Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Abstract Art

Morris Louis, "Where," 1960

"Do you like this painting?"

I had to restrain myself from whirling around and glaring at the student who had asked this question. Really? How could someone be so thoughtless, so prejudiced, so rude?

It was nearing the end of my Art History 202 class last semester. There were about 250 of us in the class, the majority of which were just trying to knock out a GE requirement. We had been discussing abstraction for a little while, and I had heard plenty of my classmates gripe about the material. I hoped that as they learned more about modern art they would be able to sense its beauty, but with this question it was clear that at least one student was not diggin' it.

My professor, who happened to be a specialist in modern art, answered very well. Much better then I would have in my angered state. But I was still annoyed.

Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1952

I'll be honest; I struggled to understand abstract art at first. I remember sitting in a Humanities class in the summer of 2008 with this image on the screen. A girl told of how she had cried upon seeing this work in person. I simply could not understand it. As the only freshman in the class, I did not comment much, but for this I had to speak my mind. "I don't understand what it means!" I exclaimed. "It's just a bunch of blue!" My professor tried to explain that it didn't have to mean anything, that it was a new way to challenge the meaning of Art. The girl who had commented earlier tried to help by saying that the colors are incredible in person, since Rothko mixed his own paint. That helped a little. But I still left confused.

About a week later, our class went to the BYU Museum of Art. We saw an exhibition on conceptual art, and it all started to click. I realized that abstract art is all about getting people to think! As I stood in front of these monumental works, I began to ponder what they could mean to the artist, to other patrons, to me. I saw the beauty in the small details and the entire composition. I saw the artists' creativity being set free, allowed to run and jump and twist and turn in a world void of the fences of representational art. I saw the artists' souls being poured into their works.

And that's when I fell in love.

"Explosion" by Maggie Michael

The piece above was my favorite from the exhibition. I would go back over and over again to stand in front of this work and just think. It moved me every time. My heart broke when it was taken down at the end of the exhibition.

What I love most about abstract art is that it recognizes the intelligence in the viewer and challenges them to use it! I love what Theo van Doesburg wrote in the Art Concret Manifesto. "Art with a representational agenda, even a hidden one, is harmful because it tends to sap the mental strength of viewers, leaving them unaware of their own true powers."

So before you judge abstract art, open up your mind and think a little bit. Art has so much to offer.

If you will let it.

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