After Sketchbook saturday, Vidhu brought up an interesting question." Why do people abstract?" I was telling him about the abstract attention-seeking work of the artist who does not know how to draw, and the abstraction of artists who have gone beyond exploring realism. Prabal then articulates it beautifully. "There is a huge difference between Abstracting and the Abstract!"

The conversation then turned to Piet Mondrian (who's name I forgot in the discussion :) ) i'd like to share his journey to abstraction.

His early work

(Dont miss the Soman style renderings)

You can see from his quick studies that he certainly knew how to draw

The contemporary Impressionist style certainly influenced him

Even in these early work you can see how he enjoys picking compositions with strong shapes cutting across viewing plane

How Cubism begins to influence his aesthetic sensibility

The shapes slowly turn more abstract...

to the Piet Mondrian that we know today.

As you can see to Abstract something we have to first have the whole. You cannot abstract from nothing. People who start with abstract work confound me completely. What exactly are they abstracting? It is a summary of what?

Hope you enjoyed this. Thanks for a lovely conversation yesterday. I'd love to hear your viewpoints on abstract art too!

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Comment by Somashekaracharya on March 13, 2013 at 12:08am

I can appreciate abstract art like rangoli, for example, and other geometrical patterns like that, which are characterised by well-established notions of beauty, such as symmetry. They may even have some nice mathematical properties e.g. tessellations in the ceramic tiles in Marrakesh. Such art has properties which make them aethetically appealing. They may not evoke emotions, which I think is a romantic artistic ideal, but are undeniably beautiful, which I think is a more classical artistic ideal.

However, I never seem to 'get' abstract art that rejects these well-established notions of beauty. It invariably bears no resemblance to whatsoever I have seen in nature - so I never realize what it is supposed to be an abstraction of. I also can't get over the fact that I see little proof of any craftsmanship in it. If the abstract 'artist' can first prove to me than he is a skilled artisan, perhaps by first rendering what he is abstracting from, then I may be able to appreciate the abstractness.
If he doesn't care much for public approval, so be it (although I am tempted to ask why he even created it - couldn't he have just seen it in his mind's eye?). Otherwise, the claims of high spirituality, mysterious emotional appeal etc sound quite hollow to me. I don't want to offend anyone - it's just not my cup of paint..err..tea. My two cents.

Comment by C P B Prasad on February 23, 2012 at 1:22am

Very important topic to me personally because most of my works are of abstract.

I fully agree with  Prabal Mallick. views.  whatever artist and his soul thinks fit, it is right way to move forward, and it is a journey of the artist.'

Even, I myself was thinking some times. what i was creating with my hard earned money from elsewhere not from sale of my art works was good enough. When people look at abstract art they would not know, what the artists is conveying to himself and to his own soul and to the viewing public. (Public may be artists or just common people) (They don't have enough time to read a small write up of the painting.) When one of my abstract art work was voted as a top paintings in one of the Canadian Artists Net work, i was sure, i was on the right path. Further when three of my abstract works were selected for Inagural show of one of the biggest galleries along with other 16 artists, i was sure about the path i had taken was right. By than i had almost created 500+ paintings. If we really want to understand an artist we should be able to look at all the works of that particular artist. we should also have time to read more details of the artworks. (Many a times this may take many days along with looking at art). This will really help when we want to judge a artists works. As artists we should be able to take at least 20% negative comments, this will make artists strong to move with their journey of being artists and ultimately, when artists die -they would be judged more.

Further when my 13 old son Amirthesh Prasad won one of the biggest creative imaging contest of India with 700+ schools participating,  His works were two of his abstract paintings plus one of his wild life photograph.(Photograph was from sri lanka, which he himself shot it.), The prize included a fully paid trip to Taipei, Taiwan for the award ceremony with other Asia Pacific Winners. (Cost of expenditure was almost rs.500,000, where even my wife was allowed for the ceremony as he was a minor)    -Well, I was happy for them more than me. 

Well, according to me, any form of art is just difficult for any artist to persue.(It is almost a WAR for artists to keep working on their works with the stress levels of every day common problems).  We should just move forward with our own journey. Most of the Great Artist's works were only judged by, long after they were dead.  -By than it really does not matter. Artists would have finished his work and gone. If the artist was happy he has contributed to the field of art in some way, his soul will surely rest in peace.   C P B Prasad,  -Thanks.

Comment by Prabal Mallick on February 13, 2012 at 8:20pm

Didn’t I say that this is going to get really interesting!!! :)

I think Anil has added a lot of value to the discussion. Soman has thrown up some questions which are really worth pondering about and George’s small example I thought was just perfect.

