Seriously...what is abstract art?
Updated: Aug 18, 2019
I get this question almost all the time when I talk about the kind of paintings I make. Ok but...what is abstract art? My personal truth about abstract painting has changed a lot over time. Especially now that I have embraced it as my favourite thing to paint. There obviously is a formal definition for it: It is a type of art that does not attempt to represent external reality whatsoever. I would go even further and say it represents solely the internal reality. The emotions, the connection to the divine, the sensitivity to colour, the freedom of expression and the willingness to dive into the unknown. I had a definition of abstract art when i was only painting realism, and not only a definition but a judgement and a quite limiting opinion about it.
Here is what I used to think abstract art is.
Blotches of paint
Random lines or forms, out of nowhere, no source.
No rhyme or reason
More lenient in composition
Artists who had no vision or talent
Anyone could do it
It is not interesting
It is pretty much bullshit
Overall the lesser of all artistic expression
I just don’t get it.
As you can tell I had quite a limiting and narrow idea of what abstract art is because I had not yet tapped into my own creativity yet and also would quickly dismiss any abstract piece I ever encountered. Never gave it a chance.
What I realized while attempting to make an abstract painting for the first time was hey! It is not easy! I did not realize this before painting an abstract piece because I had never really done it before. It takes a lot more freedom and self-acceptance than I thought. It takes a certain trust in yourself and also trust in the uncertainty you will inevitably face when creating. The one thing I remember when painting my first abstract piece was sitting in front of a blank canvas, completely intimidated and ready to give up so quick. I felt this many times after, i would say for about a month or so every painting I started I would have a lot of anxiety. It takes an agreement with yourself that it is ok if it does not come out the way your brain wants it to come out. I learned that a single paint stroke from two different people can tell two completely different stories. For me, every single stroke or blending motion has feeling behind it, it has an energy. It has emotion in it. If I am feeling a certain way one day it will be reflected back at me through my painting. If I am feeling anxiety or internal conflict my paintings tend to come out busier and more chaotic. Same when I am feeling happy or zen, my painting will be a reflection in that it will have a calm serene feel to it. That is what I put my trust in, not only in my ability but in my hypersensitivity to what colours I pick and choose to portray my inner world. I trust that whatever needs to be expressed will make its way through because in trusting, I am holding a space for myself to be fully vulnerable and non-judgmental. This took me time to understand because before I would shut myself off and not allow myself to express my emotions.
Some days when I am feeling so in the zone and I am truly connected with the canvas and my oil paint, I do not even have time to think about it. I become the painting in that the next step isn't revealed to my brain yet but my body already knows. To me, abstract art is the total dropping into your body and becoming a conduit for the otherworldly shapes and forms and colours. One word that is used to describe my painting style a lot is "otherworldly" or "alien". I normally get that comment/compliment when I finish a painting that i completely got lost in. When i get lost, people feel that in the end result and it shocks me every time that people pick up on it. Even though I know for a fact that I am transmitting my energy through the painting and people who resonate with that will receive it.
Abstract art taught me that I am an artist through and through. It taught me that in life I put an artistic spin on everything. I think in terms of paint colours. If I see a colour that I like out in the world I try to go through the process in my mind of how I would recreate that colour with paint. Then I think about how I would use it and what colours would compliment it and immediately I think about how that colour makes me feel. Does it have an emptiness or is it wild and busy. Do I feel attached to it in some way or is my body repelled by it. For me abstract art is more than just splattering paint, it is a conversation between me and the colours and what they want to say and what I want to say as well. As I am writing this I am realizing how deeply I am connected to colour. Abstract art to me is also discovering new colours that I might never have had the chance to meet if I was painting a portrait. Not because colours aren’t created when painting in other styles but because I personally was limiting myself with colours because I had the formula for let's say skin colours and I kept a limited colour palette for all my paintings and I was not allowing myself to expand.
Since starting abstract painting I have created colours that I didn’t even know I was able to make. What I have come to feel is that colour is so complex and when I make a background colour, the reason it has so much depth and is so dynamic is because I mix at least 4-5 different colours together. Colours that in the past I would have not even thought of putting together. This comes with the embodiment of freedom of expression. I get it now. I get what freedom in creativity is. I get how amazing it feels. I understand why creating is so important.
Abstract art taught me what flow is. On my website my tagline is “feel flow, feel ease, feel this” because I have truly began tapping into my flow so easily with abstract painting. Flow to me is now something more than it ever was before. It feels like when I watched pulp fiction for the first time, I forget I have a body, my brain goes on sleep mode and I enter into my body like never before. I create a shield from any distractions. When I am in flow, I forget to check my phone. It’s powerful.
What stuck with me in the one year I spent in the Studio Arts program was one assignment we had in a drawing class. The teacher challenged us to make one line, one line only and make it the prettiest line you can. I thought this was brilliant because it is taking the simplest thing, a line and turning it into an emotional piece. Kind of like in those cooking competitions when the chefs are challenged to work with one simple ingredient and embellish it and make it wonderful, like an egg or something. I remember fighting with myself before starting the line assignment. Thinking to myself how am I supposed to do this? I ended up making a beautiful line, at the time I was not happy with it, but as the years pass I look back at it and I love it more and more each time. All this to say I have kept that philosophy with me over the years and now when I paint I think, how can i make this simple form, be it a squiggly line or a square, how can I make it the prettiest? I set that intention and then let it flow. It is showing me how far I have come since that line assignment. How much more I trust my abilities and embrace the unknown.
The way I feel towards abstract art cannot be summed up into just words. I feel anything I say or put into words does not fully convey the deep feelings I have for it . No words I choose carry the feelings I truly have toward art and colour. I guess the only way to fully understand it is by being in the presence of one of my pieces and I hope my energy of love and passion is clearly communicated through this written piece so you can at least get a glimpse of what abstract art feels like to me.
I would love to understand how you view abstract art as well and if you can relate to my experience with abstract art or art in general. Leave a comment if you feel called to! <3