy of mention as a serious art form. Its most distinguished
and rightly celebrated players were Picasso, Braque, Léger
and Duchamps, who wanted to free painting from the tyrannies of
representation. Inspired by Cézanne, they fought to eliminate
perspective and the foreground-background differential, but could
not have foreseen what would happen to that initially brave impulse.
Braque over reliant on the conventional paint brush, Mondrian
turned to the ruler and introduced the world to geometric art
whose volumes underscored a growing appetite for simplicity and
ready-made symmetries. But those wilfully weighted geometries
would not satisfy the restless spirit of Jackson Pollack, who
single-handedly invented abstract expressionism. Think of the
sport of baseball, but instead of a pitcher hurling a ball, Pollack
is hurling paint. He was doubtlessly inspired by the sport’s
colourful play by play. We speak of a pitcher’s skill in
painting the corners. Pollack, despite a career that was cut short
by acute alcoholism and for whom the weight, width and feel of
the brush were more important than its bristle, to this day is
regarded as one of the great right handers of all time. But abstract
would have to wait until the advent of minimalism for its crowning
hubris: from Rothke and Newman and their epigones, one-colour
canvases became de rigueur and overnight the western
world found itself awash in artists.
the above arguably tendentious summary, is there any evidence
or principles we can adduce to make the claim that is overwhelmingly
self-evident to even the least trained eye that abstract painting
isn’t art? To make what I think is an obvious, theoremetic
point, is that if I -- who would be hard pressed to deliver a
circle with the aid of a digital compass -- can do it (or copy
it), it’s not art. It’s as simple as that. The doubters
among you are invited to examine the works below and decide which
one answers best to the criteria of art and which one to decoration.
And if you find yourself in a Sophie’s Choice quandary,
you should by no means be discouraged from taking aim at the defective
mind reflected in the mirror, but rest assured you possess the
necessary qualifications for the position of museum curator.
Ways of Seeing, John Berger writes: “True originality
is never something sought after . . . it is a quality belonging
to something touched in the dark and brought back as a tentative
question.” Since great art has always been singled out for
its uniqueness and inimitability, the issue of whether or not
abstract painting is art has already been solved because we are
all capable of producing paintings that, citing Schapiro, are
“formless, random and accidental.” And when this style
of work pleases us, which it often does, it has every right to
be recognized for what it is: decorative. In this sense, abstract
deserves to be ranked with the likes of wall paper, computer graphics,
laquered wood, hanging rugs and any number of pleasing shapes
and designs we use to decorate our living and working spaces.
career of Andy Warhol, American entrepreneur par excellence, is
not unrelated to the institutional depravity that continues to
allow for what is trite and banal in painting to masquerade as
art. Besides wanting to make an easy buck, Warhol wanted to prove
that the American purchaser of art was the least discerning on
the planet. He made his case by cajoling the collector to consider
as art its very opposite: the mass produced. He removed the wrap-around
label from a Campbell’s soup can, blew it up to 10 times
the original size and sold it as an artwork for thousands of dollars
– an event that was roundly praised by America’s major
art critics who, in that same bankrupt spirit, raised to spectacular
eminence the polarizing Pop art movement.
that can be said about decorative is that it reveals nothing beyond
its colours, materials and textures and that its meaning is as
arbitrary and ephemeral as April’s first flowers whose intrinsic
value is roughly commensurate to the price fetched at the market
place. Which makes the decision, underwritten by the nation’s
most esteemed art critics and curators, to dispense millions of
tax payers dollars on canvases comprised of a couple of stripes
or pencil lines an indictable offense.
right this most reprehensible wrong, I propose that effective
immediately all abstract painting be reclassified as decorative
until it demonstrably meets the criteria of high art. If painting
is to be restored to its former high standing and distinction,
it must dedicate itself to weeding out all pretenders and wanna-be
artists who have convinced themselves that an original or outrageous
work will transform their God-given mediocrity into an enduring
truth. Since a writer, to be considered as such, must possess
writing skills, is it asking too much that an artist be required
to demonstrate the ability to draw?
final consideration, you’re invited to inspect an untitled
abstract by the Canadian painter
Roberto Romei Rotondo and ask yourself if what
you see is mere decoration -- or art for the rock of ages?
ART OR ARTIFICE
THE VISUAL ARTS
I disagree strongly with the sentiment
but I up vote you for posting it here.
I think it's more about saturation of the market with an influx
of people that think that taking an hour to smear paint on a canvas
makes them an artist
This website doesn't look that good to my eyes, terribly ugly
even. And you speak about the "degraded state of visual arts".
Had to look at some Mondriaan before my eyes burned out of my
Writer sounds old and out of touch even taking that into account.
Crowing against abstract expressionism is very dated and the contemporary
art world has long moved on. I doubt this author thinks most folk
art is art, or that indigenous art is art. I get the attitude,
from the emotional standpoint, that if I can do it then it's not
art, but that smacks of hubris. I'd like to see the author actually
try it. I used to feel like that when I watched some amateur dance
performances, until I realized that the more you practice an art
the more the goal post moves, so that standard is terribly solipsistic,
and also it makes you sound like a complete dick.Standing in front
of a Rothko, in real life, is also a completely different experience
than looking at a print or an image on line.Now, if you wanna
complain about Damien Hirst, that's also dated but I'd dog pile
on because I personally still think he's a hack.
