Comfort Food

The exploration of visualisation through abstract painting offers a powerful laboratory for experimentation and new ways of seeing and thinking. it is comfort good for the mind!

As a laboratory of the mind, abstract painting enables the artist to avoid the immediacy and perhaps urgency of depicting objects. Of course, once an abstract painting has been produced, it is now, in some way, about something, perhaps signifying something, inside or outside.

Some have written of paintings as ‘quasi persons’ [see Isabelle Graw, Daniel Birnbaum and Nikolaus Hirsch, Thinking through painting, Institute fur Kunstkritik, 2012], which posits that a painting takes on a type of agency, almost like a person; it does something to the viewer, and interacts with the world, often not in the way intended by the artist.

This is to be expected as an abstract work is as much a creation of the viewer’s and artist’s mind as it is a public object open to multiple interpretations. This differs from representational art, which is a ‘ding an sich’ as Kant would say: it is what it says it is and no more: it is a portrait of this person or a landscape of this place.

Alva Noe, in Strange Tools, 2015, suggests that we see art, painting as a type of puzzle to be worked through, experimentally. His concern why art is so boring, as he puts it, lies at the heart of the ennui so many of us feel when we look at some art and wonder why it is mute. In part, mute art could be a failed experiment, a puzzle that hasn’t been solved yet, or it could just be failed art itself.

But what does a failed abstract painting look like? How can we be sure we are experimenting and not just ‘messing about’? There are no scientific rules or laboratory procedures as there is in chemistry or physics, no laws (despite the efforts of neuroaesthetics). I suggest the laboratory manual for artist experiments lies in our efforts to visualise the ineffable.

If that interests you, please, feel free to explore the following experimental offerings.

Learning to Experiment

Let’s begin by experimenting “beyond the vase, or bowl of fruit”, to consider developing modes of expression, by capturing, for instance, what a really good piece of chocolate tastes like.

I have developed some experiments, in a ‘pack of playing cards, which act as starting points for experimental projects.

These experimental laboratories are for anyone interested in developing their artistic abilities, and in particular those who can’t draw!

Much of the approach taken in art education focuses on developing technical mastery of drawing, and a requirement to keep a sketch book. I have never been able to figure out what the point of either is. What is a draft of a painting — isn’t it the paining itself? And why sketch if you want to paint anyway.

Einstein was sitting at dinner next to a guest, who kept a notebook of good ideas he’d had. He asked Einstein if he kept a notebook of good ideas. Einstein said “I’ve only had one.” 

The point here is to avoid the tyranny of the notebook, sketchbook as a evidence of good ideas. It is just what it is and no more. If you don’t need it don’t use one and if you can’t draw or sketch, don’t get anxious.

But for many, drawing can be a challenge as it presents so many assumptions about talent, and what it means to ‘do’ art. And not being able to draw has discouraged talented people.  Henry Peacock in his book “Art as Expression” noted that his students who were good at drawing displayed in his view less creative insights of what they saw than those who drew badly. The poor drawers, therefore, were better at interpreting what they saw and were therefore more likely to express their creativity.

The mindLABs are comfort food for people who wish to develop artistic talent, perhaps who missed art classes in high school because of other studies, and then got too busy with life and work. Now, perhaps you wish to revisit missed opportunities, such as art, in the same way as others decide later in life to learn another language or play an instrument. There is no good reason that you can’t be as successful as you wish, as you bring your own life-experience to bear on your art.

The mindLABs assume no particular experience with painting, as the focus is on using painting methods as a way of releasing the talent which we all have. Various exercises (experiments) encourage fresh thinking for artistic exploration.

Lab equipment is pretty simple: a few colours of paint and no more than 5, and not black, and something to paint on – a pad of reasonably heavy paper (150 gsm for starters and heavier paper later on) and big is better.  A easel can be used or simply a sheet of plywood or plexiglass as a surface.

mindLABS look like this:

How much time do you have, and what do you want?

Try this mindLAB

A couple of hours to a full day, but only once in awhile

The Abstract Imagination

Half a day to 5 days; I want something on a regular basis

Dining at the Abstract Café

5 days. I need a holiday

The Creative ‘I’

It’s a work thing

Art and Creativity in the Workplace