The Concrete Jungle…

I read something recently about abstract art that intrigued me – it described such work as that which would otherwise exist only in the mind. In other words, it doesn’t contain any element that is recognizable as existing in nature, or the “external” world. This work becomes intensely personal as a result, in some cases perhaps too personal, making it sometimes inaccessible to others. It begs the question of whether the art is being done for the artist or the audience. And there is an educational element involved – with some background or explanation, the work without reference in nature may make sense to the observer. Usually such art is seen, however, without benefit of this information.

Of course, this is an extreme definition and much abstract art contains more or less obvious references to nature. The above piece would fall into the stricter definition, while the following piece would not:

In the first half of the 20th century there was a movement among some abstract artists to use the word “concrete” instead of abstract. Their sort of counter intuitive view was that abstract art without natural reference was more real than work that had a representational aspect. A painting of something else is always a mere “sign” or reference to that object and thus is less “real” in some sense than that object. Since the elements in a strict abstract painting don’t refer to something else, they are the things in themselves. So the artists preferred the term “concrete” to emphasize this direct rather than indirect reality of the piece.

I’m interested in the way in which things we see depict different levels of reality. I suspect it has a lot to do with how we learn and what it is to know. I have a feeling I’m headed down some of these paths in upcoming reading and contemplation.

I’ll end with another piece of “concrete” art. I’m interested in your thoughts about how you both see and make art and how this distinction between paintings that have reference to nature and those that don’t enters into your thinking.

4 responses to “The Concrete Jungle…

  1. Like always very interesting post, Bob. I like very much the way you have to think about things, to question and to write. In fact I like it because it is intelligent without sounding too intelligent. I mean, you know, this kind of abstract (here we are again, what means abstract, in art or elsewhere….), savant discourses about art (or anything else) which at the end don’t really say anything. I stopped thinking or speaking or discussing about at because of all these art pseudo-intellectuals, but I must say that your way might bring me back to that field.

    For myself I rarely use the word “abstract” to art. But spontaneously, if you ask, I would say that from the pieces you present today I find the first the least abstract and the last the most! If I try to think about the reason of this classification, I guess that I call the less abstract picture the one which I at once associate with something very concrete (in this case your first picture is for me a window with a grid in a south European house). A picture where all the elements are quite at the same place, in the same order, etc as in nature. Without deformation, without interpretation, without reorganisation of the involved elements, etc…. In this case today the less abstract is the one I prefer, but it is not always like that.!

    When I paint myself I never try to paint abstract or concrete. I in fact have never classifications in my head and no aims. My paintings which some people define as more abstract were never meant like that, or the contrary. They are just the spontaneous result of a mood, look, feelings… sometimes laziness or boredom to get concrete too! Generally the need to avoid boredom (repetitions) rules my painting process.

  2. It sounds like what Miki is saying might be that we see that which has some recognizable (to us as individuals) elements to be less abstract and possibly also more appealing as an image, though not necessarily so. I usually differentiate abstract art from non-objective art by whether there is any identifiable object which most people would be able to see. #’s 1 and 3 would fit the non-objective category I think.

  3. I will definitely try to not sound too intelligent! Seriously, I do worry that I may sometimes come across like I am trying to sound intelligent but I really am interested in these topics and I find that thinking about them affects my own artmaking in a positive way. Note that I do ask a lot of questions, so it’s not like I’ve figured any of this out!

    I guess one of the things that makes art so personal is that an observer can see something in a piece that the artist never intended or would see themselves. As Susan says, it is recognizable to them but perhaps no one else through some intimate association. So the first piece looks to Miki like a house in Southern Europe (where I’ve never been!). It shows how little actual information our minds require to make these connections!

    Up to now I also have not approached paintings with any classifications or “ideas” in mind but also have done what I felt like doing at the moment. Maybe I’ll keep doing that, but I suspect that by studying and thinking about these topics, I will be at least subconsciously influenced by them. Certainly a lot of abstract painters in the past have been very consciously expressing an idea or concept in their work.

    I wonder what differences there are in the experience of making or viewing such art compared to art that is an expression of how the artist felt, or their mood, etc. Anyone out there created art both ways and want to share what their experience has been?

  4. Don’t worry, Bob, it is so obvious that you are not trying to sound intelligent, but that you ARE intelligent, and this is a great discussion basis for me.
    I suppose like you, that whatever we think about or study at least unconsciously influence our art, and our whole life. I surely get my influence from somewhere too, although I never read about art, never visit museums, don’t socialize with painters, and many other art related things never do. And do you know what? Although I live as a painter from my painting, and love painting, I have deep problems to qualify myself as a painter. The painter within me is a stranger to me. I have no idea why.

    I try sometimes to consciously express a concept when I paint, this was a little bit what happened with the fantascapes. But it happened only with the first one, and then it became a reflex, and each following fantascape was again only an automatic spontaneous expression.

    Before I went to Portugal, i had an idea, I wanted to try something new, and it was quite clear in my head what I wanted to do. I even had some images in my head, not as blind as normal also! But I could not do it! I tried, but I was paralyzed.! In my case it seems that as soon as I have an inner image of a painting, i can’t paint it! It might only the expression of boredom (I hate repetitions) or simply pure inability to recreate my inner images. Or fear to fail to my expectations. No idea! But it is so much simpler to paint without any inner expectations!

    Now I am starting to ask myself if I am a coward… 🙂

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