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Abstractions

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The first classification, called”Representational” art, refers to imagery that visually represents objects the way they are actually seen in life. In other words imagery that looks real and can be easily understood by anyone that shares our common perceptions of reality. There is nothing difficult to understand about this type of art. Unless your perceptions of the world are seriously compromised, most everybody comprehends realism/naturalism/ —– representational art.

There are many reasons why artists choose to paint in a representational manner, but the most common is that the artist simply enjoys the mastery of creating illusions and communicating very clearly to the viewer. Painting realistically is a little bit like being a magician. The artist has the ability to wave a magic wand (the paint brush) and convince people that they are seeing something that is not actually there. The second classification, called”Abstract” art, consists of objects that are known to all people, but distorted so the essence, feelings or emotions of the imagery can be featured. Any object can be abstracted, but the thing to remember is that abstraction ALWAYS stems from real objects and is based on something tangible. You cannot abstract something that is unknown. You can only abstract a known entity. The primary reason why artists choose to work abstractly is because they feel it gives them more freedom to express their thoughts and technique. For example they might feel that the emotions of a human face could be communicated more forcefully if abstracted, rather than if painted realistically, or, that a thunderstorm might have more visual impact if shown in abstraction. Abstraction also allows artists to break away from the restrictions and routine that are necessary when creating realistic illusions. By abstracting known objects the sky can be green, water can be orange, people can have two mouths and five eyes. It allows for a type of expression that realism does not permit.

My unofficial guess is that the majority of artists working today (at least in the United States) prefer an abstract style of painting. Most people in this country enjoy it and some don’t even realize they are seeing abstract work because it has become such a part of the mainstream. The most commercially influential and successful collections of museum exhibits in the 20th century were those of the French impressionists. There are countless posters, prints, decorative plates, postcards, tote bags etc. sold everyday bearing their images. All of the Impressionist painters, who produced such marvelously beautiful and popular imagery, were abstract artists: Pierre Renoir, Georges Seurat, Paul Cezanne and Claude Monet, to name just a few. The third classification, called”Non-Representational” art, looks like abstract art, but is in a category by itself because it is NOT based on known objects or on anything tangible. Instead it presents no subject matter other than its own materials and formal elements. That last part is important, because all art has subject matter and in non-representational paintings the subject matter is the lines, shapes, colors and textures of the painting.

Furthermore, since non-representational art is Not based on known or tangible objects, the viewer is Not generally supposed to imagine or “see” anything in the work – other than what is actually there (lines, shapes colors, textures, and other formal and design elements discussed in your text). Most Non-Representational art contains a “what-you-see-is-what-you-get” attitude. There is nothing more or less in non-representational art than what you see.

When people look at Abstract art they ARE supposed to see something in it. They are supposed to see the subject matter that the artist wants them to see. In the abstract paintings mentioned above, the viewer can recognize the subject matter of a wave, of people, and of a tea-cup even though that subject matter is sometimes very heavily stylized by the artist. However, in Non-Representational art, as in the Non-Representational painting titled “Orange Crush” by LarryPoons, the viewer is NOT suppose to see anything other than what is actually there – in this case it would be the colors, shapes, space and composition. There is a tendency in people to want to see more. We want to exert our imagination and conjure up more, but, if we did, we would not be doing what non-representational artists would usually want us to do. All they want for us to do is enjoy the elements of art that are present in the work (line, colors, shapes, texture, and the other formal and design elements that they carefully put together in their composition). A lot of people think art should be more than that, but the non-representational artists make a good argument for the way they work. They argue that their work is very pure because they are not trying to trick the public like realists do or distort reality like abstract artists do. Instead they present exact reality by claiming that a red brushstroke is nothing more than a red brushstroke. They feel that the intrinsic beauty of a color, line, shape and texture is enough in art and nothing else needs to be done. This view was all the rage in the 1950s in America among curators and art theorists (especially a New York critic named Clement Greenberg), and because of America’s new found cultural influence in the world after World War II, it quickly became one of the defining aesthetics of contemporary art throughout the world. Clement Greenberg was an important champion of Jackson Pollock’s non-representational painting (such as Pollock’s non-representational painting “Shimmering Substance” above) and it soon became the generic cultural symbol for modern art that most everyday americans had trouble appreciating. This ambivalence can be seen in pop culture from the time, such as Norman Rockwell’s (a well-known representational illustrator) 1962 representational painting titled “Connoisseur,”made as a cover for the Saturday Evening Post. People wonder if it is too easy to paint in a nonrepresentational way. The truth is, it is not as easy as it looks. Nevertheless, people say that their children could do what nonrepresentational artists do AND they would be right. Children are not as bogged down in iconography and symbolism as are adults. Children are more pure at heart (especially at age three and younger) and can enjoy merely working with lines, shapes, textures and colors. An example would be finger painting. When you see a child making a finger painting the child is having a wonderful time – so why shouldn’t an adult artist possess the same feeling by working in a similar fashion? The Abstractions essay is as follows:

Look through you textbook and find two (2) works of art that you think are visually or emotionally interesting to you.
One must be either Representational, Non-representational or Abstract, and the other has to be one of the other two. They both cannot be the same classification.

After picking your two choices write an essay comparing the emotions you get from the two. Make sure you explain why the way the art is produced affects your feelings in the way that it does.

This project will accomplish six things:

1. It will help you understand the differences between three classifications of art.

2. It will give you a broader understanding of art history.

3. It will explain the reasons for nonrepresentational art.

4. It will enable you to distinguish between abstraction and nonrepresentational art.

5. It could help you narrow down the types of art to which you are attracted.

6. It will cause you to think in societal terms in addition to your individual perspective.

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