Artists say abstract art requires understanding in order to be appreciated

Written by: 
Gosuke Kawano

The key to understanding abstract art is understanding its principles, elements, and designs, according to BYU-Hawaii Art Professor Jeff Merrill.

“I think one problem about abstract art is there is no focus. There is no organization. I think that’s where people get turned off. But if you can understand why people are creating it and maybe what the artists are trying to communicate, it makes a lot more sense,” he said.

According to Artists Network, abstract art, which has been in the world for more than 100 years, is a “perplexing art form” favored to some and simply unattractive to others.

Merrill said, “A lot of [it] has to do with understating what the artist is trying to achieve, but also just on a personal level educating yourself about visual principles, colors, lines, values, and designs. [Look for] where the focus is.

“I look at design, rhythm, placement of things, and color harmonies. I look at if artwork is about line or rhythm, or about texture and shape. Is the artwork about color? Is it the complementary color?

“Sometimes artists I know, more specifically the abstract artists, rely a lot on their art statements. Half of the art is reading art statements to understand what the artwork is about.”

Shannon Waddell, a sophomore from Arizona studying art history, said, “When people think of abstract art, they think of things that don’t make sense. The thing about abstract art is that it’s more meaningful than normal art. You have to work at it to understand what’s happening.”

Waddell, founder of an art appreciation blog called The Humanities Central, said this understanding can be achieved through internet research. “You don’t have to go and learn art history like me, but next time you go somewhere and see a piece of art you don’t understand, look it up on the Internet. That’s super fast [and] super easy.

“You will see that there is so much there that you can relate to. That’s why artists make abstract art: so you can relate to it [and] have humane experiences like they are having.”

Merrill said even he hasn’t thoroughly studied abstract art. “I am familiar with it. If you go back to the Impressionist Movement, they started thinking about artwork more in visual elements, in terms of pointless paintings you see by Sallar. It’s like little dots of colors.

“And you get people who are more expressive like Bungo. His paintings or strokes are less realistic. They have [different] thickness of their paints and bright colors. People started to push their limits of what they can do with just paints instead of thinking in terms of realism or representations.”

Elly Brown, a junior from California majoring in painting, said, “I think there is something that painting or art can do for a person that nothing else can. So I think that my feelings towards painting are intensified as I continue on the program. I know how much some people really need art and how some paintings can touch someone and change their life and viewpoints.”

She expressed her gratitude on how studying art has increased her faith. “The more I learn painting, the more I recognize that it is really difficult, and the more I am humbled by our Heavenly Father’s artistry,” she said.

Merrill said, “I think the beauty of art is that each person comes with their own set of experiences, and they bring those experiences to the artwork. That’s largely determined by how they interpret the pieces.”

In regards to creating abstract art, Brown said artists should find something of worth in their lives and use those memories to portray a work of art. 

Date Published: 
Monday, July 10, 2017
Last Edited: 
Monday, July 10, 2017