Appreciating Abstract Art with CWM
Updated: Mar 6, 2020
I’ve always been attracted to realistic landscape paintings. It just made sense. A tree looks like a tree, a mountain looks like a mountain, a lake looks like water. Abstract art on the other hand left me wondering just what was going on inside the artist’s mind, if anything. One lady spoke of her work as simply “coming into being and out of my control.” (Wait. What?!)
Well, Webster does say abstract is “thought of apart from concrete realities”… Sounded to me like she lost hers somewhere along the way.
I’ve been in museums where canvases have but one color… Or their content reeeeaaallly doesn’t look like the title… Or a guy made a mint by duct taping a banana to a wall… And I would always come away wondering why I was struggling so hard to master a tree and a mountain and a lake when these paintings looked nothing like anything but were considered priceless. What was I missing?
The old adage says, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. I believe that’s true, but what about the creator? If we as artists are painting without thought or control, what, exactly, are we getting paid for? Turns out I had a lot to learn about abstract painting. Providence allowed me that very opportunity when I was introduced to Cold Wax Medium (CWM).
I started with a reference photo of a dead standing tree nestled between tall, rusty grasses and an evergreen bush. The background for Nature’s portrait was a snow-white hill with violet shadows.
I began by drawing in the elements of the painting with a brush.
I then used a palette knife to block in the shapes and values with CWM mixed with oil paints.
Once I had the initial idea in place, I started spreading and blending with palette knives and squeegees, all the while adding in and taking away layers until I was satisfied with the impression of the original concept. The painting had become abstract – “a thought apart from concrete realities”. Lesson learned.
And then, the bonus (i.e. style!). I noticed that my knife strokes were criss-crossing like the threads in a tapestry. The lines were separate from each other, but woven together in a way that formed an image – like God’s threads of color entwined in Creation, stitched by His hand. The method seemed to just “come into being without my control”, even though I knew exactly what I was doing. I attributed this to Inspiration, defined as “a divine influence directly and immediately exerted upon the mind or soul”. In other words, it was a God thing. I couldn’t contain my excitement, so I painted another one, which I think, turned out better than the first.
I get it now. Abstract art, to me anyway, is an expression of the artist’s heart that begins with a notion of the mind and flows out in colors, shapes and strokes that leave the viewer with this challenge: “This is what I feel. Now tell me what you see.”
Now I’m not going to create any Picasso’s. That’s a mind I’ll never understand, just as there are some pieces of art that I just don’t get. And that’s okay. But I understand now that no art is an accident, just as none of us are accidents. All art – whether we get it or not – starts with an idea from a creator – whether we understand him or not. Just as we are all works of art that have been created by the Master Artist. And, like Picasso, some of us are harder to figure out than others. 😉