“You should work abstractly”

During one of my Silicon Valley Open Studio weekends, a tall, well-dressed man arrived, looked at all my work, and then said “Your skills and your color sense are very strong.  Have you considered working abstractly?”  I replied “I’m a realist, so no, I’m not really interested in working abstractly.”  He went on to urge me to consider abstraction, although he didn’t really explain why other than the “strong color sense”, or what kind of abstraction he had in mind.  I politely thanked him for his feedback, and he left.

It seemed like such an odd suggestion!  I related it to my husband and he joked that I should’ve told the man “For $5000 I’d be more than happy to draw some squiggles for you.”  Later in the day as I thought  more about the exchange, I thought of another response:  “Do you have any idea how many painters I know who have told me the reason they paint abstractly is because they can’t draw?”

I’m still pondering the conversation weeks later.  With so many artists already working abstractly, why would someone suggest that a realist change their entire way of interpreting the world?  Are there abstract artists out there who are being told they should try working realistically?  Was he simply testing my commitment to my style?  Did it occur to him that at some point in my art experience I probably had already experimented with abstraction since it was favored over realism in art schools during the 1970s and early 1980s?  Was he biased toward abstraction and only happened to visit my studio by chance rather than by choice?

I’ll never know the answers to these questions.  But there’s no question about whether I’ll remain a realist.  A realist who looks for and portrays abstractions in the world around me, something I already do all the time.  Because the world, both natural and man-made, is full of incredible shapes, textures and colors.  If I do anything that looks abstract, it’s going to be because I found it by looking at a scene differently than others might have, not because I went out of my way to “work abstractly”.

8 thoughts on ““You should work abstractly”

  1. Really an odd communication, seeming to praise while questioning your operating basis. Probably deems himself an expert of some sort! I am glad to see the resurgence of realism and representation. The skill and vision necessary to bring them to life is so much more elevating, causing the viewer to see the world anew through another’s eyes. LOVE your work!

  2. Nicely said, Denise. I have often wondered if I should do an abstract but I feel it won’t represent what I am trying to reveal in my art. I love your work…I strive to produce realism as well as you do.

  3. I come across this at my studio in as much as abstraction seems to be “the thing”. More people are working abstractly or trying to abstract their images for some reason. I agree completely that drawing is the key! I know a lot of painters who just go right to the canvas, with no sketches or prep work.

  4. I wanted to major in art education in college, and the teacher of the first art course I took asked us to draw our hand. I drew it realistically. He said anyone that did not draw it abstractly should not major in art, so I didn’t. I always wonder what my path in life would have been like if he never made that comment! Although it is not my career, I still draw realistic and not abstract, and I am inspired by artists like you. 🙂

    • Oh that’s awful! Yet another example of how one bad teacher altered the course of a life. And of course 150 years ago the teacher would’ve been saying the opposite, that anyone who couldn’t draw it realistically shouldn’t major in art. We’re fortunate to live in period whn realism is having a resurgence in popularity in the world of fine art.

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