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Thursday, May 1, 2003

Hughey: Abstractly Yours,

By Kirk Hughey

I think Ms. Kamhi and I have both stated our positions in terms amply understandable to anyone interested. To continue would only mire us both in repetition. I accept that Ms. Kamhi cannot afford to concede a point and I have no wish to abandon my concerns.

I'll offer a few remarks in closing:

Abstraction has been accepted as valid art to the degree that any form of art can be (unanimity , even consensus, has never applied in art). It is an inseparable part of art history- even and especially that of American art history. This is fact whether Ms. Kamhi wants to acknowledge it or not. It was invented by artists, not some conglomerate "art-world" of bystanders.

Contrary to popular myth art is made by artists not art-historians. I would always argue that Ms. Kamhi's experience as an art history student and her continuing inability to find any sense of meaning in abstraction is perfectly legitimate for her- and true in the sense that subjective response is always true for those who feel it. My experience as an artist differs and it is just as meaningful, to me, in response to abstraction, as to any other form of art. I would still insist that that response of mine be accorded the same respect - and that it be extended to others who feel the same.

I could cite examples of people who were brought to a love of art by Rothko but I see little purpose in citing anecdotal evidence. It would not occur to me that either (or any )such response should be accorded the same status as universal and objective fact that we grant to the revolution of the earth around the sun.

The notion that abstraction lacks all conceptual reference makes no sense to me at all. That is like assuming a poem in Sanskrit has no meaning because it is not written in English- or even that a formula in physics has no meaning unless it deals with a specific kind of rock. One should trouble to learn the context and the language. We finally, however, need to remember that conceptual exposition is not the prime function of visual art anyway- which is why we evolved language and mathematics. The effect of art (as with music) is the evocation of experience through perception-and it remains most effective at that important task.

I'll pass on two quotes I've found eloquent on abstraction. The first from the art-historian, Helen Gardner, speaks to the recognition that abstraction is as fundamental to art as physics is to science: ".....it takes but little effort to realize that all art is an abstraction. No matter how meticulous or skillful an artist may be, no matter how desirous he is of producing a likeness of his subject, the painted, carved, or graphic representation will of necessity be a distortion of the original. In other words, all works of art, whether or not they have an image of nature as their subject are abstractions.

"But why should art be restricted to certain categories in selecting its material? Today, especially, when our concepts of natural forces can often be expressed only in terms of highly abstract relationships, is it not to be expected that artists should treat, or explore, these relationships in 'abstract' colors or shapes? And is it not true that such abstractions may well reveal profound truths about the laws of nature or about man's intuitive processes? The province of art is the order of man's thought and the intensity or strength of his emotions or beliefs. The modes or forms of art must therefore be varied."

Lastly, from from a painter accomplished in both abstract and representational art, Franticec Kupka, "It seems unnecessary to paint trees when people see more beautiful ones on the way to the exhibit."  For my part of this discussion I'll rest my case with Kupka's trees-and his alternative vision.

Kirk Hughey

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