6/15/11

Abstract

Aelita Andre is a 4 year old professional painter whose work is currently being shown at the Agora Gallery in Manhattan.  At times she's described as a prodigy and compared to great abstract painters including Pablo Picasso and Jackson Pollock.  Other opinions about her pose the question, is her "claim to artistic fame legitimate?"  


What or who decides whether art is "legitimate" or if someone is a "real" artist? Couldn't anyone who enjoys the process of making art call themselves an artist and their work art? Or must the art meet particular criteria, be done by established artists, be shown at galleries, and command a high price? Collectors may buy art partly as status symbols, but hopefully we each buy and hang the art that speaks to us first, for whatever reason.  


Whether you're a fan of abstract or not, or if you believe a 4 year old with no training or legacy of work is a legitimate artist, Aelita's story and the marketing of her art are brilliant.  Seeing her work, one can't help wonder, "Could anyone do that?," "Why am I not a famous painter?," or "Why didn't I think to frame and ask for ridiculous amounts of money for my children's artwork?"
Inspired, I decided to try my hand at abstract painting, just to see what would happen. I've not much worked with acrylics or abstracts, but may have done a few abstract-ish things back in my hay day when I was 3 or 4. I set out with an open mind and no expectations, just to see what might happen.  


First I dug through the basement and uncovered some old acrylics, saved ages ago from a dumpster (no, I don't dumpster dive, they were on the way but not quite in it yet. Free paint is free paint). Next I found a canvas that I had picked up at a yard sale (a bargain at .50 cents, though it's marked $1). I chose my palette, 
and decided to use colors to match the pottery in my family room (just in case the painting comes out anything close to hangable), then gathered an assortment of brushes and tools that might come in handy. 
I considered setting up the video camera to capture the progress of my half dollar experiment, but decided it might invite ego, self-consciousness or otherwise interfere with the creative process. Instead, I took out a piece of cheesecake from the freezer as an incentive to get going, and to be sure to have something to look forward to when the painting was done.  


Next, I walked my puppy Pebbles, who could also be partly thanked for today's inspiration to try a new paint medium and form, since she had earlier eaten some of my black watercolors and traipsed them around the living room, leaving lovely random black streaks and paw prints around the room.  Hmmm, a pup who paints, maybe I should encourage that. What do you think, is it art? 
Things were set, I had stalled enough, and it was time. Voices began whispering to me.
Muses? I don't think so.  Perhaps there are Anti-Muses, as the messages went like this:
"Seriously?" 
"Why?"
"Instead shouldn't you be cleaning the house and making a grocery list for the 10 guests you're having this weekend?" 
"Do you really need to start another project?" and
"Should I decide and name what I'm painting before I begin or when it's done?"


Undecided on the last one, it felt best to begin with the cheesecake.  Mmmmm.  Oh, here's a picture of it a little more than half eaten.  
There's no time like the moment, so I decided to save the last few bites for later, rolled up my sleeves, and began. 


I wiped my mind clear, except for the little nudge suggesting the painting to be named  "Organic."  I quickly learned that acrylics are not watercolors, they need to be slathered on and worked fairly quickly, and the brushes are sometimes better off wiped clean with a towel between colors.  I watched the movement of the paints developing, and immersed myself in the process.  Every stroke and movement was as important or unimportant as the next, but led me and egged me on. As the paints blended, I decided against using the black I had intended, to prevent it all from turning muddy.  At one point, I wondered if I should stop, and decided to snap a photo before continuing.  
As the paint unfolded on the canvas, several times my Muse whispered, "You really should stop now." I was having too much fun, and played some more, trying a variety of brushes and tools, and even pushing the paint with my fingers here and there.  Suddenly I saw a big treelike form emerging, overpowering, and the paints carried on with a mind of their own, till I found myself painting a head on it.  Suddenly, it wasn't as abstract or geometric as I'd imagined, nor could I think of a good way to soften it or make it go away.  
Checking, Wikipedia confirmed:
"Total abstraction bears no trace of any reference to anything recognizable. In geometric abstraction, for instance, one is unlikely to find references to naturalistic entities. Figurative art and total abstraction are almost mutually exclusive. But figurative and representational (or realistic) art often contains partial abstraction."


Maybe turning it increases the abstraction or at least minimizes the figure's intrusion?
Well, abstract or not, does it matter and must art be labelled and picked apart? 


There's all kinds of art that isn't commercial or marketed, and some of it may be masterfully done and original.  This painting is no masterpiece, but is it art or isn't it?  It won't likely be compared to Van Gogh or anyone else, but I enjoyed painting it.  Who knows, with or without a price on it, if perhaps someone might resonate with it? 


Perhaps I'll do a paint over on this canvas.  Or perhaps I'll hang it in the family room just to see if anyone notices... but first, I'll finish that cheesecake.


Whatever we do, we can immerse ourselves in it and be present and engaged like a child. Anything done for it's own sake and with no concern for 
result, fame, or financial gain is the purest art.  




"It took me four years to paint like Raphael, 
but a lifetime to paint like a child." Pablo Picasso

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