Abstract Art, whats the point?

Ruben rolled his eyes, took a swig of his beer and said, “You know what really bothers me about abstract art? For starters, there's usually nothing in it you can recognize — where's the duck? Where's the mountain, and the sunset?”

Pierre smiled, took a few steps back and, putting his hand on Ruben's shoulder replied, “I understand how you feel, but to tell you the truth, that's one of things I like about it.”

“What?!” Ruben retorted, “How can you say that?! I mean, what's the point? If you're not going to show me something I can relate to, why bother?”.

Seeing a large, glass sculpture at the far end of the gallery, Pierre walked toward it.

“Actually, I don't think there always is a point. Why does there have to be? If the art has something it's trying to tell me, an idea it's trying to convey, that's fine; if not, I like that too.”

“You're crackers! How can somebody make something that looks like something a kid could do in school, stick it in a gallery with a big price tag on it and expect anyone to buy it? This isn't art! Art is supposed to be beautiful and take skill to create. It's supposed to be about something in the real world. This is just some guy squirting paint around in his garage!”

“Let me ask you something Ruben, what's your favorite color?”

“Blue”.

“And what are some shapes you like?”

“I don't know!”

“Come on, do you like round shapes, or do you prefer spiky things, or maybe blobs? Do you like blobs Ruben?”

“What are getting at?”

“Ruben, do you like trees?”

“Yes Pierre, I like trees, dammit.”

“How about waves? Do you like watching waves?”

“Yes, I like bloody waves! What the heck's your point?!”

“My point, my dear friend, is that you already like abstract art, that is until someone puts it in a gallery with a price tag on it.”

“What the heck are you talking about?”

“You like blue, you said so; I know you like red too, you've got red socks on.”

“They're not red, they're maroon.”

“You also like round shapes, they'll all over your house. The globe, the brass bowls in the living room, the round mirror in the bathroom.”

“So how does that mean I already like abstract art?”

“Abstract art is simply colors and shapes. It's a group of shapes and colors that the artist finds pleasing to put together. In reality, a wave, a mirror, a tree and a cloud are all also just shapes and colors, once you take the labels and assigned meanings from them. Take any form in the world, remove all the thinking about it, all the titles and definitions and explanations, and all you have left are colored shapes, some of which can be quite pleasant to be around.

This lovely piece of glass for example, it has no purpose, no meaning, it's just beautiful, like a flower, or a breeze. You, my good friend, already like abstract art, or at least you would if your mind didn't attach all its ideas about how things are supposed to be. You mind doesn't like the price tag, so it gets stuck there and can't just relax into the experience it could be having. Your mind doesn't like the fact that it seems that a child could do it, so it gets stuck there too. But most of all, your mind doesn't like not having things where and how it thinks they should be, how it's used to having them — and it's not just about art! It's about a lot of things. You never actually experience the thing directly. You experience the thing with layers of mind-stuff laid over top. But that's okay, we all do it. Other people's minds lay other perceptions over other things; we all get stuck in different ways. The point is, you already like certain shapes and colors and might like these too if you didn't listen to your mind telling you why they're not okay before you even have half a chance to experience them.”

“Well … maybe … but how can someone say a bunch of colored blobs on a canvas is worth five thousand dollars?”

“We all pay for some of the shapes and colors that please us, others we get for free. Look out there Ruben, now what do you see if you don't label anything, if you don't give anything a name or title? If you simply look? What do you see?”

“Pierre, You're weird.”

“What do you see? I'm not challenging you to see anything that's not there, just to look, ignore everything your mind has to say about anything, and tell me what you see.”

“Okay, okay, I see boats and ...”

“Drop the labels! Just look quietly.”

“ ... shapes and colors?”

“Do you like the way they're arranged?”

“ I guess so. Some of the shapes and colors are interesting — but it's weird to look at them without calling them something.”

“That's okay, it's just habit. Just relax your eyes a little, see everything a little more softly. That's what Monet and the Impressionist painters would do, relax and soften your vision. Just see what's actually there. Ignore what your mind is saying about it. What do you see?”.

Ruben took a long breath, relaxed and, with mild reluctance, took it in.

“Colors and shapes. Some of them moving.”

“Are they pleasant?”

“Yes ... I like some of the colors, they're soft and bright. And I rather like that big dark shape.”

“Now what would happen if I took all of those shapes, or just a few of them, and put them on a canvas with a frame around them, then hung them on a wall? Would you like it?”

“Sure, I guess so … so where the heck does this leave us?”

“Exactly where we are.”

“Which is?”

“Everybody likes shapes and colors, regardless of what we call them or what they do. An abstract artist is just like an architect or a gardener — or even a cook, they make colors and shapes, the ones that make them feel good. Abstract art is simply an expression of feelings put into forms — so are kisses and hugs. The artist may also hope that someone else encountering those expressions and forms feels a pleasant affinity — that they'll feel those feelings too. And maybe they'll like those feelings so much they want to bring that piece of art home, so that they can feel those feelings whenever they like.

You think you don't like abstract art, but it's not true. In reality, your mind doesn't like not having things how it is used to having them. The unpleasant feelings you experienced when you looked at the art were not about the art at all, they were about the mind not feeling like it was getting things “how they should be”. The truth of the matter, Ruben, is that we all like shapes and colors, because that's all there is to look at. And abstract art is just more of them, painted on canvas. I'm not saying you will like all abstract art, everyone has their own preferences about how shapes and colors are arranged, but at least now you may be able to find out what you do like. Up til now, you didn't stand a chance, neither did the art.”

“Woah! Now those are some shapes I really do like! Whoooowee! I couldn't care less what color they are, shapes like that look good in all colors!”

“ You don't even know her! You can't see her eyes, or her smile; all you're seeing is some anonymous female in the distance with rather prominent ...”

“Shapes! Two of them! And those are not what I'd call abstract! Nosiree. Real as mountains! Works of art they are! Yesireebob! Nice ones! You're right, Pierre! I think I finally get what you're talking about! I do like shapes, I really do!!”

“ Ruben?”

“Yes, Pierre.”

“I'm really glad we're friends, there's much less chance of me strangling you.”