I paint abstract oil paintings on canvas or on paper because that how I like to paint, and because abstract expressionism and gestural painting is really what art is about. It is pure unadulterated painting. Sometimes, however, I wonder whether I should paint realistically. I have the ability to do so (see the picture attached hereto), and sometimes it's fun, but I find no real gratification in it. Should I paint realistically anyway? Isn't that what people want? I often think about what would have happened if Picasso's mother had said “Pablo, you paint realistically so well, why do you paint these funny pictures? Paint a realistic picture,” and he had followed her advice. Same thing with Jackson Pollock and Joan Mitchell. So, painting abstract pictures is a good thing.
But sometimes self doubt creeps in. There are two questions that need to be answered: 1) does abstract painting requires any artistic skill? and 2) even if it requires skill, why abstract and not realistic?
As to the first question, the type of painting I do is often criticized for being childish. People say that their kid could do that, or that they themselves could do it. They point out that chimps and elephants (and even horses) have been taught to paint. Or upon looking at a painting they ask the penetrating question “what is it supposed to be?” If these criticisms are valid, and what I do could be done by a chimp, then I should not do it. Are these criticisms valid? No.
For one thing, their kid could not do it. Yes, their kid makes scribbles and abstract looking pictures. But this is because that is all the kid knows how to do. The kid is really trying to make a realistic rendition of something, but fails. I can tell whether a kid has painted a particular picture, or whether an artist has done it.
The critics themselves cannot do it. Go ahead, try. You will end up with a giant mess – something sloppy and ugly. Even if you are an artist (a real artist) and you usually paint realistically, it is unlikely you could do a decent job on an abstract. I submit that you would not be able to abandon realism, and that imagery will always creep in.
Now about animals that “paint.” Yes, they are very intelligent critters, and they can hold a brush and can be shown how to paint, and even perhaps (accidentally) produce something interesting. There has to be, however, guidance from their masters. When is it done? (when the master takes away the canvas) What colors do they use? (the ones provided by the master) What size brush? What kind of brush? Oil or acrylic? Here is the big difference between man and beast: the chimp and the elephant did not think of painting or of creating art on their own, neither could they. I am not aware of any artwork created by these animals that has been discovered in the wild. They simply do not know or understand what they are doing. They could not paint a portrait of a person or draw an apple. They do not paint abstractly by choice, but because their brains do not know any other way to paint; they are randomly spreading paint on the canvas without a thought to anything else.
Moreover, the paintings I have seen made by animals lack composition. Even Pollock's “all over” paintings had composition or, if lacking it, the lack was an intelligent act of the artist. This notion simply does not exist in the minds of babes or of monkeys. When I paint, I am always thinking about
what should happen next to the painting. What color would balance it?; should there be a large area of color, as opposed to complex brush strokes?; is it done?; what would make it better?; What if I took this out?; should this blue rather than yellow? To even ask these questions, and to come up with answers, requires artistic skill and training, or at least a human brain.
So, if animals and babes are only capable of producing random blotches of color knowing not what they do, then why make a big deal of it? Great, you taught a chimp to hold a brush and smear paint. You could teach him to type (i.e., randomly punch the keys), but would that make him a writer? Put him in front of a piano and let him bang the keys – is he a modern composer? No and no. The sole purpose, then, of giving a chimp a brush and sitting him in front of a canvas is to insult abstract artists. “Hey look, that there monkey can paint as good as you; hardi har har.” (By the way, I know that a chimp is not a monkey, and I know that it should be “well,” not “good,” but I'm making fun of these people, dig?)
Having thus established that abstract painting requires artistic skill, and taking for granted that I have the skill to paint realistic paintings as well, we come to the central question posed here: then why paint abstract pictures?
Because in abstract art, particularly the kind I usually do (which contains no imagery) the viewer takes away from the picture what they will. I am not talking about those among you who do not like or appreciate abstract art; these pearls are not for everyone, as I am fond of saying. If you appreciate abstract art in the first place, an abstract picture can evoke emotion and thought simply by the arrangement of color and form. They instill feelings without requiring the viewer to make any analysis, or to even understand why. In fact, it would be a waste of time to analyze any of my pictures to find any meaning or symbolism. You can say that a painting reminds you of this or that, or that it makes you feel a certain way, but don't bother to analyze them – there is nothing there. There is only the purely human activity of painting colors and forms onto a canvas.