And I have never frequented pencil jam site so many times in one day. :)

Firstly about realism v/s abstract (a little more should not hurt) –

Consider this. A 100 page love letter about how much you love someone v/s just looking into the eyes of that person and saying it without a single spoken word.  But then in the later case it has to be true love, while in the former case it can be borrowed words. In the first case it will be easy for that someone to ‘know’ that you love her. In the second case it will not be easy. But when she ‘feels’ your love you know that was the best moment of your life. But to come to the second stage one must have already written thousand love letters.

All of us today are still writing our love letters. Some are writing 100 pages while others 99 and half pages. I probably dream of the second state. But I know if it has to come it will come naturally. Till then I have to keep writing my letters. And the day I realize true love I'll automatically look into her eyes and say it.

Now about audience for art –

Audience for art is highly needed. For a full time artist if he is not selling his works then how will he continue doing what he is doing. But after fulfilling one’s material needs it becomes a question of ‘Art for self actualization’ or ‘Art of self realization’. In the first case one needs validation. Hence an audience.  In the second case there is no need for validation. But again one of the most proven path to self realization is through self actualization.

In John Fernades’s words “To become an artist one needs to give up one’s ego”. Ego seeks validation while soul seeks fulfilment. Where there is no ego there is no need for validation. No need for an audience. There is no need for success. There is only joy and peace. There is fulfilment of the soul.

And to reach a stage where one can give up one’s ego one of the most popular paths is Sadhna and hence writing those love letters to start with.


Comment by Vidhu S Pillai on February 13, 2012 at 5:24pm

lots of light now in the matter and wonder full inputs George.

yes did get your perspective. the creator of an art has certain idea as how that should appeal to the viewer . as soman had rightly put, with out the audience the whole thing doesnt make any sense.. but the solace for the singer / painter is the same once he has performed..the audience are the ones who makes diff views  out of it.

as u said george, its boiling down to sadhane/sadhakam which  is kinda skipped(missing) here.

how bold or lovely ur strokes can come out to the paper is only achieved through the  implied practice..thats making your brains talk and also talk to your hands and retrieve and analyse and what not :)

unintentional/spoiled dropping of paint on the canvas also becomes abstract for some(the so called abstract artist)  :)

Comment by George Supreeth on February 13, 2012 at 5:15pm

ah. Anil. I think i'm able to pin down my exact feeling when I see weird abstract art. It's like I pick up a guitar (I know nothing of music) and jumped around twanging it and claimed to everyone I was making modern music, people would think i've gone mad! I think I feel that way when I see visual art gone mad :D

Comment by George Supreeth on February 13, 2012 at 4:46pm


Great angle there Anil. there is also a critical nuance there. When we see art, do we not see it with our whole being? In scientific terms percieving visually is not a silo-activity, but also involves other senses. On PJ i recently saw a wave drawing, and someone had said, they could hear the roar. This cross-modal synesthetic activity is what allows us to get a great buzz when we see art. So the abstraction happens from structure onwards. I mean, to abstract in music, one needs to first know notes, melody etc the proper way. In terms of visual art, from representational drawing (Prabal's Indicative) to abstract/conceptual drawing (prabal's suggestive).

Of music and prose I know nothing, but I will say that there too unimaginative abstraction is at work. Half baked 'fusion' artists take structured aspects of classical music and fuse it into some awful stuff sometimes.

I was reading about Kannada prosody, and I read the modern kannada poetry is now focusing on only the emotive aspect and throwing out the metres (Sarala Ragale?). Of course there will always be geniuses who can abstract beautifully, but can you see what I mean when one leaves behind structure for arbitrary abstraction.

Plus the entire point of saadhane/taleem  is perhaps antithetical to exhibitionism. You once told me the story of how long before a classical artist can go on stage before an audience. There seems to be very good reason for this! This is what is missing in visual arts in our times.

Comment by J L Anil Kumar on February 13, 2012 at 4:31pm

At a personal level, I am in complete agreement with Babu’s question and George’s opinion.

But at a theoretical level, I am not so sure.

The reason for this is as follows. I take another field of art I am familiar with: music.

Music is an art(form) that does not imitate anything in nature. Once it had the support of lyrics. Or the words of a song were embellished with music. Now, often, it is completely abstract. No one knows what is being abstracted. But it has the power to move, sometimes to tears or elation.

If pure abstraction is possible with sounds, why not with lines, colour, form, shape and texture?

But back to the real world, the similarity ends there.

To be able to produce that abstraction in music one goes through years of training and practice. (To reach a concert artist level, 10,000 Hrs is deemed a minimum) In the Indian tradition this practice has a different word which is saadhana or saadhane or taleem, which is practice with a lot more implied.

But, apart from this, the rules of abstraction, the idioms develop over years, at least, and usually over decades. Some of these idioms have been around thousands of years. All the novelty and improvisations and abstraction, take place within these boundaries and rules and idioms.

