First off, the easy answer. No. The more complicated answer: no.
But instead of giving you the cliché answers of “well abstract is more about the way you FEEL,” or “it’s different for everyone – your interpretation will be different than everyone else’s,” I’d rather talk of the medium itself.
Let’s get one thing straight: abstract – whether you like it or not – IS an accepted form of art. And no – not because it’s easy or a way for “pseudo-artists” to pass off half-finished paintings as “art.”
Abstract was started with the intention of testing limits, trying new mediums, and breaking conventions, which, the forefathers are recognized for. They accomplished their goal.
But as time went on, the work became less linear, less defined, and less unique. The mediums overlapped, the methods grew lazy, and with minimal strokes of the brush, these pieces became the new standard of art.
Maybe you’ve seen Robert Rauschenberg’s “White Painting”, which consists of (at least) three large white canvases that sold for millions? Or Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square – which is exactly what it sounds like…
A painted black square.
When looking at pieces like these, it’s easy to see why people can get frustrated with the idea of abstract.
Thinking its pretentious or lazy or even garbage.
But how about going the other way?
What if you see a piece that overwhelms the eye; one that is seemingly a bunch of colors thrown on a canvas with no forethought, or a heavy sense of carelessness?
Surely all those artists didn’t INTEND for it to look the way it does, did they?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Either way, I’d agree, to an extent.
If you read or watch Jackson Pollock’s story, he actually discovered the drip method on accident when paint from his brush dripped onto a piece he had already been working on. He added more and more, finding a fresh excitement in it, and it took off.
The rest is history.
Now, I’m newer to abstract art, so I don’t really know too many other artists’ story, but I’d surmise that they probably stumbled onto the methods that they’re famous for through trial and error, until it just sort of… clicked.
And even the intentional pieces – like a Rothko or a Reinhardt, which is mostly composed of a single color or a very limited color pallet (and moreover confined to painted squares predominantly) – was probably not what they had first envisioned at the onset.
I’d wager that those signature styles came after making dozens (if not hundreds) of previous paintings and one day, they had an idea to make a piece in that style. And it stuck.
So, let’s come back to the question at hand – is abstract art an excuse for bad art?
Obviously, I already answered this, but let explain why.
Abstract art is just like any other genre of a creative medium – it can be judged.
From sci-fi movies to fantasy novels to rap music, these are all genres and even abstract art can be judged for its quality.
But how do you judge something that seemingly has no defined standard of measure?
I won’t lie – it’s a bit challenging – but I will say it’s possible.
Here a few questions you can ask yourself:
Does the composition make sense? Even if the piece doesn’t have some sort of “secret meaning” or “hidden interpretation” you can easily judge a piece by its compositional quality. Do the colors represent something? Do they make sense? Or does the piece seem to “flow?”
Was the finished piece intentional? You ever looked at a piece and wondered if it was finished? Or if it was an accident? Look, sometimes accidental pieces are great pieces, but there’s a difference in something that was meant – even left if there was mistake that was made that made the piece inherently better – than a work that was just whipped up for show.
Does this piece stand on its own? If you look at that piece, does it seem whole? Could you look at that one piece and not see any more works from that artist, and it would signify them in some way? Or does it look every other piece in the museum/gallery or on the internet? Does it stand out for some reason?
It this piece alone? Inversely from above, which pits the work against similar works of other artists, does the piece signify the artist by the way it represents the artist? Can you look at this piece, then another by that same artist and see some sort of similarity? Would you be able to look at another piece from that same artist – not knowing beforehand that it was by that same person – and guess that it was by some common theme or element?
Let’s be real – everyone’s opinion will vary and it would be foolish for me to try and argue my points to someone in order to persuade them.
If you don’t like abstract and think it’s a waste STILL, then I won’t waste any more words on the subject.
It’s okay – I didn’t use to like abstract before a year ago. One day I just became interested in it, and I started doing it and now it’s ingrained. Probably sounds melodramatic but it’s the truth.
Even so – I still judge it based on what I know.
Because truthfully – not all abstract IS good. There are a TON of artists out there that put out some pretty bad works and call it “art.”
But this is not confined to abstract – you see this is in everything from realist paintings to sculptures.
Just because the art is abstract does NOT give the artist an excuse to make bad/lazy/unfinished work.