Abstract Answer: Further semantic obfuscation

Er, clarification, let’s hope.

Let me clarify something I previously mentioned in this series. There has been some semantic confusion between Jones and I in the midst of our banter. This may be largely my fault, as I often use the terms abstract and non-representational interchangeably. Such goes against my own intention to communicate as clearly as possible. It’s little surprise that I do this, however; even Wikipedia and Dictionary.com are confused on this point, equating “abstract” and “non-representational.” Connotatively, abstract in the context of art means the same thing as non-representational.

With this in mind, a better definition for the clearest possible conversation among artists is the following from Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary:

    The act or process of leaving out of consideration one or more properties of a complex object so as to attend to others . . .

To further complicate matters, Jones refers to non-representational artwork as “non-objective.” They are essentially synonyms, but the latter isn’t a word I knew of until we began (more than a year ago now) this discourse. He explained his use of the phrase non-objective to me at some point in the past, but I was not remembering the explanation when I needed to this week.

I will now provide an example of an abstract work of art:

Jeff Koons’ “Tulips” in Bilbao, Spain.

And an example of a non-representational, or non-objective, work of art:

Makoto Fujimura’s “Golden Summer.”

Koons’ sculpture still looks like tulips, even though they are highly stylized, and sans stems. It is abstracted. Fujimura’s painting does not contain any recognizable objects and is therefore non-representational or non-objective.

Abstract and non-representational are different. They need to be kept different if we, as a culture, are going to be able to speak intelligently and clearly about the arts.


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.

4 Responses to Abstract Answer: Further semantic obfuscation

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

  2. Pingback: My Kid Could Paint That, and so could I « The Aesthetic Elevator

  3. jerry gann says:

    All art is Abstract. But not all Abstract art is non-representational. People refer to Abstract art meaning non-representational. Let if go.

    • pcNielsen says:

      I’m curious to know if you meant to type “if” in your last sentence, or if you meant “it.” I’m assuming you meant what you typed. Both make sense, but the meaning of your comment is very different depending on that word.

      While I won’t disagree that all art is abstract — there is a very strong argument for this — the comment begs a conversation on or definition of realism . . .

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