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Becoming Abstract: Learning About Art

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"My five year old could do that!"

Have you ever muttered this phrase under your breath upon seeing a piece of art in a lavish gallery? If so, keep reading! This one is for you. If you already understand abstract art on a deep level, please forgive my "abstract art for dummies" article ahead. I admit I used to think this way about abstract art, while also holding a deep curiosity for what I was missing. I felt like a child with my nose pressed against the glass- an outsider peering into the world of abstract art. It seemed a secret society that only the artsy posh understand. I decided to say pish posh to that idea and dive into learning after a trip I took this summer.

In June I visited my sister in Houston, Texas. I expected that it was going to be a nice, much-needed break from mom life, but what I didn't expect was the beautiful cultural experience I encountered. My sister is a dancer with a modern dance company. Each evening I attended a dance concert by her company-very different from my usual evening dance of homework, dinner, dishes, and bedtime. During the day we ate all of the amazing food and saw the sights of Houston. We visited the Waterwall park, the Williams Tower, the Houston Graffiti Park (where I took the pictures below), and Buffalo Bayou Park. My nerdy heart relished roaming the tremendous used bookstore and The Menil Collection.


The Menil Collection is a museum in Houston that is free to the public. The main building holds treasures by Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Marcel Duchamp, Henri Matisse, Yves Tanguy, and many more. Unfortunately, while I was there, the main building was closed for renovations. However, the Menil Collection includes two satellite galleries, including the one that I was fortuitous enough to venture into while I was there, the Cy Twombly gallery.

Cy Twombly is an abstract artist that lived from 1928-2011. Twombly's art is particularly interesting and challenging abstract work. It has a childish quality with pencil scribbles, blackboard scribbles, and massive canvases full of colorful swirls and big circles. He also incorporates poetry into some of his pieces. Perhaps the best way to explain Twombly's work came from curator Kirk Varnedo. He described it as, "influential among artists, discomfiting to many critics and truculently difficult not just for a broad public, but for sophisticated initiates of postwar art as well." Discomforting felt accurate, as well as confusing. I was intrigued but had many "my child could do this" moments. His art did prompt me to learn something new, so there is something to be said for that.


“Everyone wants to understand art. Why not try to understand the song of a bird? People who try to explain pictures are usually barking up the wrong tree.” — Pablo Picasso


I learned that abstract art, at the core, is about freedom of creativity- for the artist and viewer. It does not necessarily have a prescribed meaning or a story. The beauty resides in the invitation for the viewer to engage and use their imagination. The painter must free his mind to translate intangible emotions into something concrete, while the viewer must open his mind and engage with the painting to ascribe meaning. How successful a work of abstraction is, therefore, lies in its ability to provoke emotion.

Abstract art speaks to the nonverbal part of us- it is meant to be an experience. This may be a part of us that we don't use often, thus making abstract art uncomfortable. The best metaphor that I came across in my research was to think of the piece of art like a symphony. When you listen to a symphony, you don't try to find meaning in every note- you let the notes wash over you all together to speak to your soul. With a piece of abstraction, let your eyes dance over the canvas in the same way that your ears would listen to a symphony. Follow the strokes, lines, textures, and colors of the work. Let it come all together in a way that speaks to your soul.

Now, it is important to note that most abstract artists have excellent skill in realism. They could probably draw a perfect portrait of a person or rendering of a bowl of fruit. Instead, they choose to express their creativity by creating a visual experience that is unrestricted and unencumbered. Abstract art is about form, color, line, texture, pattern, composition and process. Abstract artists have a deep understanding and mastery of these qualities.

“Painting, like music, has nothing to do with the reproduction of nature, nor interpretation of intellectual meanings. Whoever is able to feel the beauty of colors and forms has understood non-objective painting.” – Hilla Rebay

As I researched abstract art, I became inspired in a way that I had not expected. Abstract art, at its very essence, is about freedom. My journey that I am on with this blog is not so very different. My blog is about freedom. Freedom from fear and the "comfortable" closed off boxes I have put myself in over the years. I decided to give abstract art a try. Not because I am an artist and have finely honed skills in realism, composition, texture, color, etc. but because this level of creativity and freedom scares me. Painting in most of its forms is very intimidating to me (unless we are talking about painting walls, trim, and furniture... I can rock that). I wanted to stretch my capacity for creativity and get out of my comfort zone. This was a perfect opportunity. Opportunity for growth is everywhere when you open your eyes and your imagination to see it.

I was in the process of renovating and redecorating the master bedroom during my "art phase" and decided to choose colors that would match my new rug. We would use the art in our new bedroom. My husband and I made it into a fun date night, sitting on the subflooring amid the boxes of new hardwood flooring and gallons of Behr paint. I had been painting the trim, ceiling, walls, and doors for days... but putting color and texture on canvas is a different sort of bear. We poured our wine and got to work. Josh and I have a favorite local abstract artist that inspired our art. Everyone should go check out Laura Deems on Instagram @_lauradeems. Her work is stunning and the first abstract art that really spoke to me.

Have you ever tried painting like a child? It is actually quite challenging to free your mind of perfection and create with emotion and symbolism instead. My art may not be something that will ever hang in a gallery (or be seen as beautiful by others), but I found it to be a very freeing and therapeutic experience. Next time your children are painting, join them! Try to paint like them instead of the picture of a flower, house, or person that you usually draw.

Our night of painting turned out to be such a fun and romantic date. If you get nothing else from this article, at least there is a new date night idea for you! This was something totally outside of the norm for us and it was so refreshing to be able to be creative and silly together. It reminded me of the early dating days. Go do something new with the person you love! You won't regret it!

What do you think about abstract art? Is this something you might try? Comment below!

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