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The violence of abstraction

Abstraction is a liberation from the strictures that can bind our lives as lived.

Many people take art classes and when looking at what they have done, feel undernourished, incomplete, frustrated, or worse. Indeed, by the end of the art class, the art ‘thing’ is done, but it isn’t quite right and like the hamster on the wheel, another art class is taken hoping the next one will be different. But they aren’t; the paintings feel lifeless, what I call mute. The flower in the vase died as soon as it was painted, and lives on only in the imagination, but is definitely not on the canvas or paper!

Studies show that people spend less than 15 seconds looking at a painting, half of that time spent reading the label, so how can a painting take on agency in the real world as Isabelle Graw would say? That is, how can the viewer engage with what you have produced?

Einstein’s theory of relativity led Picasso to Cubism. He came to understand that the world was not as we see it, but could be seen from a variety of perspectives. What Picasso did was visualise Einstein’s thought experiment that became what we understand as relativity.

We must always be mindful that there is art and there is ‘art’. When the ‘official’ art community has spoken, we are viewing curated art, designed and developed for consumption and is determined by arbiters of taste. What will they choose for next year? [Have a read of Michael Findlay, Value of Art].

It is worth noting that when curators speak of ’emergent artists’ they mean younger artists because, perhaps cynically, there are more selling years with younger artists. Yet, true creativity is not dependent on being a certain age, so older, late-blooming artists and indeed artists as they age, will find themselves struggling to promote their work. The Carter Burden Gallery in New York is an exception by showing the work of older and late blooming artists.

Keep in mind all those invisible painters who were ignored, as late as the abstract expressionists, in particular the many women abstract expressionists, but they were in effect written out of art history. Get a copy of “Women of Abstract Expressionism” (Yale/Denver Art Museum, 2016).

There is much still to draw from the well of abstract expressionism, and for many later blooming artists, comfortable with history, they are offering fresh ways to see.

Creativity is powerful and dangerous. It has energy, indeed violence and is a force of nature.

Creativity does not like to be contained.

Fearing what others may think of our work also means that we are afraid of what we may create, of how potentially violent our inner creative energies may be. What might come ‘out’?

Picasso said: “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child”.