Friday, June 25, 2010

Explaining the Abstract, Part 3

Part 3 of a blog series by guest blogger Erin Schalk, an artist who lives in Moore.

Scenario Two: the defensive audience member. He often views art as a puzzle of sorts. He assumes that a piece of art has only one distinct theme or meaning, but because it is not overly apparent to him, he becomes disconcerted. He feels left out of an inside joke. Consequently, he rationalizes that your expressive brush strokes are a sign of laziness, and that your omission of realistic content denotes a lack of technical skill. Insecure about what he believes is his personal inability to understand, he protects his ego by arriving at the conclusion that he is not missing something at all, it is just bad art. This audience member, if agitated enough, will most probably say something mildly insulting to you, “Did you mean to do that? Do you really like this stuff?” and the proverbial favorite, “I could have painted that.”

Coping Strategies: After that offense, your initial impulse may be to defend yourself by diving headfirst into all of the philosophical underpinnings surrounding your work, adding liberal dashes of “art-speak” along the way. If he cannot appreciate your work, clearly he will not understand your theory of deconstructed situationism as one defining element of the post-modern zeitgeist. However, this approach may make him increasingly defensive since he perceives your work as an attack on his intelligence. Arguably, this audience member is the most difficult to deal with. If you know him fairly well, or if he seems slightly open minded, you might try to explain what your work is about in non-threatening terms. Assure him that art does not necessarily have one direct meaning and understanding abstract art can become easier with study and practice. However, if he seems significantly hostile, your best response may be to walk away. Unfortunately, you cannot convince everyone.

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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