“There isn’t any method of improvement inherent in abstract painting. There is no challenge.”
– Daniel E. Greene
As you might expect, I don’t agree at all with the sentiment expressed above. I find it interesting that a prominent artist would make such a statement – Daniel Greene is one of the most respected portrait artists out there. His style is certainly not abstract, but such a “partisan” point of view is surprising.
That said, he does raise an interesting question, which is how does one gauge “improvement”? First, there is an assumption that, as an artist, we are trying to improve. Is this always true? Is “improvement” just a sly euphemism for “more successful”? We know what a twisted thicket trying to chase success leads us into.
Or does improvement mean that we are better able to express whatever it is we are trying to express in our art? One might argue that there is no need for “improvement”. As long as we’re enjoying making the art, who cares? Do we need to strive for improvement or should we be more concerned about enjoying the process and expressing ourselves freely wherever that leads us? Does trying to “improve” actually hold us back?
I believe what Greene is referring to is probably more technique oriented – as a fairly realistic painter or portraits, he can gauge improvement by the work’s closer and closer resemblance to the subject. Not just how photo-realistic the painting is, but to what degree the character of the subject is captured. For an abstract artist, it is certainly harder to measure improvement because there is no external reference against which the piece can be compared in some way.
But I cannot agree with Greene. I think in abstract art there is room for improvement and there are real challenges we face. The measure of improvement is more internal to the artist and thus more difficult for others to measure. But you probably have had the experience of looking at two abstract pieces and seeing that one is clearly better than the other – if these had both been done by the same artist, one would have to conclude that improvement had occurred (I’m assuming it wasn’t a one-off stroke of luck!). If such a leap in quality can be recognized there must be a method of improvement behind it.