Abstract appreciation

Last week I asked in a post something like, “Is a greater or primary appreciation for realism or abstraction a right-brain left-brain thing?”

Wikipedia defines right-brain functions as:

    “holistical algorithmic processing, abstract-oriented, mathematics: quality – perception of shapes/motions, present and future, language: intonation/emphasis, spatial perception” [emphasis mine]

And left-brain function as:

    “linear algorithmic processing, concrete-oriented, mathematics: quantity – perception of counting/measurement, present and past, language: grammar/words, pattern perception”

I’ve no other data or experiences to back up this idea any further, but thought it worth mentioning again.

An experience I do have time and time again, however, is a person asking what a piece of artwork is “for.” It happened yesterday in my hearing, granted the piece in question was being done by someone known for functional crocheting. At times I wonder if it isn’t generational, where people my parents age (baby boomers) are predisposed to concrete ideas. Then I quickly remember the people I know who debunk this theory as well.

I know I’ve also asked this here before, but why can’t art just be beautiful? Some will suggest this equates art with decoration. A Makoto Fujimura show opens at the JBU gallery this week— a show I’ve waited for all school year. Last year, a videographer interviewing Fujimura for The Christian Vision Project noted another artist calling Fujimura’s work “decorative.” The interviewer noted that in the high-art world of New York City, this is a snub. It was not complimentary (Fujimura took the comment with the humility and grace commonly attributed to him.).

What’s wrong with decoration? Granted, most full-time artists’ works show their passions, be they personal, political, social, even if it isn’t via recognizable forms. Therein, abstract work possesses imaginative thought beyond mere ornamentation. I often wonder if people who too-quickly and thoughtlessly poo-poo abstract canvases or sculptures as not worth their time aren’t being, frankly, lazy viewers.

In this all-too-fast-paced culture, the blame isn’t entirely on the viewer. We hurry. We don’t take time to stop and smell the roses, or the cherry blossoms, or even our dinner before inhaling it. Hence the category on this blog titled “Intentional observation.” Further, many people don’t have the slightest training in artistic viewing. They don’t know how to approach a Pollock or Rothko without thinking, “My three year old can do that.”

Not everyone who poo-poos abstraction is a lazy viewer, Tim Jones being a proper example for this entry on this blog. I fear, however, many people do fit this description.


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at pcNielsen.com.

3 Responses to Abstract appreciation

  1. Tim J. says:

    Thanks much for these posts. Fascinating to see that so many of the private thoughts I have had about the meaning of art (and non-objective art in particular) have been entertained and ruminated over by others of superior brain. Gives me hope that I am not TOO far off.

    When I started putting together a series of posts on art for a friend’s blog a couple of years ago, I began with the idea of design being the most fundamental aspect of art (everything man-made has design) with decoration coming next, followed by illustration and then fine art. Basically, I hope to argue that the greatest art is the most comprehensive, and will incorporate all of these categories.

    When I got to the topic of non-ojective art, I bogged down, because it did not seem to fit any of the categories I had defined. I am now pretty confident that non-objective art does function well as a subset of decorative art, and that this is no insult.

    Where I think non-objective art functions well is in its unique relation to its environment, and to architecture in particular. Decorative art presupposes some object or space being decorated. The pattern on an ancient clay pot, for instance, loses power if it is seperated from the object for which it was created. The decorative pattern and the form of the pot strengthen and feed off of one another and there is a synergy that takes place.

    The same is true of non-objective decorative art. Thing is, we seem to live in a time when things are broken apart that have always been together, and that were actually made for one another. Our buildings are mostly blank and inhuman cubes, and our decorative art hangs in museums. We need to bring these two together again. I know this is already done to some extent, but not much in a really intentional and thoughtful way, it seems to me.

    A building is designed, and then (if it’s in the budget) some art will be hung here and there, but the art isn’t really part of the idea of the building. Sadly, most churches are done this way now.

    People have always decorated things. As long as people have made things, they have decorated them. Until now. Now we go for “elegant simplicity”… which, not coincidentally, is also cheap.

    When I served on a church building committee recently, everyone was excited (at first) about the possibilities of what could be done to make the building a testament to the Gospel. After a few months, and after the professional “handlers” were brought in, the process quickly became basically “What color concrete would you prefer, beige, tan, or off-white?”.

    Why? Because in our culture, we want it NOW and we want it CHEAP, and the idea of taking decades to build a work of art that we can leave to our great-grandchildren is mostly considered ridiculous and wasteful. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”

    There is also a nifty parallel between decorative art and music which might be fun to explore, but maybe later.

    Thanks, again.

  2. Pingback: Abstract Answer: Semantic shakedown « The Aesthetic Elevator

  3. Pingback: Abstract Answer: Decorative details « The Aesthetic Elevator

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