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The Nature Of Abstract Art Criticism and Dismissals

Updated on December 21, 2020

Art Criticism and Its Discontents

"I could do that. Anyone could do that."

No, you couldn't. And no, not everyone could, either. Anyone who tries might think the resultant painting reveals something on par with virtuoso, but they would likely fail miserably. Odds are, they'd create dull and flat work.

The above response indicates a reserved and thoughtful response to someone putting forth the traditionally tired and lazy assessment of abstract art.

Abstract art is a gift to the senses, and like all gifts, the thought counts. Intellectual and emotional motivations bring abstract art to life, not unmotivated randomness.

Abstract art remains one of the most well-known and brutally maligned art movements in history. Artwork born of the seemingly chaotic genre remains misunderstood. The misconceptions frequently derive mostly from mistaken impressions of abstract art's motivations. The inability to understand the inspiration often comes from merely looking at the art and solely examining its visuals. While virtually everyone can recognize abstract art when they come across it, not very many will explain the themes and motivations that create a particular distinct work.

When someone asks, "Why does it look the way it does?" analysis must turn away from the images to the underlying thematic depth eeking out of the confusing chaos.

A Cliched Criticism that Never Goes Away

The common clich├ęd criticism of abstract art the works are merely thrown together incoherently. (At least surrealism is coherent "in parts") The negative criticisms attempt to label abstract art as, well, a scam. It's not "real" art, but lame splotches or marks on a canvas. This criticism may become harsher when commentary suggests abstract artwork has no value because due to no motivation, no thematic underpinnings, and no real creativity. Adding up all these drawbacks equates with artwork that is worthless.

There's a question an abstract art fan could pose to a flippant critic: "If anyone can create abstract art, why not create a brand-new art movement, right now?"

If abstract art is a faux "slopped together" movement that anyone could come up with, why can't someone magically create an entirely new "fake" art movement on the spot?

Make something up on the spot and run with it. See if the artworld takes to it.

Creating a revolutionary art movement that establishes a new genre and evoking a visceral and impacting response in an art-educated audience won't come easily. Without an emotional or intellectual quality or both, the artwork won't evoke much of anything. Remove emotional and intellectual components from any finished work, and the result is a run-of-the-mill landscape painting.

Landscape paintings look nice and reflect hard work. Artists who create them deserve praise and respect. However, such paintings don't launch art movements.

Abstract Art and Evolutionary Chaos

Abstract art didn't "show up" because someone decided to craft slapdash art. The movement took its necessary place in a long line in the continual evolution of art movements. One art movement often builds on the previous one, as new art movements put forth reactions to prior ones. The movements may adhere to the artist's perspectives and biases concerning the cultural times they lived. Andy Warhol's pop art reflected a response to antiquity's classical art and drew influences from the rapidly growing television consumer culture of the 1950s and 1960s.

Abstract art mirrors a means of taking surrealism to another level. While surrealism makes no logical sense due to the elements in the canvas having nothing to do with one another, abstract art makes no logical sense, period.

Or so it seems.

The Emotional Nature of Abstract Art

To truly appreciate abstract art, one has to realize this form of art gives physical being to raw emotion amidst racing thoughts. Abstract art seeks to provide abstract chaos with a physical form.

Would it be far off the mark to suggest the emotional depictions embrace anger and somewhat violent emotions? While not so with all forms of abstract art, aggressive anarchism appears in many paintings. Such psychologically wild visuals and concepts make the art both attractive and repellent. Some people like it, others don't.

Collectors seeking realism or classical-styled artwork, may find little value in abstract material. Those interested in visceral intellectualism might consider abstract art comprised of works of brilliance.

The Traditional Safe Norms of Generic Artwork

As with pop art, abstract art is a rebellion against common, traditional norms found in most classical artwork. Commercialized modern art, the art used for home or office decor, provides a reliable way to bring out an interior's looks. Recognizable images tend to evoke a similar safe prefabricated reaction among many viewing the artwork. Such safe reactions allow such basic artwork to be excellent for the living room wall. Unfortunately, another likely common response among many looking at such art is indifference. The artwork doesn't detract from the interior, but it doesn't bring any response from people looking at it.

The Abstract Value

Attitudes towards abstract art are many things, but indifference would hardly be among them. How can someone indifferent towards a work that delivers a shock to the senses upon viewing it? And some purveyors may even detest what they see. This point returns us to the dismissive "Anyone can do that" criticism. A word to the wise here is it would be best to be dismissive of the dismissive. Anyone can like or dislike something for any reason related to personal taste. However, serious criticism on the merits of the material benefits from a knowledgeable perspective and a sense of history. Lacking both detracts from the criticism's value.


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