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Abstract Painting – A First Encounter

Although this image by Jackson Pollock evokes nothing that exists in the real world, there is still much that can be said about it, as a piece of abstract art.

What is your first reaction when you see this piece of art?

We could look at its non-representational elements and ask questions like:

Does the work itself have an intrinsic meaning?

Does it seem organized – as a cohesive whole with a unified form or structure? Or is it a fragmented jumble?

Are the lines contours, edges of two dimensional shapes or implied solid objects?

What kind of feeling does the color palette trigger?

Do the colors “go together’ or do they “swear” with each other?
What is the overall impression? Is it about harmony, beauty, energy or mystery?

There are probably a million ways to look at it and think about it – for sure there is no right or wrong way. Each viewer will bring a unique perspective and in the end, there will be a myriad of impressions and thoughts.

For all that… Is there any framework, some theory about the way our minds work, that could guide us here? Have a look at this:
“The operational principle of the brain is holistic, parallel, and analog, with self-organizing tendencies. The Gestalt effect refers to the form-forming capability of our senses, particularly with respect to the visual recognition of figures and whole forms instead of just a collection of simple lines and curves.”

But what happens when these figures and forms do not connect with anything we have seen in the real world? Perhaps… a fingerprint of recognition.

Even when the image is abstract, there can sometimes be a pattern of recognition in the artwork that leverages its intrinsic appeal. This happens because our brain seeks and registers patterns. As humans, we have an innate tendency to “constellate” – to see as belonging together those elements that look alike or appear to flow together.

And how can we experience emotion from a mix of lines and colors? Let’s look to… Georges Seurat, the pointillist painter, who wrote in 1890:

“The emotion of gaiety can be achieved by the domination of luminous hues, by the predominance of warm colors, and by the use of lines directed upward. Calm is achieved through an equivalent use of the light and the dark, by the balance of warm and cold colors, and by lines that are horizontal. Sadness is achieved by using dark and cold colors and by lines pointing downward.”

So, how does it come together in this Jackson Pollock piece titled “Directed #5”? Here… Ashley Neff – an art blogger – wrote:
“This style embodies absolutely no order – all is color and disorganization with an acute, yet metaphysical sense of drama. Everything is chaos – but beautifully so. It evokes a power and sense of wonder from the senses. Emotion flows from this piece in droves – it is not to be understood scientifically or mathematically or any way through the logical side of the mind, it is a piece and style designed for the emotions and creative side of our minds.”

While there are many ways to interact with a piece of abstract art, it ultimately comes down to these questions:

What do we see?

What do we understand?

How do we feel about it?

… Do we like it?

Now what do you think would happen when we first encounter an abstract name?