Guest Post by abstract artist Orla Gilkeson
What is Abstract Art?
Many of us have asked this complicated question. Artists, curators, art collectors consider it regularly. It may be that it is a question we can only really answer for ourselves. What is Abstract Art to me? I wanted to explore this for myself and give you a sense of what I think Abstract Art is.
I believe Art in all its forms seeks to open up a dialogue. To engage, excite and provoke. Abstract Art is no different in this regard, although it may feel a little more difficult to engage with initially. As far as I am concerned great art leaves us with a sense of mystery and uncertainty. It allows us to question and creates a safe place to do that without sermonising and telling us what we should believe.
It reminds me of a poem by Denise Levertov called ‘The Secret,’ which describes how ‘Two girls discover/the secret of life/in a sudden line of poetry,’ and relate this to Levertov through a third party. Levertov herself admits to not knowing this secret but loves the fact that by the time she writes the poem the girls will have forgotten the secret and the line, as well as the poem itself. This means they can rediscover it over and over again throughout their lives in various places. What the poet loves most of all is that these two girls assume such a secret exists. In my opinion abstract art in particular creates tension, suspense and a sense of unease which leads us to question the nature of art and life ourselves. It shows us that reality isn’t fixed and solid but in a state of constant change, not to mention the fact that it is always being redefined in the evolving fluidity of human interpretation.
Most art historians and critics agree that abstract art really started with Wassily Kandinsky. I might argue that it began thousands of years before with the symbolic mark making of our ancestors on cave walls. However for our purposes Kandinsky is an excellent reference point. Kandinsky was one of the first painters to leave representational art behind and embrace the idea of painting from the ‘soul’ or the unconscious mind. He was influenced by the ideas of Theosophy, which was really based on the integration of Eastern philosophies into Western ideas. Kandinsky’s work has undeniably spiritual undertones and he sought to make sure his art was an expression of primal emotion, much like a musician or composer. He thought of painting abstract art as being free of the need to be representational, and set out to ‘paint music.’ This approach has had a profound impact on abstract painting ever since.
I paint my subjects with an understanding that being representational or strictly ‘realistic,’ is actually abstract whether you realise it or not. How do you set out to paint a tree which is part of a whole forest in a realistic way? How do you ‘realistically’ paint a seascape or a sky which is in a state of constant change? Our moods and interpretations change as do the subjects around us. I feel it is much more realistic to try and capture the ‘essence’ of something even though it might seem like a just a flavour of the passing moment. Nothing is permanent, nothing stays the same, just like the light that illuminates it.
For me, this is abstract art and the truest way that I can paint the world around me. It is the only way I know to even begin to try to answer the question, ‘What is Abstract Art?’
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