Few weeks back I and my wife were at ‘Grounds for Sculpture,’ a sculpture park and museum close to my place. I must say we thoroughly enjoyed our trip, though I felt for long that some of the artwork there was out of place. The reason being, the ‘Abstract Art’ as those are called weren’t meaningful to me. Why did I pay to see a bunch of circles joined together, I asked of myself at one point? Of course, there were other gorgeous works also, which I could relate with, but I wanted to satisfy my quest to understand the myth behind abstract art.
So I did some digging-up and here’s the explanation:
To understand Abstract Art, we need to have an open mind and be imaginative. It is more of a personal experience than being dictated by the artists or their work…and that is the beauty of it. It’s not that the artists just built up something randomly; they wanted us to derive meaning out of their work without us getting constrained by their thoughts. In other words, their work is meant to be open to our interpretation unlike representational art. We can assign our own meaning and context to it.
Let’s look at the picture below from my trip and try making sense of it. What do we see?
I saw some nice patterns cut out in metal sheets and various sheets cleanly joined together, standing tall in the shape of a flower. Maybe the shape in the front sheet resembles wing of a bird. You might have your own thoughts.
The fact is we are all correct…there is no right or wrong to our answers.
Some of us might still be confused with the picture, by not being able to make any sense out of it. It is perfectly fine since we inevitably try to correlate it with some recognizable objects (like I did), our memories and experiences, and when we are not able to, we think maybe it is not about anything. The truth is abstract art is not “about nothing.” It has all the formal qualities of artwork in form, color, line, texture, composition, pattern and process. Meaning is derived from how these formal qualities are used to create a visual (and/or visceral, cerebral, emotional, etc) experience.
Pablo Picasso’s take on understanding abstract art is:
“Everyone wants to understand art. Why not try to understand the song of a bird?…people who try to explain pictures are usually barking up the wrong tree.”
The point is, Art is an experience, as it speaks to nonverbal parts of our existence…affecting each of us differently. We need to free ourselves and let art take us wherever it has to – life without words, beyond experiences and surpassing definitions. Let it touch our sensations, emotions and memories. Look intently and see colors, forms, materials, surface and how they interact. We need to engage with the painting and let it “speak” to us.
We can also go a step further and read about an artist’s intention behind the artwork, which will add further meaning and value to our individual interpretations.
Only when we are able to understand the true worth of a painting or an art, can we understand why Picasso’s painting recently went for $179.37 million.
P.S. Here are some of the other works from my trip: