Part 7 Is it Abstract or is it Figurative?
Back to the Beginning – Part 1
Previous Post – Part 6
As I continue to look at art where the faces of the subjects are obscured, smeared, torn, set on fire or otherwise defaced I am forced to compare these contemporary works with abstract artwork. Abstract artwork is a big category dating back at least 100 years. It seems that art used to be concrete – artists painted what they saw, and the viewer of this art could (if the artist was good enough) tell what was painted. It was a cat, it was a portrait of sir so and so, it was a bridge, it was the battle of whatever.
Figurative art is straightforward art that represents human figures (and sometimes animals). For instance:
This definitely represents a person (well two people), you can tell its a person and you could probably recognize that person if you saw them. Although recognition is not necessary for figurative art.
Then came the impressionists and post-impressionist painters like Monet, Seurat and Cezanne whose painters weren’t direct interpretations of what they saw. Well shut the front door! You mean color, and shapes could be as important as the person being painted, or as important as the building, or the tree? Yes, Yes, and Yes. The color, the shapes, the way they worked together could actually make the viewer feel things, evoke memories, and feelings. So abstract art was born. But is this art of defacement abstract art? Here are a few pieces of true (as close as I can get to “true”) abstract just for comparison purposes.
The important thing about abstract painting is that specific people are not represented. There faces are obscured, but it is very intentional because the artists are trying to get at something bigger than merely a representation of an individual, or a scene, or a landscape. If the artist wants you feel something, rather than look at something maybe they use shapes and colors instead of a face, or a tree on a specific hill. That is what they were aiming for. Here are some contemporary artists:
I think that these paintings could be seen as abstract. The last three are a bit problematic. The last piece is a photograph, which while not among the original roster of abstract art, is definitely a piece of abstract art to me. The figure of the man running is a little more difficult. While not representing a specific individual, he is more closer to being an actual person than some abstract art. He does not however have a face, or even the pretense of being a specific individual. The next piece wavers between specific, with its sharp lines, and yet at the same time plays with color and shape like abstract art.
What is interesting is that the original abstract artists were working almost in opposition to what was considered art. Jackson Pollock painted using drips and smears. How could that be art to people who were accustomed to the Mona Lisa, The Statue of Abraham Lincoln in Washington D.C., and Norman Rockwell? Even the Impressionists of the earlier time were working against all the great art of Europe – the frescos, the busts, the nudes, the great churches with all their vaulted ceilings and stained glass. All that art was so specific – even the symbolism of that art was specific. There were specific religious meanings for all the symbols on buildings, in paintings, in texts. They wanted something more than just straight forward representation. There were splashes of more – hints of surrealism (see the works of Hieronymus Bosch), magical figures, and other teasing glances at something larger than just ordinary life.
The difficulty for me with contemporary art, and specifically with these works of defacement is that there doesn’t seem to be a philosophy behind them. There doesn’t seem to be a movement here – no move toward social change, no move of resistance toward something better or a new way of thinking or looking at things. Also the abstract artists used to have abstract art shows. They used to talk to each other. They used be known as a movement. They used to reference each other. What is this contemporary art? I have never seen one contemporary artist reference another. They reference older artists – great, but they don’t seem to know each other. There is not cohesion or sense of greater purpose. I am going to say something horrible – some of this seems regurgitated to me – literally and figuratively. This is only my opinion so if you are angry at me you can email me and be angry at me firstname.lastname@example.org. Also if you want me to take down your art please email me and I will take it down right away. I am going to continue writing and exploring this and I will probably change my mind or maybe not. I want to know more, figure out more. Of course – none of this art is mine – click on the art to be taken to the original source!
Next – Part 8 Don’t Loook at Me!