Weekly Question No. 11 - WRONG TURN?

Gosh, Saturday night again already! Time for a new question.  

As always, there are no right or wrong answers so just let rip.  :)

How often have you heard something derisive such as, “A kid could have done that”, in response to an abstract or semi-abstract painting? Are people justified in making such comments, or are they missing something? Are you open to non-representational work, or do you think western art took a wrong turn with abstraction?



  • I’m definitely not qualified to comment on western arts “path”… But, in my recent exploration with art I have found that I’m just not as attracted to abstract or to non-representational as I am to more conventional art. And there are even artists of conventional art that I just don’t relate to their vision  either, but that seems to be because I’m still examining my own personal vision. I guess I’m still looking for my “why” and not theirs for now.

    As far as a child doing it… it depends on if it’s your child or not. It’s all in the eye and mind of the beholder.

  • edited February 6
    Painting abstraction is not a wrong turn. If art is a response of human existence to its experience of life then it is a brilliant set of turns - given the various schools.
    What I object to most is the accompanying pretentiousness - which led to, 'other forms of painting are passé'; 'if you don't like it you don't get it,' so people taught themselves to like it and dismiss alternatives. I think that's less the case now.
    Then there were the truly post-modern forms - tomato soup can, 'white on white' - let's make a point. Ok, I get it. Anything is art. But once that's been said, and it's been said over and over, I really do find that passé. Ho hum. Yes, I remember that as a child.
    Many abstract works are really powerful. I think surrealism for me is the most powerful group because it draws on imagery that speaks into our inner world and experiences. I note that most forms of abstraction require a title to communicate the thought or it's just a good graphic design.
    A lot of it doesn't grab me, but if it's presented sufficient seriousness, people take it seriously. Sometimes I've seen more interesting patterns in my bathroom tiles than such works. It feels like a pantomime, like the emperor's new clothes sometimes. And then some is really powerful.
  • Thanks for your responses to this week's question @joydeschenes and @Abstraction. You've both made interesting points.

    I won't comment further at this stage but wait a few days for more responses so that I can give a summary of people's thoughts. It will be interesting to see where people stand on this question and whether there is any majority position.  :)
  • edited February 6
    I do tend to think that art declined after impression, discipline wise. 

    Surrealism is pretty cool to me also, @Abstraction

    I don't like abstract when it displays no skill and expresses nothing.  Obviously the latter is often in the eye of the beholder, but if there is an abstract piece that is actually conveying something, of course, that's fine.  But only if that's what the artist thought actually was the best way to convey it. 

    Does that make sense?  I just fear that too many modern paintings have no art/value/realism/composition knowledge, or little dedication or discipline to take the time to learn it or do it right, and on top of this pile is the successful label, 'it's abstract'.

    [edited for a typo]

  • Thanks, @allforChrist. Yes, that makes sense. I can relate to your concerns about abstract painting.   :)
  • edited February 6
    I am more open to it now than when I was younger.

    I think I may have even used the “A kid could have done that” line myself in the past. (Guilty as charged your honour  =) )

    I said that once about Warhols work and my brother, quite rightly said “ Yea, but a kid did not do it Andy Warhol did”

    Which of course points to all those obvious things like the name/brand etc.

    I recall in high school we did a trip from Liverpool to the Tate in London (there is now one in Liverpool).

    I remember seeing a massive canvas with 3 big circles (I think blue, yellow and red) painted on them.

    I didnt understand or like it and I think I would feel the same if I saw it today.

    I can appreciate that others appreciate work that I do not like or understand or does not move me.

    The cynic (or maybe realist) in me will still sometimes wonder, if I stumble on work that looks to me like they were just testing some colours out and one of the containers tipped over on the canvas but its actually a much appreciated (and probably expensive) piece by a well respected artist.

    The thing is If I get close enough to non abstract work it looks abstract anyway  :)
  • edited February 6
    Thanks, @MichaelD. You're right about getting close up and seeing the abstraction in realist paintings. Get right up close to a Rembrandt, for example, and a lot of it is just blobs and squiggles. And that's partly what makes them so wonderful to me.

