Abstraction vs. Representational

I’ve been reading about the artist Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993) and I came across a statement he made when he switched from painting abstracts to more representational paintings in the 1950’s.

“There are numbers of problems in figure painting as opposed to abstract painting. They sound very elementary when discussed. The figure that takes over and rules the canvas. The problems of gravity in that you can’t float around in space like Chagall. Ordinarily one stands on a floor, and there is ordinarily a requirement to complete an object once you’ve begun or suggested it. You don’t leave only a half of an objective element painted. You have to finish it and maybe it doesn’t conform to your wishes that way.”

I think the last line of that quote simultaneously highlights a positive aspect of abstraction (non-conformity) but incorrectly portrays figure painting.

Anything that you choose to represent can be altered. If the color of someone’s shirt doesn’t conform to your wishes you can change it. Also there is no rule that says the chair a person is sitting in must be rendered in life-like detail. A quick glance through Alice Neel’s (1900-1984) work puts any preconceived notions of settings and scenery to rest. Plus every good story teller knows that the best stories are not always 100% truth and if you are painting a picture or writing lyrics you are still telling a story. 

Hell, this concept even works for your behavior, your body, your life. If it is yours and you don’t like it – change it. It’s your story.

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