by Vicky Pylorides
Whenever I hear someone saying they don’t understand abstract art I am always tempted to tell them that that is actually a good thing. Because abstract art is not about understanding, at least not in the way most people use the word understanding, which is referring to a grasping the meaning of something objective.
The thing is, abstract art is all about the subjective as opposed to the objective. It allows people the freedom to assign an own meaning to the work. Of course, I never do actually randomly tell people this, because I rather avoid coming across as a smart ass. Besides, in all fairness I guess what people really try to say when they make that remark is that they are not directly drawn to the art because they don’t automatically know what it is about or how to ‘deal’ with it. Abstract art does not contain recognizable objects, there is nothing to grasp or clearly identify. It doesn’t require any form of recognition or logical or rational thinking, and since we are almost exclusively taught to navigate the world that way many people have more difficulty enjoying abstract art as opposed to representational art. It makes that some people not only comment on how they do not understand an abstract work but even seem annoyed by it. I believe that the abstract artform’s apparent lack of meaning, on some (underlying) level of their consciousness frustrates their own desire for clear, structured meaning in life.
Some interesting studies on different art forms have shown that preferences in art types can be linked to differences in personality traits and preferred thinking styles among people. As for the latter, these studies show that field-independent thinkers, as well as abstract and random thinkers, are more likely to be fans of abstract art whereas field-dependent, concrete and sequential thinkers are more drawn to representational art. When it comes to personality traits, the same studies show a correlation for people liking abstract art and having personality traits like sensation seeking, open-mindedness and a low desire for simple order. People disliking abstract art tend to score higher on conservatism. Of course, there is no good or bad in what kind of art one likes. It is a matter of personality and on a societal level or even universal level, different type of persons, I believe, always complement each other.
Looking at my own admiration of abstract art I can tell you that it always comes from an emotional response to this energy that it can give off, which I often cannot fully explain in words. I am always very aware of the fact that when I talk of “something affecting me on an energy or vibrational level”, especially when it is about an abstract work of art, it puts me way more on the side of the creative, artistic, spiritual, delusional hippie as opposed to the cognitive, rational, unimaginative conformist. At least, on an admittedly somewhat one-dimensional and caricatural but, still very much relatable- spectrum of personality types. For most of my life I used to identify as being somewhere in the safely middle of this spectrum though; a person who always loved doing creative things but who also considered only science-based empirical perspectives as the fundament of anything true. It is only since a couple of years that I slowly started realising -through reading, through observing my kids being educated in school and through my own maturing- that all my rational, logical, analytical, structural, overt ways of operating, more typical for the one side of the spectrum, were always very much strengthened by culture and society, and the schooling system in particular. All my creative, intuitive, free flowing, covert ways of operating, on the other hand, all seemed to be more natural skills; they were always there, some of them consciously present, others, as I understood later on in life, shamed away or blocked due to the dominant educational and societal structures. And don’t get me wrong, my schooling years do not feel useless at all in retrospect; I am grateful for how the system has strengthened some of my perhaps not so natural skills that I can use to full potential in daily life. But I believe I am also still healing from how it made me silence or reject some of my natural equally, if not more important traits. That said, I am quite positive about how the schooling system is changing for the better, for a better future. You can see and sense this desire for change, particularly present in some corners of society, that is driving this. It’s appearing in the form of new progressive ideas and inherently its resistance, because these always go hand in hand, right? Progressive, out of the box, ideas will be very much needed for change because a system that thrives on endless quantitative measuring and comparison is obviously not helpful in stimulating non-measurable and non-comparable covert, fluid and intuitive skills.
And so, it is through the exploration of my passion for abstract expressionism, a passion that strongly grew over recent years, that I learned that what is true, good, bad or desirable cannot and should not always be measured by just the yardstick that the system is predominantly using. Should we even be blindly trusting a societal system that has proven time and time again that it is unbalanced and, in a way unhealthy on the judgemental tools it uses?
Through this love for exploring and creating abstract art, I have simultaneously changed some of my perspectives on human behaviour, society and life. I found myself detaching bit by bit from the hustle culture and appreciating more and more the value of things like resting, simple beauty, self-care, care giving, homemaking, play and expression, much more than I believe our modern society likes us to do. I experienced how opening up to symbolism, metaphors and mysticism can make your life fuller and more enriched. I opened up to the idea that the apparent disconnection of things, people, organism and nature does not mean there is no connection. And while having an educational background in science-based psychology, I found myself drawn to meta-physical approaches on understanding human behaviour like astrology and human design. Of course, as I cannot say it enough, these are just some of my personal perspectives. We all have different coordinates on all the personality defining spectra, so one’s perspective is never the ultimate truth. Each one of us carries little pieces of it.
Without claiming any pure wisdom or truth, I would like to end this with a funny quote I came across recently. It wonderfully resonated with me because it helps me remember that having your own perspectives and following your own purpose is of great value but along the way you should not always take yourself nor the other too seriously: ‘a friend told me I was delusional; I almost fell of my dragon’.