I’ve been thinking about the distinction between abstract vs. figurative/realistic art for a while. I’ve decided that neither one really exists. There is no pure abstraction and there is no pure realism.
I like to draw both ways, for the same reasons: Drawing something “abstract” gives the analytical side of my brain a break. Over the last few years, I’ve come to enjoy drawing in a free expression style, in addition to on-location sketching. As I am drawing, I constantly try to surprise myself by doing something I would normally consider “ugly” or “illogical”. The goal is to create something unpredictable and unrecognizable. Of course, free expression drawing can also end up looking like something; I may suddenly draw a snake or a mountain or a sun, or I may start to see something recognizable in whatever I’ve drawn.
And drawing something realistic on location, as in urban sketching, gives my brain the same break. I just use what I see in front of me as a guide and try to trace it with my pen, there is no need to “design” anything. The calming effect on my brain is the same as with my abstract drawings.
When I draw something realistic, based on what I see on the street or when looking at a human model, I very much enjoy the abstract quality of a line, or the repetition of a pattern of hosiery maybe, or the shape of a tree. When I enjoy these elements for their visual qualities alone, they become completely abstract to me. And lines are abstractions to begin with; there are no lines in nature.
On the other hand, when I create an abstract drawing, my brain instinctively tries to associate the resulting shapes with something it already knows. It starts reading interpretations into the drawing. Even a completely minimalist painting like Barney Newman’s Voice of Fire, which has all possible associations removed, by necessity then results in a purely physical interpretation of “three vertical paint strokes, perhaps even done with a cheap paint roller, in about half an hour if sober, a full hour if drunk, on a wooden panel”. The abstract concept behind the art is so far removed from its physical appearance that the art appears to be one with the physical object it consists of. To me, that is as realistic as it ever gets in art. Definitely that is the case for the uninformed viewer, hence all the jokes about “my kid could paint that.”
Here’s my opinion:
All art is abstract in that it consists of shapes and lines on paper or in space which may be interpreted to convey meaning.
All art is realistic in that it consists of shapes and lines on paper or in space which may be interpreted to convey meaning.
P.S. I love Voice of Fire.