Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Explaining the Abstract, Part 1

Part 1 of a blog series by guest blogger Erin Schalk, an artist who lives in Moore.

As artists, we undergo transitions in style and technique within our work. Through periods of artistic development, numerous artists make the transition into some form of abstraction, if only for a brief period. I made this shift over two years ago after having worked for three years in a highly detailed and realistic manner. I soon discovered that making non-representational art is fraught with difficulties: What colors will best represent my concept? Is this piece overworked? What is lacking in the composition? Beyond the actual process of art making, abstraction presents some of its headiest challenges in the multifarious, and often negative, reactions from your audience and support network. Abstract painter David Reed has said, “It’s wonderful for an artist to have the sense that their work is important to someone…a lot of [artists] are fragile and without some kind of support it’s hard to keep it going.” What does an artist do to survive when support diminishes as a result of stylistic evolution?

Upon focusing on abstraction, I experienced disapproval from friends and family members who felt that that I was failing to fully develop my artistic abilities. In my sophomore year as an undergraduate student, I sculpted a realistic human head as part of an introductory course. Despite spending the rest of my time in art school focusing almost exclusively on abstraction, friends and family members still point to the amateurish bust and say, “Why don’t you continue making things like that? That is so good!” Many artists have experienced similar scenarios with the friend, family, or audience member who passionately believes that the best artist is a copy machine. When confronted with similar comments, you may find it helpful to quote Picasso, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”

In future posts, I will discuss common negative reactions and scenarios abstract artists often face when showing their work, as well as responses that can help a skeptical audience see your point of view.

Need help with communicating about your own work? OVAC, in partnership with Creative Capital, is hosting the "Verbal Communications" workshop for artists on August 7. Space for this workshop is limited so an application is required. Applications are due June 30. Visit for details.

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