With what we have seen till now in the abstract visual arts, to my eyes, there is no tradition, the idioms are either not there or do not seem to have a common understanding among the ‘users’. It appears as if the practice, learning, imbibing and exploring are completely dispensed with.

This opens the door for fakes, snobs and so on, without even a caveat emptor!

Comment by Soman Patnaik on February 13, 2012 at 3:58pm

Abstracting and abstract - both, very difficult subject for me...

As far as Abstract is concerned - Well.. to each his own. My inability to understand it or appreciate it is perhaps my loss... primarily because I don't like it as much, maybe it doesn't appeal to the neurons in my brain. But that doesn't really mean it is any lesser. Its still there. But yes... today, many 'wannabe artists' just start with abstract because they have knowledge of contrasts, colour combination and conflicting shapes..and maybe a little sense of harmony. And is art just about this... thats for each one us to answer in his/her own way. And similarly such works by such artists are taken by patrons who have similar sensibilities. And as George rightly put - What exactly are they abstracting? It is a summary of what?

The journey towards abstract - I am not sure if moving from realism to abstract is a sign of maturity or if its what we call attaining spirituality in the artist's sense. I don't know if moving away from details, proportions, and form, constitutes moving towards abstract... I don't know if the artist is trying to say in as less as possible as he enters the abstract frame of mind...or is it a case where he ultimately doesn't care what the viewer feels when they view the abstract work.

Why alienate from the viewer and try to put in front of him/her only what you feel in terms moods and random structures. Can an artist live without a viewer..without an audience. Artists like to imagine they want to be singularly individualistic... not influenced by how people judge them... but all along they require an audiance...isnt it? I mean... would an artist really work and throw away his works into a dungeon... never to be shown to anybody, because his objective of just venting out his spiritual self in terms of colours and shapes is met! doesn't happen that way... artists are so desperate for audience... mind it... not desperate for appreciation always though... then why alienate the viewer from understanding the work... 

This could clearly be a case of my ignorance finding words here...hence, so many questions.. kind of confused I am!!!

As for myself - I am just in my own journey.. and follow my own tune. Cannot do something just because its in vogue, or because it is what people like or because it sells, or because the intellectuals love to interpret it, fashionable, blah..blah. Sorry! Perhaps I am not an artist at all... just an observer of life and people who come along my way. My works mostly reflect the world as I see real terms...and abrasions in the picture is not the way my mirror reflects!

Comment by Prabal Mallick on February 13, 2012 at 1:24pm

I think George has said some valuable things here. I'll add a little.

The move to the spiritual dimension is a transition that happens unknowingly. And it is very personal.  It is a little bit like 'The alchemist' if any of you have read the book. It is like saying "Oh it is as simple as that and it has always been there all this time. But this long journey was important to understand this. Important for whom??? Only for me and that is what matters."

Abstract art is purely emotional abstraction. Hence it is personal. And it also means that the the artists has alliented the viewer (unfortunately for the viewer). And as George said Intellectual abstraction with the sole intent of allienating the viewer and then showing it to the viewer to take a high ground or just to sell is just too shallow.


What we get to see in galleries mostly is the commercial abstrat art, which is supposed to be intellectual bullshit and supposed to have deep meanings hidden in it. Holy crap. Hypocracy at its best.


As a viewer if I say I like a abstract piece, what I am actually saying is that I only liked the look of it, which is anyway superficial. The emotional part of it was felt by the artist only, which the viewer can never feel as there is no language there, which the viewer can understand. And in case of faking abstract artists that emotional part was never present in the first place. Or I am just lying because it will be uncool if I say I dont like million dollar abstract piece.


Comment by George Supreeth on February 13, 2012 at 11:38am

Absolutely Prabal! This move to a spiritual dimension is the artist's prerogative, and is never so much a decision as much as it is an unknowing transition.

But to the external observer it all seems so pre-planned, and process oriented. If you see the flow of mondrian's works above, to the external observer it feels like Mondrian could not wait to get started on the abstract from the very begining! Like the joke about the guy who decided to eat the 8th idly first, because it's the 8th idly that always fill him up! :D

Maybe that is why many people find it acceptable to jump steps.

Vidhu: This was not a take on your approach dear friend. I was referring to those art galleries full of crappy abstract art made by those who cannot draw a straight line, let alone a portrait. Since they have connections and make money, aspiring artists also jump on that bandwagon.

Those who create abstract art because they truly love it are not who I am referring to. I also create abstract pieces with forms, colours and type. But I don't exhibit these because they are largely meaningless, and are basically tests of colour or composition. Of value only to me.

Ahkila: You're so right! That period between starting the drawing to being jolted out of it is the only true ART in the whole process. I think that is the spiritual dimension where you can abstract reality. Intellectual abstraction never works and is always pretty shallow.



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