Monday, April 21, 2008

Geomo de la Fyre

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Lately I've begun to seriously question whether using the term, "abstract" to describe any piece of artwork can be realistically used. I think the term abstract is itself an abstraction and is hopelessly inseparable from the world of realistic forms and imagery.

I think abstract is another way of depicting reality, that is, real things. It's because our minds instinctively try to interpret all visual experience in realistic terms. Abstract becomes real in our eyes.

We ought to speak of "abstraction" then, because our minds refuse to think in any language other than that of real objects. Abstract is a style or type of realism; a minimalized style, transforming real things and commonly representing them in a simplified way.

The other end of the "abstract" spectrum -- the opposite of simplification -- is the excessive detail of chaotic imagery. It doesn't look "realistic" but our minds translate such things so quickly that it soon becomes "something". Jackson Pollock's famous (notorious?) drip painting come to mind.

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Maybe that's it; abstract art is suggestive, and therefore keeps triggering matches from our mental database of real imagery. We've all just seen too much of reality to go back to looking at even a blank canvas or a simple square without seeing it as a variation of something we've already seen in the real world.

Fractal art is an excellent example of this; fractal art often "looks like" real things and is almost always named after something real -- like it was a perfectly natural and obvious thing to do. Is it possible to look at a fractal image and not "see" something?

Some fractal imagery of course is obviously realistic as fractal patterns can be found in natural things (brocolli; the structure of trees; clouds...) so it's not surprising with those fractal images that one sees something real. But I'm thinking that all fractal imagery is converted into real images regardless of how "unreal", "non-representational" or abstract it may appear when analyzed.

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Just as the state will appoint a lawyer to ensure that all defendants have representation in a court of law, our minds keep appointing realistic interpretations to represent "non-representational" artwork in the "court" of our minds. Abstract art never gets a chance to speak for itself.

Mark Rothko's famous smudgy square images (also infamous? like Pollock) I always thought of as being windows in dim rooms (although very expressive windows). The smudgy outlines resemble clouds or muddy water; an archetypal sort of imagery if there ever was one. I find these things realistic, but just "stylized", as if abstract was a style of rendering real things. In fact, take away the realistic qualities or interpretations and I think Rothko's works lose all their effect, as does all abstract work.

The human mind just can't handle abstract art.

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