Abstract Art: I just don't get it.

Back when I was deeply engaged in painting from observation, I can recall being very intrigued by the large, abstract and energetic modernist paintings that I saw in museums and history books. These bold and muscular paintings captivated me… and yet a part of me felt like there was information and knowledge that I wasn’t fully clued in on. I think I was a little insecure about my own intellectual abilities at the time, thinking that I was perhaps missing something or wasn’t smart or creative enough to fully interpret abstraction and “figure it out". Now, looking back? What barrel of hogwash that thinking was!

Why did I feel this way? Why was I back then, like so many people are still today, afraid of Abstract Art as if it’s some sort of intimidating art form that holds a secret that the rest of us don't have the key to?

Joan Mitchell (Untitled-1987)

The truth is, abstract painting IS challenging (especially from the perspective of the painter) but it’s so much more open then many people may realize.

There was a really great blog post written about this problem, by Dian Parker a couple years ago, titledDecoding Abstract” (which I highly recommend reading if you have not yet), which also includes a fantastic quote by the late painter and theorist, Wassily Kandinsky. He stated,

“Of all the arts, abstract painting is the most difficult. It demands that you know how to draw well, that you have a heightened sensitivity for composition and for colours, and that you be a true poet. This last is essential.”

Since turning to abstraction as my primary form of creative expression, I feel like for the first time in my life I can fully express myself and communicate with the world what is inside of me. Instead of getting overly intellectual and conceptual about the meaning of my work, I simply paint and let it flow out of me. In fact, while I’m painting I try not to think at all. All of my years of drawing, painting, reading about art, and looking at art have allowed me to finally give myself permission to trust myself to work from intuition and  simply trust the process…and by working in a way that is entirely intuitive, I allow myself to feel through the paint.

Cameron Schmitz, "At the Turning", oil on canvas, 46x44

Why? Well besides the fact that I feel like it gets to the heart of what I feel compelled to express, it’s also incredibly exciting to feel like I am effectively communicating my inner voice. The challenge of also not knowing what my next move may be also invigorates me. I love the mystery of not knowing exactly how a painting is going to unfold before me and how a motif will finally take shape. I value the freedom and my openness to allow myself to take risks, experiment, be curious and take total delight in the beauty of a brush stroke. I am fascinated by how certain color interactions can conjure up a particular emotion and feeling. It’s amazing. But you know what’s even more amazing? Hearing what my viewer’s see and interpret from my work. And you know what’s also amazing? They are never wrong. All of that you see in my work is real. All that you feel in my work is true

Cameron Schmitz, "Shimmer", oil on canvas, 60x44

Don’t doubt yourself when looking at abstract artwork. Whatever feelings or memories or visions it conjures up for you- those are the things that an artist only hopes for. Whatever you interpret, you are never wrong. Whatever you perceive is beautiful and authentic to you. It’s not about “cracking the code” but about feeling…being open to surprise…appreciating the power of suggestion and valuing that which is elusive and mysterious in life. And THAT my friends is what it’s all about.


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