Is Abstract Art Really Art?

Abstract art is a genre that stirs up extreme emotions, for some it is the most creative and novel way of illustrating an artistic vision on the other hand there are a set of art enthusiasts who find it unimaginative, meaningless and even go so far as to say-  “it is an excuse for being a bad artist”. The statement is unquestionably false and invalid, master artists like Pablo Picasso and Kazimir Malevic started as brilliant realist artists, gradually after decades of experience headed towards abstraction as their style and techniques progressively matured. As Picasso quoted- “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”

Guernica by Pablo Picasso

Shown below (Left) is a portrait of Picasso’s mother made by him in his early teens. On the right is the painting- ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’ (The Young Ladies of Avignon) , it is considered to be the prototype that shaped Cubism and Modern art. The evident style difference shows the creative maturity achieved by Picasso over the years.

Shown below (Left) is a realistic still life made by Henri Matisse, in his early years. On the right is his masterpiece painting- ‘Dance’ made after he founded Fauvism. The drastic transformation in his style proves the various techniques he adopted as his style matured over time.

Shown below is a portrait of Kazimir Malevic’s wife made by him in the early years of his career. On the right is the painting- ‘Suprematism’ made after he pioneered geometric abstraction.

Of all the arts, abstract painting is the most difficult. It demands that you know how to draw well, that you have a heightened sensitivity for composition and for colors, and that you be a true poet. This last is essential.” – Wassily Kandinksky

To evoke emotions from a visual composition of shapes, lines and color that are completely detached from reality is what an abstract artist wishes to accomplish. It’s a tricky and tough target to achieve, the artwork needs to be intriguing and absorbing enough to give a viewer pause for thought.

Each one of us would have a different emotional reaction, interpretation and understanding of an abstraction, that is the unique creative character of non-representational art. Seeing Paul Klee’s painting (shown below) one might spot, drama and positive energy in the shape shifting color distribution but for some the patterned pastel shades may generate feeling of melancholy or chaos.

Feeling intimidated or stressing over deciphering the art would only ruin your visual experience, creative imagination and curiosity is all that’s needed to appreciate and enjoy  an abstract artwork.  What was the artist thinking while making the painting?  What is the message of the artwork? These are pointless questions best kept at bay. Abstract art is open to multiple connotations, it is like a prism that separates a single idea into a spectrum of interpretations.

In summary, abstract art is not an easy route taken by amateur artists, it is an idea that has fermented over years through various movements, experiments and techniques. Before the advent of camera, traditional arts theory was to capture live scenarios as close to reality as possible. Impressionist artists (late 19th century) were the first to defy the traditional methods by introducing abstraction in the art domain with a radical technique of coloring. Following various movements like Expressionism & Fauvism, by early 21st century Cubist artists like Picasso, Georges Braque and Juan Gris gave a sweeping turn by rejecting the most fundamental elements of art- Perspective and Pictorial Depth. Abstract art further evolved with successive movements like Surrealist and Op-art and it continues to progress and transform from post modernism to contemporary art scenario.

Shown below are artworks- La bouteille d’anis (The Bottle of Anis) and Les raisins made by cubism artist Juan Gris.