Composition VII, Kandinsky (1913) - Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.
On one of my regular gallery visits, I noticed a man staring at a painting and tilting his head from side to side to make sure he was seeing the painting the right way. He then looked at me, smirked, shrugged and moved on to the next piece, as if wishing me luck understanding the painting.
I admit comprehending abstract art does pose some difficulties to the viewer in appreciating it. The main lament on abstracts is that there is no discernable subject and therefore fails to communicate with the viewer. But this does not mean that abstract art is meaningless doodle, it’s just that one has to move away from the conventional idea of a painting – an image of something or somebody; an imitation of the real world. Understanding the idea behind abstract artworks helps one appreciate a painting for what it actually is – colour, surface, shapes and emotions on canvas.
Everyone can learn to appreciate abstract art if one knows the general objective of abstract art. Let’s start with defining abstract art: Abstract paintings primarily emphasize lines, colours, forms and surfaces in relationship to one another. This means, abstract artists believe that one does not need a definite conventional subject to create art but the colours, lines, geometrical shapes are in themselves the subject.
The general opinion that, there is more to abstract art than meets the eye is true from the perspective of an artist. Every artist’s work is influenced by his immediate surroundings, his experiences and his emotions. The complexity for the artist comes from the fact that he needs to reflect this situation onto the canvas effectively so that the final artwork stirs emotions in the viewer.
On the other hand the viewer is not expected to understand the artist’s intentions. This is practically impossible, unless one talks to the artist (which by the way is true for all kinds of art). The viewer fundamentally needs to stop trying to figure out ‘What’ it is and concentrate on ‘How’ it makes you feel. It is however critical is to switch off the right brain (logic thinking) and let the mind wander; you will see the painting talking to you. It may take sometime but keep staring.
The first abstract art was created by the modern Russian artist, Kandinsky in 1910. The creation of abstract art was accidental. The story goes that Kandinsky returned to his studio one evening and in the twilight he saw his unfinished painting propped up on an easel. From the angle he was standing at, combined with the twilight; he saw an arrangement of bright colour patches, which he thought was extremely beautiful. This realization that colours can bring out emotions irrespective of content was the beginning of Abstract Art.
This was a radical turn of events in Art History. Till then colour was just a medium to portray a subject but with the invention of Abstract art, artists began to use ‘colour’ as the ‘subject’ itself. Theo van Doesburg said ‘his art has no significance other than itself’ and stated that “nothing is more real than a line, a colour, a surface.”
To sum up, do not try to find figurative objects or meanings in abstract art. There maybe none, as the subject is the ‘colourful paint, the crooked line or the triangular shape’ arranged aesthetically to provide viewing pleasure.
Here’s an example of Abstract Art:
RB Murari, 2009, Monsoon Canvas Gallery
The painting is nothing but the glorious and harmonious intermingling of yellow, green and red. The red, yellow and green are the protagonists on a stage of somber brown. The artist has also introduced a measure of rivalry among the colours, at certain parts of the painting the yellow is dominant and at others the red. The layers of paint also bring out the tussle between the colours. This is a good example of how “the colour” is the main and only subject of the painting.