“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.

4 responses to “Improvement

  1. You ponder the same things I do,… my thoughts? I think that there is an inherent kind of ‘soul fingerprint’ inside all of us,… whatever means you choose to pursue the expression of that is up to you, I believe all methods are valid. As an abstract painter myself, I like my work and the act of creating obviously, but how well that translates into money? I think money should be secondary, if you follow your passion long enough hopefully money will come,. (Easier said than done though……. there’s a reason I guess they call us starving artists).

  2. I totally agree with you, Bob. And i was really surprised by the statement of Greene.
    There are many different parameters to judge the value of a painting, and most of them have nothing to do with abstract or not. The use os colours, the composition, the use of light/shadow, the lines, the shapes, etc… all that can be improved, NO DOUBT!!!

    But i guess you are right with the interpretation of his statement. I guess “success” is easier to define when you paint a portrait or a realistic landscape. But even then… i have seen realistic portraits, which were very resemblant, but had nothing to do with art, because the other conditions, the one which define art, were not fulfilled.

    I guess I said it already, but I am a fan of free painting, without any goal like money or improvement. But this is not quite true of course. I really wish to sell as much as possible, and I want to become better and better. But I don’t think of it when I paint, I just paint. But I suppose that, being myself a very analytical person, there is some kind of unconscious analysing process running on all the time, and trying to correct errors. This is exactly the way how I live my everyday life, so I guess I do it painting too.

    By the way, GREAT PHOTO!Or is that a painting? I am not quite sure, sorry… I love reflections in water, always, and this one is splendid. Great colours and fantastic composition.

  3. First off, this is a photograph – it is a picture I took at the San Francisco marina at sunset. The vertical squiggly line is a pole.

    What I was contemplating with this post is the concept of “improvement” and how it is different than success. I think most artists want to continually get better at what they do (whether that translates into success is another matter). Sometimes they seem to be at odds – I often sell my older work, which I feel I have improved upon, rather than newer work which I think is “better”. How we gauge our own improvement interests me – I think it is very different for a “realistic” painter than an abstract one.

    Ultimately each of us has their own set of goals, which may remain unconscious, against which we measure ourselves. A realistic painter may have the goal of painting more abstractly, so for them, improvement means painting less realistically!

  4. This is exactly the criteria. The yardstick by which one can, and should ,measure improvement needs to be your own set of goals. To be measured against another’s expectations? -Surely that way lies madness and frustration!

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