Abstract Art Misconceived as Using No Talent


By Tala Stuart 
SAM TAC 2022-23

Most people know that a big part of contemporary art is abstract art. It is enjoyed by many; the strange and unfamiliar distortions of reality can captivate a variety of audiences. While it has its supporters — there are also many who believe it takes no real skill. At first glance it seems bare-bones and simple to do, but there’s more to it than that.


Abstraction can be used by artists in many ways to create pieces rich with meaning. When some people think of objectively good art, it seems as though they envision very realistic portrait paintings you might see in Renaissance art. Of course, liking that art is fantastic too, but abstract art is so different and has its own impressive qualities.
For many artists, it’s a way to express emotions that are so complicated for the artist, that they can only be captured through means of unreal looking scenes. While you can convey a myriad of emotions by drawing a representational scene with distinct people, some emotions don’t come with a set scene, and are more abstract in nature. It can also be used to create unreal worlds, to convey feelings or dreams about the future and present in a different way. There are so many ways it can function to convey a message, since each artist and their experience is unique.


You might look at an abstract work and think you could do it, too. Or maybe you’re looking at something that consists only of blocks of color, and then come to the conclusion that most or all abstract artists are doing minimal work and making money from it. However, all artists spend years of labor and love mastering their mediums, including abstract artists. For some examples, abstract painters can create variation in their lines. Painters deliberately choose which brushes to use, whether to leave brush lines visible or smooth, thick or thin lines, impasto or flat. They can mix and make their own paint, adding things to it like chemicals or more unique household items. People can do mixed media, making an even more elaborate scene. Some make intense layers with pencil and marker, or sculpt strange and nuanced forms. In addition to the actual process of creating the work, many artists plan months or even years ahead on a piece of art. So while it may seem simple, it many times is laborious and hard to replicate.
Janaina Tschäpe, Gush (2014), Photo: Teresa Lojacono
Janaina Tschäpe, Gush (2014)

Casein and watercolor pencil on canvas, 118 x 234 in.
Podesta Collection, Washington D.C.
Photo: Teresa Lojacono

Why Does it Have to Be Hard Labor?

Although everything preluding this is true, I don’t understand why it must have taken “talent” and “real work” to make art. To me, the meaning of art isn’t derived from how much time or blood, sweat and tears went into it. Minimizing art to just how difficult it is sort of misses the point of a lot of art in general. It’s the emotions of the artist, the ability to escape into their mind for a minute and see their world. If you found out tomorrow that Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night was made in half an hour, would it be devalued in your eyes? For me, no. Art isn’t like a car or a watch, it’s a much more personal thing opposed to the usual commodity. Art is about expanding your worldview and impacting people. It’s about sharing your experience with people who might think they’re alone — which doesn’t hinge on production as much as passion.


To me, all forms of art deserve respect because they are people’s feelings and perspective, regardless of their talent or if I like it. There’s plenty of times I’ve seen an abstract work and thought it was bad, but I understand that despite that, there is rich opportunity in every corner of the art world. Since abstraction isn’t based in reality, there are tons of ways it can be done. The limit is where your imagination ends.
Dogon by Harmony Hammond
Harmony Hammond, Dogon (1978/2015)

Courtesy of the artist and Alexander Gray Associates, New York
Photo: Eric Swanson
© Harmony Hammond / VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

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