So I’m reading a book called, Pictures of Nothing, by Kirk Varnedoe. I decided that I wanted to go to Seattle Art Museum to visit some of the pieces that are by artists that Varnedoe talks about in his book. My main motivation is my pure curiosity. I started out from a point of complete misunderstanding of abstract art. Because I want to break this down in simple terms so most people can understand me, I will explain myself (skip ahead if you already know my explanations or please, by all means, correct me where I go wrong. I’m here, firstly, to learn and understand.) The work of Mark Rothko used to completely offend me. The main reason, is that, without realizing it, I didn’t have the knowledge to understand it. To me, it was just a bunch of dumb color things hap-hazardly painted on a canvas. I didn’t get it. When I think about it, I feel a bit ashamed at my reaction, but still, I feel that it’s better to react at all to than to simply stroll by altogether. However, I did the work to understand it and have now done a complete 180. I not only appreciate Rothko’s work now, but his work ranks among my personal favorites. Watch this documentary and I think you’ll get it too Mark Rothko and The Power of Art.
Fast-forward to now, where I am finding myself with an insatiable curiosity about Abstract Minimalism, in general. Being naturally contrarian (“opposing or rejecting popular opinion; going against current practice”), noticing that lack of comfort the people around me seem to have with these paintings, I can’t help but get to the bottom of the mystery. I have seen way too many docents speed past these paintings and I want to know why. (Docents are like the Superheroes of Volunteerism at museums. They are people who have special training, from the museum, to give tours to the public. They often have access to special museum resources in order to gain more knowledge about the artwork so they can talk about it with visitors, like you and me.)
Here is what I learned from my experience:
1. A huge part of art understanding is what you, the viewer, bring to it. You don’t have to be some sort of brainiac to get it, but thinking and engaging is important– being willing to google things that you think or talking to people who have more experience with the art than you; picking up a book or reading the descriptions. For example: Check out the Al Held Yellow X, where I make observations. I need to learn more, but at face-value the painting is demonstrating to the viewer, an amazing phenomenon of the human eye– which is the ability for our minds to read a recognizable character (the letter X), with a minimum of shapes. We can still recognize this painting as an X, even though it quite different from the X’s that we usually see. In this collection, he does this with a lot of other letters (a lot smaller– on view at SAM) OCR is Optical Character Recognition. It’s how your brain turns shapes into letters. So point one, if the painting says nothing else, it is saying that and it is a marvel. You are part of the art because of how your eye works.
2. I don’t have to live in a special, magical place to learn about historically significant art. I can live right here, in the Greater Seattle Area, in Lynnwood, Washington. I am able to gain experience (even though I have also lived in NYC for 3 years.) We can also get books shipped that we may not find locally. We can watch a wealth of art documentaries on Youtube and Netflix. Yes, it’s be awesome to be able to see all these great things in other places, but I have ample resources here that are extensive. I doubt I’ll ever be able to exhaust them (use up all the learning!). Pictures of Nothing has mention Pollock, Stella, Kelly (among others– don’t forget Olympic Sculpture Park)– There is work by each of those artists at SAM. Today. I may not be able to see the exact pieces that Varnedoe talks about, but I can see his photos and I can also see other work by the artists– That, combined with my trips to DFW (Dallas Fort Worth area, my bases are nicely covered, I’ve realized.) So, contrary to that belief. We can move on.
3. Living near a great city is awesome. I can go there, soak up all the learning and resources until my brain gets burn-out, then go back to my peaceful house in Lynnwood.
…And now for some off-the-cuff observations from what I experienced that day
The Frank Stella pieces use an unusual color scheme. Another thing that makes them special is that the canvases were built in an unusual shape. Some people have talked to me about carving (can’t remember who) and how the canvas most nearly carves out the space that it’s in. I think the color helps emphasize that; they glow. So as I’m reading Pictures of Nothing, I hope to understand even more. I don’t have to live in a special place to gain that experience (even though I have also lived in NYC for 3 years.)
The Seattle sky is gray a lot. You can see that in the background. I love how the paintings make it seem brighter and livelier. About the weather of Seattle: It’s often gray and dreary here. A great way that I’ve found to keep my momentum going is that I take Vitamin D supplements. Every. Single. Day. (thank you J.L.!!! Forever grateful for her recommendation.) It has been a game-changer for me and I am forever grateful. I feel like a vibrant person, not a gray-day person.
I’m enjoying the work of Hans Hoffman. The texture is dramatic and tumultuous in Circular Fantasy. There was another one that I lusted after that used to be where Elysium II is but I don’t know the details about it other that it was my favorite because of both the color and texture. They are vibrant like Elysium II but with the drama of Circular Fantasy. I want to see it again and again! Also, it makes me want to learn more about Hans Hoffman. They were next to Jackson Pollock’s Sea Change.
So, this Jackson Pollock was recently restored so it looks like it was painted yesterday. There is a strain of abstract art where the artist avoids a focal point. I think this is like that here where your eye continually wanders, constantly discovering new details. Also, think that it’s interesting that Pollock used house paints. From a cost-perspective (as an artist who wants to paint on a larger scale), it makes painting larger a bit more affordable.
Here is the curator‘s description of the piece. Tell me if it’s too small to read.
This one caught my eye because of the recent Modernism in the Pacific Northwest show at SAM. It looks like a signature Seattle piece because of it’s apparent dialogue with Mark Tobey’s (a Seattle artist) famous White Writing. The main thing is that this piece appears to be digital. Frankly, I appreciate the look of the piece but it sort of pains me to see digital art in a museum. I want it to be a painting. I was a bit disappointed when I looked closer. I have yet to learn how to appreciate digital art. Another project for another day. I haven’t been able to get past it to uncover the meaning.
I love to visit the Sandy Lew boutique. Sandy does such incredible windows. They inspire me every time. The place is unique and carries a carefully curated mixture of designers. Her blog is here. She posts her windows there too. I got a fun, turquoise blue, chunky, Italian necklace while I was there… she is so kind to whoever comes into the store and she makes people feel welcome… I’ll visit again in February when, I’m told, the new arrivals come in.
Well, trying to make the blog better, but it takes a lot of time and I have a lot more of my adventures that I never posted. I hope to catch those up. I really have been following my mission of continued learning and growth but I haven’t been blogging about it. I guess the main thing is that I get caught up in The Perfect Design for the blog and now I just realize that maybe it won’t look or be the exact way I wanted, but I think it’s more important to share what I’m doing. Hopefully, it’ll inspire people to get out more and appreciate the art that we have. We really are fortunate. The more I learn, the more I realize it.
Let’s keep learning. Until the next post, what will you learn about?