If we are going to discuss the validation of art by virtue of "skill" or "meaning," we have to give abstraction a fair shake. To my way of thinking, abstract art is more interesting (if not more beautiful) than realism, because it presents a visual experience that has no precedent in reality. It presents something totally new; it creates and lives within the constraints of its own reality.
|Rock Abstract 5 - Image c 2012 Lynda Lehmann|
Realism refers to a single point in time and space even when it is arresting, compelling and speaks to universals. But abstraction can be richly layered and full of ambiguity and mystery that yields fresh nuances of visual experience with each viewing. To me, abstract art comprises a rich, multi-dimensional experience because it doesn't cater to the constraints of time and place. The new visual experience it presents is of value in and of itself, and does not require a literal meaning in the usual sense. As a matter of fact, it may call on the viewer to be a more active participant in the viewing, because it reaches beyond our usual scope of recognition and perception, and lends itself to the subjective reality of each individual.
Art does not need to refer to political or religious ideologies, or even the continuum of human emotions and experience, to garner its meaning. It simply is, and therein lies its meaning. And to me, abstraction is very compelling in its visual (and emotional) richness. Something like music. While it's true that some music may tell a story, I don't need to know the story of the "Nutcracker" to appreciate the beauty and genius of a Tchaikovsky symphony.
As for the "skills" part of the equation, Kandinsky (among others) manifested a high level of both imagination and skill that many realists don't possess. Good abstraction is difficult to achieve, often involving concept, skill and discipline that match or exceed many realist paintings.
Abstract art is often devalued because, to many people, it "looks" easy.
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