    But completely non-representational paintings usually leave me cold. I have an almost photographic memory for paintings that move me. But I have no memory of most of the hundreds, if not thousands, of completely abstract works I’ve seen. That may be because I am rarely moved by them. They don’t stop me in my tracks and make me gasp. On the other hand, semi-abstract works can really move me. I’ll never forget seeing Picasso’s Guernica for example and his Demoiselles D’Avignon and marveling at them. They are wonderful, powerful paintings. But Rothko’s colour field paintings or Pollock’s drip paintings just don’t do it for me. I have a vague memory of what they look like but there’s no emotional memory the way there is with realist or semi-abstract work. I count the impressionists among the realists, BTW. I love their work. Many works by Cezanne I love and can picture in my mind but he took abstraction too far with the late works. They leave me cold. But art “experts” rave about them. That's ok.

    Like you, I don't judge others' tastes - if completely abstract works do it for some folk then that's great. I actually own some semi-abstract works but they have enough connection with the world of visual reality to be meaningful to me. I think that aesthetics is an entirely personal thing. And that's good because if everyone liked the same thing we'd all be painting the same sort of stuff over and over and that would be very boring.  :)
  • CBGCBG -
    edited February 6
    tassieguy said:

    “A kid could have done that”

    Are people justified in making such comments, or are they missing something? Are you open to non-representational work, or do you think western art took a wrong turn with abstraction?

    1.  With respect to the latter issue:  I am fully open to non-representational work. An artist can diligently and purposefully, attempt to convey something with color and form which is not what the eye sees externally.  Those earnestly searching for meaning and emotion, or something unique or profound.. something real ABOUT human experience on a canvas, even when non-representational, they have my complete and utter support.

    As for taking wrong turns, western art took a big wrong turn when it became rife with fraud, both monetary and spiritual, when the population of so called artists exploded with mediocrity and superficiality, when finally, to be the most successful of artists meant to be the greatest of con artists.

    Those fraudsters who were in the racket for money and fame, do not bank off of the meaning, profundity, or understanding a work elicits, but by the meaninglessness of the work and the incredulity of the viewers.  The more a common plebeian, a lowly commoner, found a work to be incomprehensible, the greater the badge of honor for the artist.  The less the discernible meaning or relevance to human experience of an artwork, the more profound it must be... and so the racket victimizes everyone's self-esteem and the meaning and value of art itself, while preying particularly on the wealthy all too eager to snap up a work precisely because they do not "get it".  What they don't get is that there literally is nothing TO get.

    In most cases, only the fraudster really knows, but ten bets to one, if the artist's babblings are as incoherent and unintelligible as the work itself, it is likely trash being foisted as "high art"... and in some cases ... in some circles... this is literally true.

    In one case, a con artist brags about how he simply had a can of worms distribute paint mixed with feces on a skull for a canvas, recounting how he spent no work on something which has no meaning, purpose, or intelligibility, at least not for the common man....

    In another case, a real artist honestly confesses a long and arduous journey towards some difficult to reach goal, spent with much sweat, frustration, loss of sleep, wasted resources and failed attempts, a process perhaps which tortured the artist and a final product which does still.  And if that artist earnestly is attempting to convey to a viewer and on some level is concerned about whether the work has succeeded in conveying or producing something in the viewer... well then even in the non-representational realm, I would say we have a real artist.

    [I am reminded of on the one hand a composer-piano player earnestly trying to move her audience to profound thought or emotion, and on the other hand a composer-piano player gleeful at the confusion and disgust her cacophonous random hammering produces....]

    Quite simply put, those who do not honestly and earnestly engage their "artistic center" (something of the mind and soul of human) in the labor and endeavor of art, but instead PASS OFF as the product of such an effort, mere random purposeless and effortless smears are frauds not actually engaged in art at all.

    2.  To claim a kid could do something either as sophisticated and twisted as the moral, spiritual, and artistic corruption of fraud, OR as tortuous and difficult as a genuine artists journey inward and beyond may be claiming much... and perhaps people are missing something. 

    To claim that what Frauds produce, often looks like something any kid could do, if asked to make a meaningless messs, I would have to say ... perhaps people are not missing anything at all.

