I have a bias towards representational art and I confess to spending a lot of time and energy railing against abstract art because it seems so self-serving and narcissistic. I must also cop to a pet peeve about artists (seeing as I am one); we tend to be one self-important bunch of rascals! The very last word in this trend towards personal vision and individual inspiration seemed to me to be the abstract artist, operating in blissful isolation, creating pure sensory experience.
It made me weary, all this effort to be so darn pure and elemental. As if we could all do without the subject matter if we only tried. Is there anything really ultimate about art history? What’s with this idea that we are one some one-way ticket to art purity? There’s nothing necessary about reducing art to pure form, whatever that may mean. Anyway, I don’t see history as unidirectional. That’s only a generalization after the fact. Actually, I think we’re all headed in multiple directions simultaneously.
So my philosophical breakdown with much of modern art, whether it be abstract or arch-conceptual, is that it operates in isolation… the old “art for art’s sake” argument. I began calling this inward trend of art, “The Cult of Subjectivity” because it seemed to stem from some foregone conclusion about the nature of perceptual reality. All this talk about “it means whatever it means” just gave me digestive distress. I really refuse to believe that. Mainly since I know that shared meaning exists, and that we consistently tend towards it.
I wanted my art to hone closer to something like true communication. My concept of art had to do with becoming engaged with the world, creating a personal vision, then sharing that personal vision with others. And it all happens by way of the process of commenting and developing images of the world around us that have the potential to explode into new vistas.
But I am now learning that what has been known familiarly as “non-representational art” is in truth anything but. And it has changed my militant anti-abstract art stance. This idea came to me in the following way. Our minds are arranged so that we can never leave visual information undefined. Visual information is biologically vital to our survival. Words can be ambiguous and they can remain paradoxical. Visual information causes the human mind to drive inexorably towards meaning. And so, we make references. No matter what flavor of color-field, action-painting, “elemental art” abstraction we may confront, our brains will forever carve out some sort of subject matter. There is no such thing as non-representational art.
I came across an old piece of art journalism recently that helped me work out these anti-abstract devils. The author defined abstract art as “multi-referential”. Now there’s a thought; multiple-meanings are inherent, the salient meaning waits to be summoned forth in the course of the viewers exploration, by employing a personal frame of reference.
Kind of like representational art.