View Full Version : What constitutes a successful abstract piece?

07-29-2001, 06:56 PM
Abstract work came a lot easier. or so it seemed, while I was in art school. Now I struggle and it is as if I'm a tourist in a country I once visited long ago. Everything has changed. Tell me what you think about what abstract work is all about. How can you tell a successful piece from one that isn't. Is it all about "Gestalt"", design, form what? How do you go about it?

07-30-2001, 05:06 AM
Originally posted by SanDL
Tell me what you think about what abstract work is all about.

it's what you make it about. The field of possibilities is so vast that you e.g. can hardly (IMHO) throw a work by Rothko and one by Vasarely into one bowl and ask "now what are both of these about", because (IMHO again) they are completely different.

How can you tell a successful piece from one that isn't. Is it all about "Gestalt"", design, form what?

"Es geht nicht um Erfolg, sondern um Gestalt, nicht um Wirkung, sondern um Wirklichkeit" (could look after the source if I ought to, and after a poor translation ...).

"Successful", if I ever see this as a positive mark it is that the artist got where he wanted to go ... :angel:


martin adler

07-30-2001, 08:07 AM
Originally posted by SanDL
How can you tell a successful piece from one that isn't.

Good & unaswerable question. My own criteria, if I stop to think about them, would include skillful means [including economy, "diction", focus, purity of gesture], targetted emotional evocativeness, ahah-ness [allowing the viewer to see something obvious for the first time -- like, I always knew this but now I know I know this], stickiness [it leaves its mark & stays with the viewer].

Misquoting shamelessly, Emily Dickinson said a good poem should lift off the top of one's head & A.E. Houseman said if he were shaving & a line made his whiskers bristle, it was a good line. Not bad criteria for painting either.

Looking over the above I see they apply to any art form, but why would Abstract Art have any different criteria than representational art, ceramics, ironwork, poetry, music, film,...?

Looking over the above we see once again that one picture is worth a thousand words.

07-30-2001, 09:06 AM
Good and solid replies.
I like waking up to stuff like this and it drives me to the easel to explore these issues. (But it distracts me from the work that sells) Sigh. Maybe one's "moral" ( as opposed to financial) worth as a painter could be measured by one's ability to present the essence of the aesthetic experience in abstract work. If you can blow their minds with pure Gestalt...well then you can be called a painter.

What is abstract work?

McLaughlin found my first post not so abstract, but where are the limits?

07-30-2001, 12:29 PM
Originally posted by SanDL

What is abstract work?

McLaughlin found my first post not so abstract, but where are the limits?

I have to admit Im a bit with McLaughlin. For me a work is abstract when you cannot name a material subject just from the visual inspection.



07-31-2001, 04:43 AM
Originally posted by SanDL
If you can blow their minds with pure Gestalt...

btw ... what does "Gestalt" mean in this context?

As far as I understand the German language, "Gestalt" is something non-abstract. Maybe I don't know yet that it's a common expression for sth in abstract art.


martin adler

07-31-2001, 06:02 AM
Originally posted by SanDL

McLaughlin found my first post not so abstract, but where are the limits?

Dear SanDL...this is NOT true. (I don't even know what abstract means...)
I just asked, what makes your picture abstract. Sorry for misunderstanding.:cool:

07-31-2001, 08:59 AM
Even if it wasn't a criticism, I agree with it.
"Gestalt", means (to me) a shape , a form, a whole of anything, real or imagined. In abstract work, it is the whole of the image perhaps, it's impact, in all it's form. It also has a meaning in "Gestalt" psychology and it has a place in "gestalt" art therapy, something I'm trained in. The "shapes" that emotions assume, i.e. the shape of joy or of anger...think about you'll see right away what I mean. Use your body to show joy and observe the shape your form takes on.

Ok here is a piece, small (8x10 inches, oil on canvas on plywood) that I am working on. I think I'm having figure/ground trouble but generally, I feel this image could go anywhere or stay where it is.

What is it about? I have some idea....but while working I was only pulling out shapes that were resonating in some way.

07-31-2001, 01:35 PM
Thank you for posting the image. I'm quite taken with the intense & curving movements. They have no resonance pictorially [i.e., they don't evoke things from the Real World] but evoke Dance as Creation or Creation as Dance. It's a very different image from, but reminds me of, the flaring match in Rilke's "Spanish Dancer." Movement that creates energy rather than movement that takes energy.

