Christine Alfery

Posted on March 03 2022


Featured image: Crossroads

I can’t tell you how many times that I've heard the comment, “I don’t understand abstract art.” Why is that?

Well, sometimes there is nothing in the work. By that I mean that there's NO MEANING and no good design. People need content and the work needs to relate to something that they can relate to. Today, color seems to be the dominate element that people relate to. They choose a work of art because there are colors in it that match something in the room they want to put it in. But, does a bunch of colors placed on an abject make it art? No. Just like giving a child a dish full of sugar doesn’t make it cereal. Today abstract art, for the most part, is simply a lot of color placed on an object. Popular colors are usually chosen. Works with just color for content, are called abstract art today. But, there is no content. And it isn’t art. For example: One of my favorite abstract artists is Elaine deKooning. She painted this work called, Bacchus #3.

This is probably a work that many would walk by and make the statement; “I don’t understand abstract work.” For me, I instantly see figures all inter-tangled. There is wonderful content here. Why do I understand this work and others don’t? The answer is obvious. I have been educated in the arts. So, is that all it takes for people to stop saying, “I don’t understand abstract art work?” Put simply, the answer is, "Yes." Does that mean that they have to be over educated in the arts to be able to understand this? No. They just need to want to, and many don’t want to take the time, don’t even want to begin thinking about it. The thing is that many people don’t want to think about it. It is just easier to match colors, which is not too many steps beyond coloring within the lines in a coloring book. I think of what I call the McDonalds happy meals culture where folks want instant gratification and a prize in their happy meal box. Some things do take a little effort – and learning how to look, how to read visual works is one of those things that take a little effort. An abstract work takes a little effort to be able to read and understand.

Without the abstract, there can be no discovery and exploration and there is no unique one-of-a-kind artist creating from the abstract to discover and present a fresh way to understand and look at art and the environment. So, if the works that are filled with just color really aren't art but rather wall paper with a frame around the paper. Artists who don’t begin with the abstract cannot make unique, original and one-of-a-kind works. Just like scientists that follow a formula and don’t work with an abstract first aren’t really discovering and progressing ideas forward, they are merely copying and repeating what has already been done.

Both artists and scientists begin with the abstract. They take all the elements that have no meaning presented to them, I can only speak for the artist here, and begin to organize them, and look for some conceptual element in the work which they wish to emphasize. This process makes the work unique and one-of-a-kind. So, when someone says that they don’t like abstraction, they really mean that they don’t understand abstraction, and that makes sense because there is nothing there to understand. Art needs a conceptual element that emerges from the abstract to make it “art.” Science is the same way.
The thing with work that has no meaning, is that it can be anything and everything. Being anything and everything isn’t art. Abstract art needs to be defined just like everything else.
Recently I created this work I called, “Cross Roads.”

It would be easy to take the easy road to understanding this work and just say that I like red and black together. But what makes this work “art” is the idea and the concept within this work. It is the uniqueness of putting these abstract elements together and giving them conceptual meaning. It is part of the artist and it becomes art, unique and one-of-a-kind.

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