Thursday, June 24, 2010

Explaining the Abstract, Part 2

Part 2 of a blog series by guest blogger Erin Schalk, an artist who lives in Moore.

Scenario One: the puzzled audience member. She wonders why your work does not have any recognizable elements, and in a flurry of misguided helpfulness, she attempts to find some. “I think that I see a lion in this one. This one looks somewhat like a bull terrier, or maybe a shih tzu.” In my experience, an entire menagerie of animals can suddenly materialize within a piece that I saw as nothing more than brushstrokes and color on canvas. If nothing that is overtly recognizable can be found within your composition, she may wonder aloud if she is missing something. “It is supposed to be anything?”

Coping Strategies:
Try not to become frustrated and immediately shoot down everything that she says. You may want to ask her to point out the animal, vegetable, or mineral that she believes is in the work and try to see her perspective. Being careful to avoid a tone that is brusque or condescending, you can explain that you were not trying to represent an animal, and try to describe to her what your work is about. Furthermore, I find that analogies can be helpful because they can provide a concrete comparison. If your work is emotion and mood based, explain how instrumental music, despite lacking concrete lyrics, can generate feelings through elements such as the tempo and arrangement of notes. Similarly, abstract art can give off certain emotions by color choices, compositional arrangement, and so forth. Actual creatures or other realistic entities are not always necessary to communicate meaning.

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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