And like that.

For what it's worth, I think you're on to something with your figure-ground remark. Bona fortuna.

07-31-2001, 10:22 PM
The limits of abstraction...where are they? The second pic I posted was clearly abstract but they suggested to Bracero dance forms or movement. How how about the work of Cy Twombly?
Or Kline?
Or De Kooning, is his stuff abstract? They call it abstract expressionism.
Of course, there is also Jack the dripper Pollock.
What about Klee? Abstract?
Are cubist works abstract?
Is Cezanne approaching abstraction?

08-01-2001, 03:38 AM
The limits of abstraction...where are they?

The limit of abstraction lies somewhere around the literal representation of physical reality.

abstract--theoretical, not existing in the world
to abstract-- to take out, to selectively remove, to summarize (my definitions, but I believe they are all fairly correct). representation (pictorial or otherwise) is not neccessarily in conflict with abstraction. Indeed, abstraction (when done well) is the clearest most concise form of representation. SanD, all that you mentioned do work in abstract--which is not so much a style or movement (as would be considered abstract expressionism or cubim), so much as it is a mode. It is just another language used for visually vocalizing one's thoughts. As these are just my random thoughts and I'm really not sure if they're making any sense (I'm also not quite sure in which direction I am headed), I will stop. Any Thoughts? Comments? Questions?


08-01-2001, 08:42 AM
I paint fruit. Sometimes the composition borders on abstraction, a friend once told me. So is it the idea, or the presentation? Where is the limit? In Sister Wendy's 1000 Masterpieces is a painting by a danish artist, whose name I forgot (and I don't have the book, although I think it's on page 100)of a women, her back to the viewer dressed in black that feels abstract to me.

Which artists are on the border of this issue?

08-01-2001, 12:06 PM
For me a work is abstract when you cannot name a material subject just from the visual inspection.

I would disagree is a great example of abstraction. The object in the prints is recognizeable throughout the series, yet each one becomes more abstract. simpler in its description.

...is it the idea, or the presentation?
Curious re your meaning of idea.
(Again from Picasso, "An idea is a point of departure and no more. As soon as you elaborate it, it becomes transformed by thought." I strongly agree. While an idea must be elaborated to make it solid, the presentation must be made to illustrate as simply as possible what that idea has become (either through abstraction or through clear (concise) representation (depending upon your tastes, of course). (?!?) btw, while i have no great affinity for Picasso he does set lots of good examples.

Where is the limit?
I don't know that you can set one. There are degrees. Abstraction is a visual short hand. The degree of abstraction depends, in large part, upon what the artist chooses to show.

I haven't seen any of your other fruit (any posted?), but I wouldn't say your eggplant border on abstraction...as if they aren't abstract enough in reality. :eek:

Abstract is, to me, a misused word. Indeed most art has some degree of abstraction. It is neccessary in order to draw attention to what is (in the artist's mind) important and to remove that which is irrelevant. As it is a misused word, I also think it is a misused concept. Many believe that abstract is devoid of intent--leading to the common conception of abstract art being no more than decorative art. On the contrary, what abstraction does is allow one to get closer to the essence of what it is they are trying to say and/or portray.

08-01-2001, 04:48 PM
i dont know if this has any place here.. but i do alot of abstract pieces and my look on abstract is .. there is no limit in it and most of the time for me anyway there are no meaning in a piece ; i tend to let who ever is looking at one .. go with it .. if someone sees something a piece that i didnt see i think that is great ... that lets me know that something i did made them use there imagination a little harder than the obvious.. and the first piece you posted to me it looks like a humming bird .. i thought i would add that ...:cat: :D

08-02-2001, 02:03 AM
abstract art (painting)needs the same qualities as other painting forms, skillful use of line, tone, hue, etc. visually captivating imagery, entertaining and engaging both the head and heart. The rest is open, pretty vast opening.


08-02-2001, 09:04 AM
So then,
can criteria be developed for critiquing a piece?

Use of line.
Use of color.
Use of space.
Does it captivate?Do the shapes communicate?

This has gaps. What is then the successful use of line, color, shape, space, etc.?
Oh gosh, I'm suddenly thrown back to 4th year art school, dreading the entrance of the arrogant snots called my professors.

You're right...it's the same with any piece of art. I suppose I should go back and read up on aesthetics.

08-02-2001, 12:51 PM
developement of a specific crtiteria is not doable in my opinion, for any art, i have tried it , and evertime a piece comes along, that works, that smashes my past perceptions.

