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  • Writer's pictureHaydn Dickenson

THE MENTAL STATE OF ABSTRACTION

Updated: Nov 26, 2022



Hi!


I'm Haydn, a UK-based and worldwide-selling abstract artist. If you're not familiar with me or my work, you can see it it at www.haydndickenson.com where you can also read more about me.


This is my very first blog post – I launched the site only last night.


Perhaps you are the very first person to read it! If so, thank you for visiting, reading and, hopefully, subscribing!


In this blog, I'm going to be sharing musings about Art, thoughts and ideas that make me consider 'the greater picture' about abstraction and about art in general; and about painting in relation to other art-forms too. Hopefully this might inspire some discussion along the way!


For my first 'go', I wanted to approach the core of how abstract art is created – or at least, how I create it (without giving away too many secrets!); so the title of my first post is:


THE MENTAL STATE OF ABSTRACTION.


I would say that most abstract artists have at some time been subjected to such belligerent statements as “My three-year old could have painted that!” - I know I have. Or, for “my three-year old”, substitute “a monkey/hamster” etc, or even “I”.....


Years ago, when I used to exhibit in the open air in London, a guy once wound down his window in traffic to shout at me “I'm sorry mate, but those are really shit”!


Overheard on another occasion were two passers-by conferring about my work: “Oooooh no – he's not as good as that Banksy”! Another one told me point blank that my abstracts (yes, he even used that word) would be better if I put some people in them.


The great Cy Twombly described the critical reaction to his first New York show as going down “about as well as a turd in a punchbowl”.


There is something of a stigma attached to Abstract Art. We, as purveyors of it, have to acquire and maintain a thick skin, but also perhaps to help people to make friends with what might seem a challenging genre of art.


I have even heard the bizarre opinion (from a fellow artist, a fine figurative one), that artists who morph from representational painters into abstractionists in later life do so because of a diminution in dexterity, precision or coordination. Don't get me started!


I have a page on Twitter where, in a recent tweet, someone recently opined more respectfully on one of my paintings:


I have to declare that I struggle to appreciate abstract art in this form. It just feels too arbitrary and lacking artistry. Of course, art need not be 'artistic' as it is also a medium for communication. But I do not get any such communication. Sorry.”


In this form”. Hmmm. I think maybe they just don't like the painting, which is fine.


Arbitrary” - perhaps they mean something like 'arising out of chance'. For me, there is no chance in painting. When I paint, I am the channel. A painting has a life of its own. It is like a river, whose course I follow. That course can lead to me deep and muddy waters or to clarity, but I don't find anything arbitrary about either direction.


I do not get any such communication.” Understood. I do not 'get' the communication of much of the music written by say, Karlheinz Stockhausen, in that it doesn't particularly speak to me, but I nevertheless consider it to be extraordinary musical utterance.


I don't mean to digress, or to draw attention to negativity - rather, to present a context in which I feel that abstract art is at times misconstrued.



So the title, again, is:



THE MENTAL STATE OF ABSTRACTION


For me, the mental state kicks off as something like this:


'Starting from nothing which is also something'...beginning from that mythical blank canvas which holds so many possibilities simply because it is blank; of course it is not really blank because the painting is already in there, awaiting release, a bit like invisible ink.


The first marks are, preferably, highly gestural. The Mental State must be free, unfettered. Peter Feuchtwanger's revelatory approach to classical piano technique is founded on movements that arise out of a state of muscular repose and are thus instantaneous, unpremeditated and supremely liberated. My first marks on canvas often emerge in a similar way. The Zen paradox is that those first gestures eschew premeditation yet are born out of a state of high tension, like an arrow waiting to be loosed from the bow.


So is abstract art, after all, 'arbitrary' because it arises, supposedly, out of nothing? I believe not; although, tantalisingly and provocatively, perhaps an ultimate purity could be attained through something that emerges from nothing – demonstrating an enlightened and enlightening absence of self-limiting ego.


Picasso was of the opinion that true abstraction does not exist - “you have to start with something”. I prefer to think of opening a door, and seeing what one is faced with. A line is a line, until another mark joins it, touches it, stays away from it, balances it, aggresses it. Only then is tension created. That's when the fun starts!


If you've read anything about me or, even more, if you know me, you'll be aware that I love nature. I live in a rural area and have done so for most of my life. The energy, the light and the colours of nature constantly infuse my work, especially those of the Languedoc in Southern France where I used to spend a lot of time. This does not mean, however, that I use them as starting points – they are more like references, visual appendices which add personal accents to the purer abstraction that is at the core of each painting. Needless to say, neither do I place these things in the painting – they emerge, like motivic connections in a Beethoven Sonata.


I don't want to imitate nature. “Not for a million dollars would I paint a tree”, said Willem de Kooning – though he also said that “even abstract shapes must have a likeness”!


And how about the viewer's 'Mental State'? Someone once said to me that it is easier to cheat with abstract than with figurative art. That may be true. Or is it that the sceptical viewer is too intent on looking for a cheat or a charlatan?


Are some people intimidated by abstract art, because they think they don't 'understand' it?


Do we need to engage more with the psyche of the artist in order to align more with abstraction?


Understanding should not really come into it. What matters is whether we like a painting or not. Too often I have encountered people (in the worlds of music and literature as well as the visual arts) who confuse taste with perception of quality; in short “I don't like it, so that must mean it is bad art”.


I am always touched when – and it happens often – a client speaks of how tones, shapes, colours and mood in my paintings remind me of a place or an event; or when they explain how a painting affects their mood when they look at it, how they feel its presence in a room even when it is out of sight.


It is then that I feel the 'Mental State of Abstraction' in the viewer has somehow aligned with my own.


Copyright Haydn Dickenson 2022.





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