  • GTOGTO -
    edited February 6
     Abstraction was inevitable.  Realism was a response to academics.  (In terms of subject matter and style). Impressionism was a response to realism.  Abstraction explored beyond impressionism.  Expressionism was a response to political, economic and social oppression (and personal expression of the human condition).
    Are computer generated images sold through NFT art?  Maybe that is the next response. What’s next?  Who knows.
    I think the most difficult thing for any creative person is to come up with something new, something nobody else is doing.  
    Budding artist tend to feel they need a niche or a “Brand”.  I’ve seen artists that start out get sales selling paintings of chickens and from then on that’s pretty much all they paint, not that I have anything against painting chickens.  
    And then there is the rock idol artist that gains recognition and then a bunch of artists want to paint like them.  My wife and I have gone to countless painting events and shows and we have an inside joke that we do.  We see how long it takes before we hear a certain “famous” artists name, though usually expressed by just their initials, spoken by some other artist at the event. Not that the artist doesn’t have talent, it’s just the idolization and need to somehow be near and have some of that success rub off on them is what I find interesting. 🤔 It reminds me of 1970 rock and roll music gods back when stadium rock was going on. I know what I’m talking about I attended a lot of those shows. 😀 But they are just musicians that got famous, and artists are just artists, like you and like me.  I say, work on your craft, be confident in what you are doing and most of all have fun. 
  • edited February 7
    Thanks @CGB for a very thoughtful response as usual. I will respond in more detail to it later. And thanks, @GTO. I agree there is much to be said for working on our craft and at the same time trying to have fun.  And thanks again to @joydeschenes, @Abstraction, @allforChrist and @MichaelD. I enjoyed reading the thoughts of each of you on the matter. I find this question fascinating so, in a few days, I will write a precis that brings together all your thoughts.  :)

  • edited February 12

    Here is a summary of what folks here think about abstraction.

    @Abstraction feels that it's advent was not a wrong turn – some of it is brilliant. But some of it has nothing to communicate and is of no interest. I agree.

    Similarly, @allforChrist,  feels that whilst the worth of abstract works is in the eye of the beholder, much of it demonstrates no skill. I agree.

    @MichaelD, does not like much of it. He prefers the abstraction in realism. I agree.

    @CBG feels that some abstract work is deep but some a kid could do by just making a mess. The latter is a fraud on art and about money. I agree.

    @GTO feels that abstraction was inevitable as an outgrowth of impressionism. Impressionism set the stage for Art to become about coming up with something new. But much of that is just hype. Those who make it big are the ones who are lucky enough to get noticed. But their work is not necessarily better than that of the rest of us. I agree. 

    Sorry I can't say anything more original than "I agree" in response to all your posts but I do agree with each of them.

    The general trend seems to be that some abstract work has merit but that a lot of it is pointless and worthless. That sums up my own view. I guess it's not surprising that on a realist painting forum abstraction is not universally lauded.  However, no one goes the whole hog and says that western art definitely took a wrong turn with abstraction. If it was a wrong turn then a lot of people have spent an awful lot of money on worthless art. I don't think it was a completely wrong turn. It opened up new ways of thinking about art and some of it I like.  But most of it is of little interest to me.

    Thanks everyone for your responses.

    A new Weekly Question will be posted soon.   :)

  • This is an extract from an article by Fred Ross that I found very interesting:

    "Artists create things which have meaning to them and which they hope will have meaning to others. The artist wishes to communicate meaning of one sort or another to those who view their work.

    Therefore it seems very clear that: the purpose of fine art is communication. Not just any communication, but in particular those things which give expression to those moments in life that all people have which are experienced as meaningful and emotionally charged.

    Fine art fills a basic human need in its ability to communicate and capture and express ideas about life and living which people care about after their basic biological needs are filled. People need to share their lives and feelings with other people and this is done through communication which helps give meaning to our lives.

    Most communication is in spoken and written language. Fine art also communicates, which it does best when it successfully captures, depicts, and expresses our shared humanity: how we feel about ourselves, other people and the world around us. It may be seeking to capture an emotional state of mind like reverie, jealousy, joy, sadness, fear, etc., or it may attempt to tell a story like Ghiberti's famous scenes from the Old Testament on the doors of the Baptistery in Piazza Duomo in Florence or Norman Rockwell's Home from War. If someone with little skill attempts a work of fine art it will likely be unsuccessful or awkward and fail, but an attempt at fine art was still made as opposed to an attempt at fine craft. Failure to achieve doesn't turn fine art into craft or vice versa. All of the other crafts and sciences have a utilitarian purpose or a purely decorative purpose, but in fine art, human beings endeavor to look at themselves and others, to contemplate the nature of living as a human being, and to find ways of capturing, expressing and communicating with empathy, passion and compassion the road we all must take between birth and death. So, the purpose of fine art is similar in its goal to the purpose of poetry, fine literature or theatre.

