How do you define and identify with abstract art?

My view of abstract art

When I was about 10 years old, my family took a road trip to Florida. It was our first vacation in the United States and has left many fond memories. While we spent most of the days relaxing on the beach and by the pool, we also took a day trip to Saint Petersburg to go to the Salvador Dali museum. It was my first encounter with abstract art. Granted that I was 10 at the time, I could not understand nor relate to it. I only found a handful of paintings that I thought were aesthetically pleasing (such as the one below), but refused to accept the concept of abstract art.

The Hallucinogenic Toreador (image source)

And that is how it stayed for the rest of my life. While many people might disagree with me, I just don’t see much meaning in Kazimir Malevich’s black square or Jackson Pollock’s splotches of paint.

At some point, I saw a scarf in a museum gift shop with a quote “Modern art = I could do that + Yeah, but you didn’t” by Crain Damrauer. I agree with the first half of the equation. The second one can apply to many things in life that, in my opinion, are just not worth doing.

So how do you define abstract art?

According to Rudolf Arnheim,

“Abstract art uses visual language of shape, form, color and line to create a composition which may exist with a degree of independence from visual references in the world.”

– Wikipedia

What is that “degree of independence”? 

Photo by Zaksheuskaya on

How much inspiration can or should you draw from the real world?

“Abstraction allows man to see with his mind what he cannot see physically with his eyes.” 

– Arshile Gorky

Now this I can more or less relate to. (All of my work is based on microscopy, remember?)

Glial cells called oligodendrocytes that are studied to cure multiple sclerosis

My dilemma

So here is what has been bugging me for the past several months. 

Is all art that an average person cannot immediately understand considered abstract? 

If so, then the irony is not lost on me.  I am sure that most (if not all) of my work seems abstract to a person who may just stumble upon it.  Without biomedical background, or at least reading the label, that person may dismiss my work as a bunch or random geometrical shapes  as well. 

Please click on photos to purchase prints or visit my RedBubble Shop

So does this make me a hypocrite?  Do I need to emphasize to every viewer that my work is based on reality; just the type of reality that most people cannot see?  To me, this feels really important.  Otherwise, I feel like I am not being true to myself.

Furthermore, so many people talk about putting meaning into art to help other people relate.  That is why I started incorporating one minor abstract element in my work – the hope jewel.  But while the jewel is obviously not a part of the original image, it represents a specific concept – optimism It is meant to draw a person deeper into the artwork and promote a sense of wonder.

So why am I talking about all of this?  These thoughts started swirling again in my head, because I am brainstorming my next project.  It came to me while I was taking a walk along 5th Avenue and listening to the “Mom is in Control” podcast (of all things)… 

My new idea

The main image will be directly based on a real microscopy image of stem cells and neurons, representing the great potential that we have within us. (In the picture below I didn’t bother drawing out the cells and like before just jotted down a rough blueprint.) 

My sketchbook

For those who may not be familiar, stem cells are immature cells that have the potential to become almost any cell type in the body and therefore hold great promise for regenerative medicine.  Amazingly, these cells exist even in a mature organism and, if properly coerced, can help treat neurodegenerative diseases.

Can you guess which image I am going to use? I am also open to recommendations.

In this work, I am thinking of stem cells in a slightly more metaphorical sense, where they represent our abilities and talents.  However, it can take a lot of work to uncover the potential we have within us, whether in recovering from illness or in reaching our goals.  And this is where I am planning to venture off of the path of realism. 

To represent the barriers we face on the way to our goal, I am going to partially cover the stem cell image with layers of cheesecloth or net.  I am still deciding which color to use for this.  What do you think – dark or light?

Moreover, this artwork will be interactive.  I would like to encourage the owner of this work to set a goal for themselves and equate it with reaching the bright and colorful image of the stem cells.  As you work towards this goal and reach certain self-defined milestones, you can peel off and remove layers of the net to reveal more and more of the beautiful stem cell image inside.  Finally, when you are done, you will face the fully uncovered artwork (along with another surprise) and have it as a prize for achieving your hard earned goal.

What goal would YOU like to accomplish and reward yourself in the end?

Art is my emotional outlet and my oasis.  I use art to express my feelings and work through life issues.  Come join me on this journey of letting go of control and letting the creative process take over.  You will get access to all of the behind the scenes footage and see the major breakthroughs that translate into new artwork.

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