Seeing not Looking

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The great abstract/modernist purges of the mid century period are over, it’s battles won, abstract art everywhere and the art world itself democratised by that least human thing of all, technology. Over the last 400 years art has gone on a physical journey through space, it’s moved from way behind the canvas, onto the surface and out to a point where the standout art of now is often symbiotic with the presence of the viewer. It’s an experience that directly engages the senses.

Yet across the vast virtual plains of the internet, bypassing dealers and galleries, hundreds of millions of people make image art, much of it abstract, a lot conceptual  and of course much still representational, but most of it built in foundations of sand both intellectually and artistically. Much of this art is empty calories for the soul, one look and that’s enough, one gets nothing more out of a repeat viewing and very little of it feeds the soul. 

The fields of abstraction that garner like after like, online, represent cultural fast-fashion draped loosely on the body of Selfie culture, not Art culture. They are artefacts generated to get distant approval from people they don’t know, as a currency of self worth, displayed under the banner of that great leveller of artists the world over, “that would look great above my grey sofa.”

Abstraction and technology allows people to make art in the same way an electric guitar and four chords allowed them to make music. This is the pop culture war turning on the art world. 

Why is abstraction so prevalent though, when it’s conceptually potentially difficult to do well, an arcane language of metaphors, philosophy and undeclared intent? Viewed through the lens of empty conceptual and modern work strewn across our cultural landscape, I wonder if it’s because observation, with meaning is simply more difficult? 

Looking at something is easy, seeing what’s really there and expressing that is hard. 

Anyone can look at something, not everyone can see what is actually there. The form, the light, the space around it, the emotional connection, the tears. Learning to see is a difficult thing that defeats many, yet it’s what makes art that is great. Ironically once one can see, them the toolkit of abstraction and concept themselves become richer and more meaningful. 

Spending years studying art gives you a very sophisticated language to play with. Simply using technology to make pretty polished pieces, misses the richness that art language can give in creating art that keeps on giving, view after view, year after year and century after century.