About Rebecca Crowell

Copyright© 2005 by Rebecca Crowell

(This statement was posted at Visiting Abstraction, an exhibit of abstract art I curated which was on display at LE Phillips Memorial Public Library, Eau Claire, WI, June 6-Sept. 6, 2006)

In one form or other, abstraction has a long history. People all over the world, and since earliest times have used abstract symbols, simplified forms, and given meaning to colors and shapes. In European and American art, abstraction has been an important style for over 100 years, rising to prominence in the early 20th century, after the invention of photography. The camera freed certain artists from the long tradition of depicting visual reality.

Inspiration for these early abstract artists came from the art of other cultures, dreams and the subconscious, mathematics, spirituality and from the creative process itself. The abstract painter Arshile Gorky (1904-1948) wrote in the early 20th century: "Abstraction allows man to see with his mind what he cannot physically see with his eyes...Abstract art enables the artist to perceive beyond the tangible, to extract the infinite out of the finite. It is the emancipation of the mind..." While Gorky's words may sound a bit overblown today, his fascination with the possibilities of abstraction remains compelling for many contemporary artists. However, by its very nature it is often difficult to appreciate an artist's ideas and motivations in this type of work.

Many people think of abstraction as easily created, meaningless and randomly produced, or (a bit more generously) as nothing more than decorative design. In fact, good abstract artists work with themes, ideas and specific intentions for their work. In some cases, these are arrived at intuitively or experimentally, in others, there is considerable planning involved. But perhaps most often there is a combination, a delicate balance of right- and left-brain thinking, a dance between pure inspiration and impulse, and logical analysis and forethought.

Ideas may come from nature, the figure or any other aspect of the real world, altered and interpreted in personal ways. Or they may come from exploring the language of the basic elements of art, such as color, line and shape. Other ideas may emerge during the creative process, from the artist's manipulation of paint, clay, glass, fiber, digital image, wood or any other material. Each media has unique qualities capable of surprising and pleasing the artist, and suggesting new possibilities to pursue. With all of this to work with, an abstract artist is often a master at integrating and combining ideas and sources. Rather than a specific answer to "what is it?" or "what does it mean?" the work may call to mind several ideas or sources simultaneously. Allow them to co-exist in your mind and you will probably come close to the artist's own inner workings.

While this may seem confusing to the viewer, consider the fact that most of us enjoy and appreciate instrumental music. We don't require explanations to direct our thoughts to specific meanings-but we are affected by the mood, rhythm, nuances, complexity and structure of what we hear. They may lead us to make personal associations, to appreciate the composer's talents, and to wonder what inspired the music. These kinds of responses will serve equally well for the viewer of abstract art.

Please enjoy this exhibit with an open mind and a sense of curiosity. The artists' statements about their work are available in the notebook by the guest registry, and will provide insights into the ideas and intentions of each.

– Rebecca Crowell

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