“You can’t look at abstract art without thinking.”
– Patricia Cole-Ferullo
Yeah, much of the time you are thinking “What the heck?”…
But seriously, I think this is an interesting and perhaps controversial statement. When looking at something abstract, we start trying to find something familiar or recognizable. We start trying to figure it out, to find some way to relate to it. This is certainly one mode of “thinking”. Since we may not have any familiar forms to look at, we start to pay attention to other aspects of the piece – the colors, design, patterns, shapes, etc. We have to work a little harder to find something about the piece to like (or dislike).
The controversy of the statement is the implication that other types of art do not require thinking. I don’t really agree with that, though I do believe that our minds become engaged in different ways with different types of art. When we see representational art we do not have to work so hard to understand what we’re seeing or what the artist is saying (perhaps). It is given to us more obviously. These images may evoke memories and emotions, or we may become intrigued by the artist’s technique, or the objects may be depicted in new or unusual ways that cause us to consider them more carefully. We may be less likely to examine the piece from the perspective of color, form, etc. since the familiar image itself is so inviting and distracting.
Personally I enjoy the kind of mental engagement abstract art results in. It’s a little like a puzzle that I have to figure out. And I get to make of it what I want. It’s a challenge and it’s liberating, at the same time.