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”.