Thursday, September 17, 2009

Is Abstract Art Truly Art?

By Hildy Marinello

The debate over what constitutes as art is as old as the actual concept of art. Everyone from philosophers, critics, students, and “ordinary” people have discussed and argued how to define art. Throughout history, there have been many different movements within the art world, which have added to the growing debate. While there is by no means one singular definition of art, many critics have attempted to defend their theories. My own personal definition of art has always revolved around the idea that art must evoke an emotion out of the viewer. I prefer to look at a painting or sculpture and feel something than be confused by its abstract nature or design.
Fred Ross’ article “Abstract Art is Not Abstract and Definitely Not Art” defines art as “a selective recreation of reality for the purpose of communicating some aspect of what it means to be human or how we perceive the world” (Ross). Ross believes that abstract art is essentially useless due to its lack of deeper meaning and artistic skill involved. I agree with Ross’ idea that real art from artists such as Botticelli and Michelangelo require “highly trained skills and a mature mental vision” as opposed to arts such as Pollack whose art medium simply involved throwing paint on a canvas. Ross’ statement that “real art communicates or expresses compelling stories about the odyssey of human life” poetically sums up his idea that real art is about emotion, not about “abstract” uses of paint to create a meaningless piece of artwork.
Unlike Ross, other critics such as Clement Greenburg believe that abstract art has value. Greenburg’s article “Towards a Newer Laocoon” concentrates on the idea of abstract art and its development over time. He essentially defends abstract art using historical justification and by comparing it to the medium of literature. Greenburg states that abstract art “reflects social and other circumstances of the age in which its creator lived” while also using the term avant-garde to defend artists choice to be abstract. Some of the theories that Greenburg discusses revolve around the artists escape from ideas, which can hinder their creativity. He also discusses how Impressionism “abandoned common sense experience” (Greenburg).
While both Ross and Greenburg present strong arguments, I personally side with Ross’ interpretation of art. Art needs to be comprised of two essential qualities; someone with honed skill must create it and it must evoke an emotion. The idea of art as a mode of communication between artist and viewer is essential for deciphering “good” art from “bad” art. While Greenburg feels that abstract art must be taken for exactly what it is, I feel that true, real art is the type described by Ross.


  1. Good Hildy, Pollock, nay Pollack and check your last line for grammar.

  2. I have to disagree; the viewer will bring to a work of art, his own life experiences and will view it in an entirely unique way. Art is of course subjective and there is no right or wrong.
    You intimate that abstraction requires little or no artistic skill! To make abstract art requires a far higher creativity than to merely to represent. Furthermore to make good abstract art does require a great deal of technique. Mark Rothko in particular was an extremely talented painter.
    Abstraction makes it easy to interconnect with a piece of work, for me. I would like to note that the Seagram Room in the Tate Modern is always occupied by several people who are absorbed in this wonderfully powerful works.