Have you ever seen a Jackson Pollock drip painting and thought that it looks like one of those school projects you proudly presented to your mum as a five-year-old, only for it to mysteriously disappear into a drawer for the next fifteen years? Or are you tired of tortured artists in roll-neck jumpers and horn-rimmed glasses telling you why abstract art ‘changed their life?’
Well, we suggest you dust off that childhood masterpiece and don’t dismiss the abstract aficionados just yet, because they’re onto something (even science says so).
Abstraction bloomed out of the nihilistic soils of 1920s America, where the Great Depression and the First World War plunged the country into a nationwide existential crisis. Fragmentation replaced unity, doubt replaced certainty and war replaced religion. Abstract artists such as Rothko, de Kooning and Pollock (and the frequently overlooked female artists, Joan Mitchell, Lee Krasner and Grace Hartigan) sought to unite culture in this era of disarray. They came of age in a period where large-scale cataclysm ruled, and where universal truth and moral law had been lost and replaced with disillusionment.
These painters wanted to revive our imagination and shift our perspectives on the world. Through their languid brush-strokes they brought anonymisation, atomisation and modern civilisation to the fore, instead of merely representing the mimetic social ‘real.’ Modern life of the 1920s was dehumanising on a grand scale, and even contemporary life has left our weary sensibilities fragile. Abstract artists dripped, splashed, and flung their way to rewriting monolithic narratives and reconnecting us to the essential question: what does it mean to be human?
No matter how cynical we may become in this hyper cyber world, we’ll always be drawn to understanding the essence of the human condition, and for many at the heart of this elusive concept is love.
According to Professor Semir Zeki’sstudy at University College London, looking at an abstract piece of art can increase blood flow to the brain by 10%, which is a similar increase that occurs when we look at someone we love. This stimulation is caused by our brain’s attempt to ‘solve’ the amalgam of lines and shapes that make up an abstract piece. The frontal lobe utilises memory, experience and learning to organise the visual puzzle before us, resulting in deep sensations of satisfaction and a positive chemical alteration of the balance of the brain.
The raw emotive (and now cerebral) value of abstract art makes it the perfect starting point for any budding art collectors. Its precedence in the art world shows no sign of waning, and although our perspective might change, each time we look at an abstract piece it draws out feelings and experiences that are etched onto the canvas of our psyche.
This abstract visual language helps us understand the memories and experiences that define our innate humanness, turning homes into havens, detachment into connection and ‘other’ into ‘self.’