Abstract Answer: Semantic shakedown

I’ve been working on this response for three days now, without much formulative success as time went on. So I’m just going going to spill it. This will be the first of at least three parts.

Timothy Jones, of Old World Swine, and I are back in the throes of our spirited and friendly banter on the respective merits of representational and non-representational artwork. Earlier this week he pointed out the problems with Guy Kemper’s glass installations in a rip-roaring post titled Aesthetic Escalator, which he followed up with Aesthetic Esclator, the Sequal, commenting on my comment where I stated that “I personally fail to see how fruit in a bowl is more engaging than certain abstract works.” Through the course of our discourse we’ve both acknowledged our own inability to completely comprehend this dichotomy, although in a comment this week Jones declares he now firmly believes that abstract art equals decorative art.

I don’t know precisely what he means by decorative art. Wikipedia suggests the traditional understanding includes ceramics, wood, glass, metal and textiles. The fine arts, in contrast, are painting, drawing, photography (this is a real surprise to me) and “large-scale” sculpture.

The Old World Swine author used the phrase “fine art” as well during in our bloggy discussion this week. I’ve used this term in the past, although I shy away from it anymore if I can help it. Reading Wikipedia’s brief article on fine art is a good way to understand the problems with this phrase. Jones uses the phrase in the most traditional sense, and is probably using it to refer to “the purity of the discipline” per Wikipedia. He also uses the term to segregate classical techniques from modern (non-representational) if I understand correctly. There remain, however, numerous other connotative understandings of the phrase. This makes conversations like these more arduous than they need to be.

I strive, whenever I can, for clear communication. I like words to mean specific things so that our intentions and ideas can be clearly conveyed. I learned, however, in my singular college level linguistics course that American English is probably the shiftiest of all modern languages. Our culture is more than eager to learn and employ new words, and change the meaning of older ones. Take, for instance, the recent changes in how so many people use the word “pimp.” I’ll point out lastly that I occasionally mis-read some of Jones’ posts, my own fault, on account of his use of the phrase “non-objective.” I didn’t know this term until I met Tim; it essentially means the same thing as non-representational, a phrase I’m very familiar with.

I’ve come to realize that another part of the misunderstanding between Jones and I lies in the very different physical qualities and historical aspects of the media we work in. Yes, we’re both talking about our art, but our baselines are probably very different. Beside the realism vs. abstract discussion, I’m equally fascinated and entrenched with the art vs. craft debates. This is inherent when working with clay. Ceramics boasts a long and wonderful history with both functional and sculptural works, but this functional aspect is something that’s pretty much foreign to certain media, notably paint, and to a lesser degree sculpture.

More from Jones and my banter about “realism” and “abstraction:”

Continuing conversation on abstraction
Abstract appreciation
More on realism and abstraction
Follow Up: JBU Gallery St. Francis Benefit


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.

One Response to Abstract Answer: Semantic shakedown

  1. Pingback: Abstract Answer: Baseline banter « The Aesthetic Elevator

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