I love how the people going against the author are saying simple,
almost childish comebacks, like "you're wrong", "you're
simple minded", "you have no idea what its all about",
without actually giving a concrete form of rebuttal; almost as
if they're bigotting themselves by further emphasizing the lack
of creativity, concreteness, and objectivity in abstract art.
It is sad that these people believe that their work has any meaning.
They could honestly learn to actually draw or paint, like say
a tree in an empty field would have been a lot more brain-working
than just a slab of paint or a streak of pee onto a canvas. Tell
me I'm wrong, boys.
Master artists and painters of the highest order are high level
souls that are accomplishing their final practice and rehearsals
in arts in order to move forward to a far sophisticated artistic
experience; is contributing in the creation of the nature on earth
By injecting and forcing “Abstract
practices” on earth is a part of the devilish plan to destroy
the planet earth or in other words delaying planet earth progress
toward a higher degree of development by vanishing the visual
art and natural drawing talents, so by the time earth will look
like "Abstract Arts."
On the other hand Abstract Arts considered
being one of the best candidates for money laundry and bribery
serving the dominating practices on Earth now days.
Pressure and stress, health problems on
earth is mainly due to the selfishness energy that is dominating
Earth, that makes lots of art lovers switched to “Abstract
Drawings” it gives a sort of energy relieve and it requires
only a simple study on how to match colors or simply they can
cheat color matching from the nature using the exact colors with
respect to proportions like looking to a colorful bird and cheat
his patterns and color mixing into a stretched canvas or any painting
I wish I can help and contribute in presenting
a better Art model that makes the current model obsolete. Please
let me know what kind of activities I can join and Help.
Sorry for my poor English writings, I did
my best to describe what I know.
from: Cairo – Egypt
Hello. I myself am working on a painting but as an known artist
I feel no matter how grand or beautiful my art work is it will
be worthless, now Jackson Pollack for instance will draw three
lines on a canvas and it will reach millions of dollars in the
Christie's auction house by looking around the art markets today
I get very discouraged to start at all as I feel my work will
be for nothing and years lost I appreciate the detail of the old
masters eg, William-Adolphe Bouguereau.
It just makes me angry that this beautiful detail will be lost
one day and left only in museums as a memory even in architecture
this abstract form is reshaping our society ,are we becoming more
intelligent or are we going backwards Rothko's orange on canvas
went for tens of millions of dollars I guess we have to except
every form of art work and different cultures but I believe that
we shouldn't reject the beauty of natural painting and not to
lessen its value.
from Lydia Schrufer, Arts Editor
As Arts Editor of Arts & Opinion, I want to put on
the record my disagreement with my editor and author of the essay
"Abstract Art Isn’t Art." I find his views uninformed,
if not ignorant, and at best, very narrow minded. If he were to
pick up a brush, he would discover just how difficult it is to
produce an abstract painting he assumes himself capable of. I
will grant that there is a great deal of pseudo, bad art on the
market, but a blanket statement isn't helpful.
He goes on to suggest that Newman, Gaucher,
Molinari et al, spent their entire careers pulling the wool over
the public’s eye, that they were not interested in advancing
a new concept and shaking up the status quo.
Looking at Lewis’s argument from the
perspective of music, one could make the same blanket statement
about contemporary jazz which many people consider noise. There’s
much in music between Cage and Marsalis that listeners find offensive,
but these artists felt compelled to push the envelope despite
public opinion. Artists have always been driven by the zeitgeist
of their environments; at times their creative efforts succeed,
sometimes not, but it's important to applaud their efforts. I
am not against honest criticism, but it should be educated and
authoritative. The fact of the matter is that most museum and
gallery visitors spend mere seconds in front of a works before
passing judgment, and usually in front of works that are traditional.
They then take their habits of viewing to more complex, demanding
works and are disappointed. Before one can develop an appreciation
of complex music, one must listen and listen again; the same applies
to the visual arts.
And let’s not forget that the impressionists
were the pariahs of their time and now we revere their bravado
from Neila Mezynski:
Having painted abstractly for 18 years I have some energy on the
subject. The Eastern painters give as much importance to what
is not on the canvas as to what is, some Zen philosophy there,
I suppose. The painter’s choices are defining and revealing.
What is on the canvas and what is not is all about the individual’s
life experiences and how he wants to “discuss” it
through his work. The hard core abstract painter spends years
developing a “language”, if you will, and sometimes
that language is in the form of drips and dabs and marks, mixed
media, collage, you name it. The most surprising thing is that
the painter is looking for something that only he/she can recognize
as working or making sense. Robert Motherwell, a great abstract
painter of the 20th century, called it “the shock of recognition.”
If one is going to dismiss this sophisticated and intelligent
painter’s entire body of work as nothing, or not art then
I guess you would have to dismiss the whole person and the whole
movement of modernism. Warhol and Duchamp rattled our cages and
knocked “art” off its gold encrusted pedestal and
showed us that great art is not any one thing. That would be too
Any argument that relies on an appeal to a definition's self-evidence
is begging the question. Art is not self-evident, which is the
entire point of much abstract art: attempting to discover the
answer through experimentation. Difficulty or skill is irrelevant,
and you have the burden of proof to establish that it is.
Crock of shit. No talent, a poser and a bum.
Who are you and what scholarly backup do you have to be able to
say such ignorant things?
Abstract art is not real art, to me it's considered childlike
and more like a background to a soon to be awesome piece but its
missing the actual painting.
You are joking I hope. Otherwise you need help.
Reader Feedback HERE