“Abstraction allows man to see with his mind what he cannot physically see with his eyes… Abstract art enables the artist to perceive beyond the tangible, to extract the infinite out of the finite. It is the emancipation of the mind. It is an explosion into unknown areas.” by Arshile Gorky
“Do not copy nature too much. Art is an abstraction.” — Paul Gauguin
Many artists express that they would like to release their hold on the externals of reality and work more boldly, freely: to paint abstract. For many and involved reasons, and some unexplained notion that abstracts do not sell (not true), many artists hesitate to take the leap into that new, unknown territory.
First, the blatantly obvious fact: all painting is abstract. It is derived from and presents the essence distilled from outward perceptions of externals and drawn from the deep well-spring of the spirit of the artist. A painting is pigment on a surface. So, if the label of abstract painting has been a hurdle, it turns to be only a line drawn in soft mutable sand.
One of my favorite ways to view those massive old masters’ in a museum is with a small pair of binoculars or a monocular. With magnification, one can see the inner abstract structure, brushy passages, inherent within formal painting.
There is a fallacy, more with the general public than within the community of artists, that abstract painting is easy, that the artist simply flings paint and a complex painting just magically appears, effortless, from pure chance and happenstance. The truth is that abstract is much more challenging, more rigorous than traditional forms of painting I know there will be those who might wish to disagree – but not only do I speak from my evolution and experience, but this has been reconfirmed by conversations with so many fellow abstract artists. Abstract art commands all the considerations of ‘traditional” painting—light, composition, value, rhythm, color, space, everything except all context is subjective and all the rules are free-floating. You start in that mysterious unknown.
The aim of abstract painting is as a process of experience rather than a representation of an experience, to communicate the intangible.
So I would suggest: Don’t.
Don’t consider directly painting an abstract. Start your paintings with an abstract under-painting.
If you are interested in exploring the infinite possibilities inherent in abstract art work, try making your under-painting a loose combinations of colors. You might wish to select a limited palette. Don’t worry about completion. Then when you come to superimpose your proposed work, you may be surprised how these myriad under-layers of paint produce unusual color juxtapositions, illuminate shadows, add interest to foregrounds, and enliven backgrounds.
You might wish to don latex gloves (I know that we should all be wearing protection from metals and chemicals) and paint with you fingers. This exercise can open a flood of memories of the experience of direct painting without preconceived notions.
Or, you might paint a favor piece of music – the images, colors, sensations that flit across the screen of your visions and mind’s eye. Again, do not be concerned with finishing.
If you have a set palette scheme, you might experiment with painting with your eyes closed, or better yet with a sleep masque to avoid the temptation to peek. Your brush will know instinctively, more or less, where the colors are located so start to paint the image in your mind. Trust your muscle memory. (You may wish to have a timer with this approach.) Your brush strokes will develop a calligraphic, automatic response. Even when painting from direct observation of the landscape, still life or portrait, you will find by cultivating the skill of painting without shifting focus from observation to surface and without concern for the particulars of each brush stroke, that this practice will add a freedom to the dance of the brush.
Or you might even to decide to continue with your abstract. Without the pressure to make or complete an abstract painting, you might find yourself more at liberty to experiment with a new, expressive language of art.
If you have not yet tried abstraction it is a worthy endeavor of study. From the information and experience of infinite variations of the alchemy of abstract art you will advance facility to serve more imaginative depictions.
What might you lose and what might you gain by changing your approach to your art making?