    Based on the above, I posit:

    The visual fine arts of drawing, painting and sculpture are best understood as a language... a visual language. Very much like spoken and written languages, it was developed and preserved as a means of communication. And very much like language it is successful if communication takes place and unsuccessful if it does not.

    This simultaneously helps define the term "Fine Art." So fine art is one important way that human beings can communicate.

    This realization conversely poses the question:

    Can it be fine art if it does not communicate or does not even attempt to do so?

    Communication can only occur if the language of the speaker is understood by those who are listening. An absolute necessity for communication is that the language employed has vocabulary and grammar shared by speaker and listener or by writer and reader and therefore logically by painter and viewer. The earliest forms of written languages used simple drawings of real objects to represent those objects as observed in Hieroglyphics and the earliest cave drawings. The origins of written language and the origins of fine art overlap in this nearly identical way. Without a common language there is no communication and no understanding, whether in writing, speaking or fine art. All three have the uniquely human purpose of describing the world in which we live, and how we feel about every aspect of life and living. As a language, fine art is like all of the hundreds of the spoken and written languages that are capable of expressing the enormous, limitless scope of human thoughts, ideas, beliefs, values and especially our feelings, passions, dreams, and fantasies; all the varied experiences and stories of humanity.

    The vocabulary of fine art are the realistic images which we see everywhere throughout our lives. The grammar is made up of the rules and skills needed to successfully and believably render the images and ideas and seamlessly connect them together.

    Here are some of the rules or grammar which hold together the real objects or vocabulary of the visual language of fine art: finding contours, modeling, manipulating paint to create shadows and highlights with the use of glazing and scumbling which enhances the form through layers of pigment, use of selective focus, perspective, foreshortening, compositional balance, balancing warm and cool color, lost and found shapes and lines, etc.

    Now ponder this self-evident truth: Even our dreams and fantasies as well as all stories of fiction, which are not real, are expressed in our conscious and subconscious minds by using real images, none which look like modern art. Therefore non-objective abstract painting does not reflect the subconscious mind. Dreams and fantasies do that and artwork can also do that; but only by using real images and assembling them in ways that feel like fantasies or dreams.


    Furthermore, the vocabulary of traditional realism in fine art has something which makes it unique, in one important way... the language of traditional realism cuts across all those other languages and can be understood by all people everywhere on earth regardless of what language it is they speak or write. Thus Realism is a universal language that enables communication with all people, past... present... and future. Modernist and abstract art is the opposite of language because it represents the destruction of the language of fine art and is therefore the absence of language. The absence of language means the loss of communication; it takes away from mankind perhaps our most important characteristic... that which makes us human... the ability to communicate in great depth, detail and sophistication; and in the case of fine art, the Modernist paradigm banished the only universal language that exists: realistic imagery, with the techniques and skills required to achieve it. This knowledge had grown, developed, and was carefully documented and preserved as it was passed down for centuries from masters to students."

  • edited February 13
    Thanks, @Richard_P. I agree with most of that. However, some would argue that even abstract work does actually communicate something. There is colour, form, line and texture. These, it could be argued, are what abstract paintings are about. Abstract painting is about itself. Moreover, it could be argued that colour, line etc. on their own can express/communicate emotion without needing to be part of a realistic image. But the absence of imagery, of a pictorial story, makes abstract work much less accessible to most people (including me) and, IMHO, does not require the same technical skill that is needed for realism.  :)
  • I think abstract art, pop art, graffiti art, NFT art, are progressions into a post modern viewpoint.  A banana duct taped to a panel IS AND IS NOT art.  A urinal hanging on the wall IS AND IS NOT art.  You might stretch things a bit and say splattered paint is NOT art but you might be able to artistically splatter paint.  
    I think that is the whole point. Perhaps those buying that art for big $$$ are doing so to show that they are hip and that they  “get it”.  That they are “the smartest one in the room”.  
    …or maybe not.   =)
  • edited February 13
    Thanks, @GTO. You may be right. Among those with more money than they know what to do with art is a way of showing off one's wealth, chutzpah and hipness.  :) 
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