I remember being a cynical, judgemental little fucker of a teenager when I was studying Art at GCSE level. I disliked a lot of artists. I remember looking at Cy Twombly and Jackson Pollock in one of my sketchbooks specifically so I could bitch about how rubbish their work was. I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand the purpose of art; I didn’t understand what constitutes good design; I didn’t understand what goes into it and what actually makes a visually compelling piece of work.
I am writing this post as a sort of karmic apology to the universe and its abstract artists. It’s long overdue.
I just came across this video, which I think is absolutely spot on:
It’s made me want to talk a bit more about how my feelings on modern/ abstract/ “not technically difficult” art have changed over the years since I’ve grown up and learned to appreciate art and design in all its forms.
So, I have two responses to those people who say “I could do that” (including myself as a teenager):
You (Probably) Couldn’t
With age and practice, I have realised that art and design ain’t all that easy. Sure, you can have a naturally good eye for composition and things that are visually pleasing – I like to think I do. But on top of that, you also need to understand the principles of design and you need to be very well-practised in technical mark-making of some sort. If you actually look up close at the work of Jackson Pollock and Cy Twombly – and, indeed, look at it from far away in which you notice different things entirely – you may see why it’s not actually that easy.
There are a lot of elements at play in their work. For example, let’s look at this piece by Twombly:
To be entirely honest, despite reading around a fair bit and trying to educate myself, I still don’t know a great deal about the principles of design and what makes good art. But from an amateur perspective and as someone who appreciates pleasing visual design, I love this piece because: it has implied movement (look how dynamic it is!); the colours work beautifully together; there is an illusion of three dimensions; it just feels “right” in terms of composition (sometimes, your inherent gut reaction to these things says it all – humans have an intrinsic appreciation of good visual composition. In fact, I think this piece has a little of the Fibonacci spiral/ golden ratio).
Another Twombly piece:
I love love love this. It’s just… right. It sits right with me. The muted colours which go perfectly together, the dribbling paint contrasted with the black lines is a combination I like; the variety of harsh and muted marks; the overall composition. There are some things you just can’t put into word and my appreciation for this piece is one of them. I’m sure there are people who can articulate this, however, so maybe you should look further into it for better explanations of why this is good art. This makes me imagine a harbourside at night time. The dribbly paint is almost evocative of the reflection in the rippling water.
This Jackson Pollock piece is another I find impressive in a way that I can’t quite articulate:
There’s just SOMETHING about this composition and the use of colour. My eyes feel drawn to it and I don’t quite want to look away. It feels symmetrical and ordered despite the chaos and noise. It just… works.
So many people say “I could do that” about art they find technically unimpressive. So, show me. Prove it. If you can do it, then do. But it’s likely that you couldn’t.
If you could do it, why haven’t you? What’s stopping you?
Because that’s another fundamental ingredient in this kind of art – just doing it. Being unafraid. Not being a perfectionist. Not holding back. Thinking, but not too hard. Embracing your expressive side. This is stuff I have struggled with since I can remember. I am a perfectionist. I am afraid to let go. I tend to think and not do.
With time, age and experience of trying to embrace my own creative side, I’ve grown to respect those who just go ahead and DO STUFF, because doing it is half the battle.
So it’s all very well saying you could do it, but guess what? You haven’t.
Art is not just about something being technically impressive. It is about the experience, the way it makes you feel, what it makes you think about, the questions it makes you ask.
And if this art is making you ask questions about the very nature of art, hasn’t it succeeded?