The Rules of Abstraction With Matthew Collings

I admit it. There are times when I browse the modern and abstract paintings and installations at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta and I blurt out: “I just don’t get it.” Some of it is truly atrocious. It leaves me scratching my head wondering what the curators were thinking when those works were acquired. It gives abstract art a really bad name. Abstract painting (or, expressionist painting or whatever label it’s given) when done well, is a joy to view and experience. It is also a joy to create.

I’ll never place abstract art on the same plane of skill and craftsmanship of representational art. However, that doesn’t mean I’m a snob towards abstract art. I paint both abstract and representational art. I personally enjoy doing both. From my experience it's obvious both require different skill sets. Representational art is generally much harder for me to do. When I want to do something that's a little more freeing and uninhibited, I’ll do an abstract painting. My excursions into abstract painting allow me to experiment and understand colors, patterns, brush and knife techniques, drawing, and composition in ways that I would not be so inclined to do with representational art. Therefore, abstract painting is in part a teaching tool for me. It is also a sort of therapy. Just because one form of art may take more skill in some areas than the other requires does not mean either is somehow better than the other.

Detail from Indian Summer by Carl Olson

Detail from Indian Summer by Carl Olson

Sadly, there exists a sort of snobbery among artists and art collectors that value representational art over the abstract. Some representational art connoisseurs turn their noses up at abstract paintings–banishing them as unworthy of viewing or collecting. On the other hand, some abstractionists completely eschew representational art. When both parties turn their backs towards the other, they each foolishly ignore the rich experience both forms bring to millions of viewers. Both representational and abstract paintings have their place in homes, museums, galleries, kaffee bars–wherever art is displayed.

This BBC-produced documentary The Rules of Abstraction covers the rise of abstract art over the last century. Matthew Collings dives into the questions of how we respond to abstract art when we see it. Is it supposed to be hard and obtuse to understand with mysterious meaning and symbolisms, or is it easy to understand? Am I stupid if I don’t get it? Does it mean anything at all? As artists splatter and pour paint with wild abandon upon a canvas, is there intentionality to it and any sort of meaning at all behind it?

Matthew Collings explores abstract artists such as Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock. He explains the inner structure of their works. Collings' friendly-yet-probing interview style of living artists establishes that their work always has a firm rationale. Surprisingly, there are hidden rules to abstraction that we may never have expected.

After watching The Rules of Abstraction you will never look at abstract art in the same way.

ArtCarl Olson