In the Abstract by
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In the Abstract

In the early years of the 20th century a handful of European artists including the Russians Wassily Kandinsky and Kazimar Malevich,  the Dutchman Piet Mondrian,   and a lesser-known Swedish woman named Hilma af Klint began producing art with no attempt to represent external reality.   Rather,  they used shapes,  forms,  color,  and textures to make their art,  and at first their endeavors were seen as a hard-to-define artistic trend.   But eventually these early outliers were recognized as pioneers in what become the growing cannon of abstract art.

I love looking at art and there are many artists whose work I admire – Caravaggio,  Lautrec,  Alice Neel and Lucien Freud,  Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo,  Renoir and Degas,  John Singer Sargent and Thomas Eakins,  Chagall,  Andrew Wyeth,  Andy Warhol,  Franz Marc,  Goya and Velasquez,  Edward Hopper,  Modigliani,   Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morisot,  Cezanne,  Raphael Soyer and Ben Shahn,  Will Barnett and Jacob Lawrence,  Picasso,  Magritte,  Max Beckmann and Otto Dix,  Van Gogh,  and my favorite artist Edouard Manet.

I don’t know what,  if anything,  all those artists have in common,  but you’ll notice none is an abstractionist.   I don’t like abstract art,  I  don’t understand it,  and can’t help looking for a story line or some deeper meaning when I see an abstract painting.

Once in a museum I was standing in front of a large canvas painted entirely blue and I told a docent I was having a hard time figuring out what it was about.

“Perhaps you can think of it simply as about the color blue.”,  she suggested.

So I tried,  but I had no eureka moment about the color blue.

Recently when our friend Belinda was visiting from abroad we took her to MOMA and were looking at the famous Jackson Pollack that my husband loves.

“I don’t like this painting.”,  I told her.    “Where my husband sees energy and excitement,  I just see chaos.”

”Of course you don’t like it,”   she said,   “you’re the neat,  organized type,  when you see a mess you want to clean it up.”

Belinda was right!   But tell me honestly,  which painting do you like better?

This one …


… or this one?

– Dana Susan Lehrman 

Profile photo of Dana Susan Lehrman Dana Susan Lehrman
This retired librarian loves big city bustle and cozy country weekends, friends and family, good books and theatre, movies and jazz, travel, tennis, Yankee baseball, and writing about life as she sees it on her blog World Thru Brown Eyes!

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Tags: Abstract art, Art
Characterizations: well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Your friend has an interesting observation, Dana. I would say, “different strokes for different folks” (I know, trite). Yes, everyone has different reactions to artwork (at least those who look at all). Our Newton house has ONLY abstract art, as it is contemporary home, built in 1948. Our Vineyard home (as you know) was built in 1829, so abstract art just wouldn’t work. We have representational art in that home. Dan gave up once Conceptual Art came in. That is truly beyond him, but I try to understand it all, though of course, I have my favorites too.

    When I was in 8th grade, the Mondrian style dress, worn with go-go boots was “in”. The dress had that colorful, geometric pattern imprinted on the front. I never had one (my mother didn’t indulge in fads), but I remember it well.

  2. Laurie Levy says:

    I share your struggle to understand most abstract art, something my father truly appreciated. I remember looking at an all-black canvas with him and asking why this was art. He said it had to do with the artist’s original concept in creating the piece. Like you, I didn’t get it.

  3. I say it’s like food, Dee. Some people like eggplant, some (like me) just don’t. No matter how much someone (my husband) tells me how good it is, how much they love it, how great it is served just so.

    I do, however, like the color eggplant.

  4. Marian says:

    Isn’t it wonderful that there are both abstract and representational artists? I like both. However, if someone said I would be exiled to a desert island and had to pick one artist, I’d pick Cezanne. His paintings do come through as representational and but are constructed from abstract shapes. Just love them.

    • Yes Marian, tis indeed good! And just as we all seem to have a favorite Rogers & Hammerstein musical (mine is The King and I), so too we all seem to have a favorite Impressionist!

      And wonderful point you make about Cezanne, thanx for the insight!

  5. Suzy says:

    Dana, I love your friend Belinda’s comment, that captures you so well! I have to say that I like both paintings you posted equally well, for different reasons. But I do agree that a canvas entirely painted blue (or any one color) does not seem like art to me, and I can’t get any meaning from it.

  6. I don’t think in general I prefer abstract to representational art. But you asked about two specific paintings. I do not find the Manet portrait of the woman to be one that I would enjoy walking by repeatedly in a home or workspace. I would be happier to have the Jackson Pollock (if that’s who made the other one) in my space.
    Thanks for stimulating some good thought and interaction.

  7. Dave Ventre says:

    The second one.

    I think my artistic preferences run mainly to weird mutated representational. I like, for example, Grant Wood because his stuff is strange. His landscapes with the round trees that are no real trees are have a nightmarish quality to them which fascinates me for some reason.

    • Thanx Dave. Needless to say I like the Manet too!

      And I also like “mutated representational” artists. Not sure if you’d apply that description to the following , but I think you might, and do you know and like them – Lucian Freud. Alice Neel, David Hockney, Jacob Laurence? I do!

      • Dave Ventre says:

        Dana, I’m not an expert on painting or painters. My main artistic interests are in writing, photography and music. I have only heard of Hockney. But I’ll have to check out the others you mention.

        • Do so Dave and tell me what you think!

          • Dave Ventre says:

            Oooo….I like them all!

            For me, Freud’s are quite “abstract” even when the actual “drawing” is lifelike. The textures of his faces remove them from reality.

            Some of Neel’s works remind me of Edward Hopper (my all-time favorite painter; many of his paintings are here in Chicago!), esp the faces.

            Hockney seems VERY “mid-century” (which is a compliment). A few of his paintings remind me of cover art from 50s-early 60s science fiction magazines.

            I quickly realized that I have seen some of Lawrence’s work before today. I think a blues club I used to frequent has some of his prints on the walls. I like his angular, geometric style.

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