I would like to discuss the
different ways people respond to abstract art and music. Whilst these two
different art forms have many significant similarities, many people tend to
approach them entirely differently. Why is the attitude so different when they
encounter examples in each of these mediums? Consider the possibilities.
Abstract art -- ‘what does it mean?’ I hear
It's not surprising that many people, who are not
conversant with the language of contemporary art, become very puzzled when
looking at an abstract artwork. Their confusion is usually triggered by being
confronted with an unfamiliar visual experience. Normally when people come
across a painting or sculpture, they are looking for visual references they are
familiar with. Such references may include landscape features, the human body
or ordinary objects they see every day.
So when looking at an abstract artwork and their
familiar visual references do not come into play, they tend to become confused
and bewildered. They are inclined to ask 'what does this mean?' rather than
come to the simple conclusion of 'I like it' or 'I do not like it'.
Why is abstract art and music
It is interesting to note that the
very same people would not be confused the same way if they just heard a new
musical piece. Instead of asking 'what does this mean?' they would certainly
come to the simple conclusion 'I like it' or 'I do not like it'.
When hearing a new musical piece,
people are not making comparisons with the natural sounds they hear in their
daily lives, such as sounds heard in a forest, on the beach,
in urban settings and so on. They respond to the mood, the melody and the
rhythm of the music instinctively. They either like or dislike the musical piece
without resorting to reasoning and analysis or looking for a meaning. Their
reaction is instinctive, intuitive and quite often emotional. May even play on
This indicates to me that many people appraise abstract art and music entirely
Music is intuitively assessed and
accepted or rejected, as the case may be. In contrast, visual art is
scrutinised with analytical reasoning, and the viewers are usually looking for a
logical explanation. For some inexplicable reason the intuitive approach gets
switched off by most people when it comes to contemporary art, especially the
Music is intuitively assessed and
accepted or rejected, as the case may be, however, visual art is scrutinised
with analytical reasoning, looking for a logical explanation. For some
inexplicable reason the intuitive approach gets switched off by many viewers
when it comes to appreciating contemporary art, especially the
The parallels between abstract
art and music
In this discussion I deliberately
have chosen music for comparison. Even though abstract art and music are
treated quite differently, I believe there are very strong parallels between
these art forms. Creators of abstract art and composers of music apply the same
principles in their compositions and they rely on the same basic elements.
Their common language is colour, tone, texture, mood, rhythm, harmony, contrast,
balance, tension, counterpoint, integrity and so on.
The dynamics of the creative
process in both these art forms are directly comparable and the parallels are
strikingly similar. Yet evaluation and 'understanding' of music and abstract
art is altogether different.
Why is it so?
I do not know the reason for this curious divergence and the
general lack of understanding of abstract art. As a contemporary artist, I
wonder why this is the case and only have a few guesses.
I suspect the main reason may be the lack of education in this area. There may
be insufficient coverage in schools of any visual arts related subjects.
Another reason may be the lack of exposure to such works of art during the
formative years in a young person’s life. Are any psychological factors
involved? Is the undue emphasis on sports the culprit? Is the decline in
general knowledge across the board the explanation? Please let me know if you
know the answer.
In the meanwhile, lets enjoy the enjoyable, including the best of abstract art,
without analysing too much, without explaining too much or even thinking too
much of the extremely high selling prices some abstract artworks reach in the
current art market.