So Called “Abstract Art” Is Not Abstract.

The definition of the word “abstract” reveals that painting which is termed “abstract” is anything but that.

adjective |abˈstrakt, ˈabˌstrakt|
• 1) existing in thought or as an idea but not having a physical or concrete existence: abstract concepts such as love or beauty.
• 2) dealing with ideas rather than events: the novel was too abstract and esoteric to sustain much attention.
• 3) not based on a particular instance; theoretical: we have been discussing the problem in a very abstract manner.
• 4) (of a word, especially a noun) denoting an idea, quality, or state rather than a concrete object: abstract words like truth or equality.
• 5) of or relating to abstract art: abstract pictures that look like commercial color charts.

First of all, Painting itself, good or bad, exists as an extremely physical and concrete entity. And love and beauty are made manifest in the painting….certainly in the eyes of the maker.

Second, Painting IS AN EVENT. You have to dip your brush in the paint and stroke it on a canvas or a wall or some suitable surface. It is not an “idea”….it is an actual physical EVENT…that becomes a physical ENTITY.

Third, Painting is VERY particular. I dip my brush in the red paint or the green paint. This is a very particular action. Unless I am blindfolded or color blind, decisions are made in a VERY DELIBERATE way….and there is nothing “theoretical” about this. The “eye ball” is in the right place on the head or not. No theory at all involved with this.

Fourth, Paintings ARE CONCRETE OBJECTS. You don’t hang an “idea” of a painting on the walls of the Rothko Chapel in Houston….you get Rothko to stretch those massive canvases and paint on them in the empty simple way he did….then hang those huge things on the walls of the Chapel. VERY CONCRETE I would say….and AWESOME.

Fifth, some paintings do look like “commercial color charts”. So what. Have you ever really looked at color charts? I don’t know about you, but when you pick a color to paint your room at home and you have to look at these charts, I always found that part of the process quite beautiful and delightful immersing myself in those colors. Just the colors on the charts themselves are intoxicating visually. Did you ever notice, once the walls were actually painted, the color on the walls did not look a good as it did on the chart. “Commercial color charts” are actually very concrete as well, not abstract.

THAT BEING SAID…here is one painting I called “Heaven and Earth” It is the intertwining of the symbol for “Allah” and the symbol for the “Star of David”. I threw in the Yin/Yang symbol for the Toa just for good measure. When I painted it I had “harmony in the Middle East” in mind.

VERY CONCRETE. ABSTRACT ART is not “abstract”.

IMG_1619“Heaven & Earth” by MARKUS RAY

Recommended Posts
Showing 4 comments
  • Viv

    Love your new blog MARKUS! Great venue for the continuing expression of artistic passion and appreciation. I concur about the Islamic tile artists…. a unique expression of the divine.
    aloha nui loa, Viv

    • markusray

      THANKS VIV…hope to see you in ICELAND. BRING A FRIEND.

  • Seph Rodney

    I think the term was adopted to refer to work that is not representational, ie a picture of the real world. And painting that is not representational does tend to deal with qualities (of light and color, see the Color Field painters), ideas (see John Baldessari, very much uninterested in being visually compelling, or Sol Lewitt), or states (see Francis Bacon, as in psychic states).

    Paintings that are abstract don’t DEPICT real events or particular instances. I think you are missing the point of the clear semantic denotation of the term ‘abstract’ and I honestly can’t tell whether you are being snarky or deliberately obtuse (my apologies if this is unduly harsh), but I imagine that if you have been painting for a while you would have come across this argument already.

    • markusray

      Of course this is what a PHD candidate would say. I like what Barnett Newman says about aesthetics : “aesthetics is to artists as ornithology is to the birds.” and….”an artist paints so he will have something to look at.” You could say this is simplistic, but having painted for 40 some years now, feels right to me.

      As far as the “conceptual artists” like Baldessari, Kosuth, Acconci, etc. …not so interested in what they have to say, because they are not so interested in painting, per say. So my comments are more related to painting.

      To say so called abstract art is “non-representational” is also a less than ideal classification. Every expression made in the arena of communication, of which art falls into, represents something….a color, a mood, a structure of order…or disorder…a gesture of freedom, joy, the dawn of something awakening. Just because it is not trying to photographically Depict a replica of something in the world “we see” with the physical eye, does not mean it is “abstract” or “non representational”. I think you mentioned this too: “does tend to deal with qualities”.

      But to say Paintings that are abstract don’t DEPICT real events shows me you probably have not ever really painted. The act of painting itself is one of the most REAL EVENTS I can imagine, or experience.

      Using Barnett Newman again, his “zips”, as he called them ( the vertical band of color on a mostly empty ground) have tremendous power of representation…the unified sense of BEING (vertical “zip”), in a color field (cosmos), the implied universal field of the vaster unknown.

      THANK YOU for your comments, SEPH. Do you paint, or just “think” about painting?


Leave a Comment


Start typing and press Enter to search