I dont crit work here, i only say if I like it. If i were to crit I'd be run outa this site with a hot poker, as with all critics, what the critic likes (ie their personal aesthetics) always enters in to it (as does what they consider to be art).

Im a show and tell person. Think crits are best left to close trusted and respected artists, and formal educational expiriences.


08-03-2001, 02:12 AM
The more I read this thread, the more abstract it's
getting to me.

I do only abstract art-but with strong concepts.
Every title matches every piece. The result for me
is creating a strong visual image, along with an
"association" that the viewer can "know" what
is before them.

I'm not creating this effect "for" the viewer. It's just
that in the end, it's the type of combination that
I like to do.

In re to Successful abstract work. I think there are
different levels of success:
-The artist enjoys creating the pc.
-Someone else really enjoys the pc.
-The pc sells for what the artist really wants for it.
-The pc makes a statement or illustrates a strong voice
or vision for someone.
-A new technique or style is introduced.
-many other "success" oriented perceptions, etc.

I don't think there are any real critique guidlines that
can be used for abstract art. They will always say,
"It is subjective, isn't it?"


09-10-2001, 05:18 PM
Theres so many forms of Abstract Theres Cubinuisum,Figure,Colorest. Expresionisum even sculpture. All abstract.Most true abstract comes from ones self and personality I think and not form haphazerdly done,but with great thought and care.A true abstract the canvas will talk to you. It's up to you to hear.And when You can hear and paint it , thats success:)

09-13-2001, 10:46 AM
Originally posted by SanDL

Ok here is a piece, small (8x10 inches, oil on canvas on plywood) that I am working on.

What is it about? I have some idea....

Well, after this thread has popped up again, I remember my immediate idea what this is about:

The butt and upper leg of an oistrich that is leaning down to the left side ...

(ducken und weg)


martin (trying to overcome some sad feelings about the world)

09-13-2001, 07:31 PM
Oh Martin,
(mit Traenen in den Augen) Du kannst Dir gar nicht vorstellen wie furchtbar es hier ist. Wir haengen am Fernseher um zu versuchen es zu begreifen. Ich bin dauernd gereizt, was meinen Schuelern nicht hilft....

Sad isn't the word....Martin...there is no word. What will come of this? My parents are thrown back to WWII, reminding me that they went through this daily.


09-19-2001, 03:33 AM

What a stimulating discussion !

The word abstract is used in a variety of meanings. Leaving out the superfluous and incorporating the essential is also abstraction. All paintings are abstractions in one way or the other. There is, of course, the greatest abstraction in the representational art, that of reducing the three dimensional object to two dimensions.

It is true that each viewer will respond to a work according to his energy and a multitude of meanings can be attributed. Nevertheless, I feel that too much emphasis is placed on the work having a meaning. I can enjoy a work without giving it a meaning. When I listen to piece of music I do not ask what it means. I either like it or I don't or I am indifferent. Paintings in general and abstract work in particular can be viewed in a similar fashion.

SanDL, I liked the curves but the colours did not move me.

Sukant Saran

09-19-2001, 06:26 AM
I agree with your reply Sukantsaran and welcome to wetcanvas!
It is simply and it is obvious.

The colors in that painting have changed but they don't move me either. None the less they reflect the indecision I am feeling as I look at the work and wonder where I am going from here. My Still lives are realistic and abstract at the same time.

09-19-2001, 05:35 PM
Originally posted by SanDL
The colors in that painting have changed but they don't move me either. None the less they reflect the indecision I am feeling as I look at the work and wonder where I am going from here. My Still lives are realistic and abstract at the same time.
I don't think that I'm the only one that does this, but when I have a piece that I'm simply not able to find a good solution to, I tend to treat the whole piece as underpainting and coat a lot of it with more colour.

I do mostly pieces in the 38x60 inch range so there's a serious investment when I decide to recover a painting in a drastic fashion like that, but it seems to work for me.

If you're changing colours and it's not working for you, try reworking the composition, or adding visual texture to sections or working on it upside down. I'm generally not tied to a "this way up" on my pieces, as they tend to find their own grounding depending on the space that they're placed.

09-20-2001, 12:23 AM

I also tend to ask the question that where am I going from here. At the same time I feel that both the question and the probable answer may be irrelevent. The flow of creative energy will make its own route. So, why bother ...

sukant saran