When I was a young teen, I saw a lot of emotional outbursts in color on the walls of many galleries in Pittsburgh. My junior high art teacher took me and some others around to many mansions that had been turned into art galleries.
There on the walls was the upheaval the art world was suffering through. It was referred to as abstract expressionism. This mode of painting was still popular while I was in college.
I never really liked it. I believed in a more traditional form of art never realizing at the time this was how artists felt about their world and this was how they explained it to other people. It was the upheaval of a society that had crashed and their violent interaction was very much in evidence. They didn’t use symbols as had been in the past. They weren’t meaningful anymore. They used color, line, shapes and textures to try to explain where they were inside. They felt lost and abandoned and this is what they painted.
At the time, I was too young and inexperienced to identify with them. Even when I went to college and had to paint several paintings each semester that reflected this style, I was never in accord with this form of art expression.
I knew how to do it. I just never got into it. I also was studying psychology and while there I didn’t make a strong association between abstract expressionism and my studies in psychology. That strong association didn’t come until many years later.
In my 30s I started a more serious study in philosophy and world religions. I didn’t go back to school to do this. I didn’t have that much free time and I was running a business by then. I studied out of good and sometimes great books. I read and reread them until a more complete picture of life and my place in it became more evident. Those elements of knowledge that confused me were starting to come together to form more complete pictures of what I saw but could not relate to before. I now saw with a new degree of understanding.
As I matured, my long-term perceptions of art also took on a different perspective. I saw more in the art I had almost completely rejected as garbage, it wasn’t. It was the visual language of the artist caught up in this whirlwind that society was going through. Their insides were erupting onto the outside. They couldn’t help it. It was where they were, not because they wanted to be there, but society was crashing all around them. They had nothing to hold on to so they let the paint fly and splash and they laid in it and moved around. The war in Vietnam didn’t help, it just made the societal confusion worse.
Here we are many years later. We have had more smaller wars that have resolved nothing. We have terrorists who may pop up at anytime and anywhere. The inability to deal with this ongoing unrest has made the idea of abstract expressionism even more prevalent.
Couple this now with runaway technology and we have an explosive mix once again or maybe better stated still. Our art is fragmented because we are internally fragmented. There are great pushes by many in our society to destroy the concepts the church was built upon. Great waves of “in your face groups” are tearing away the fabric of our society.
Where is the artist in all this? Many are confused, upset, no bounds, no borders, let it all hang out and we are seeing disgusting social perversions being put up as art form by many of these progressive reformers who in truth are social desecrators.
So what can a person do to let out the turmoil of all this confusion and indecision? Try what the artists have been doing. Paint out your frustrations, brush, dash, splat, splash. Go crazy with colors, textures, shapes and all you can do with art materials to push these feelings onto a canvas, board or whatever stands in front of you. Paint it, splash it, spray it, use your hands and feet to get into it. You can even lay down and roll around in it.
While I never really saw this as art, I do see it as a means of letting out one’s frustrations. It can be a very cathartic event of letting it all out. Maybe this is the first part of the actual healing process. Letting go of your inner-self and pushing it out to make room for a calmer you.
I still don’t like most abstract expressionist paintings but maybe the hidden story behind them will make them a credible artistic and psychological release. It’s up to each individual to pick and choose methods of releasing frustration and anxiety. Maybe this is its ultimate purpose for being.
I don’t know but I do know that the releasing does work, at least for me.
Harry Croghan is an artist, photographer, writer and teacher. He can be reached at 740-852-4906 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.