Wendy Jones
Fine art is the head and the heart and the hand together

The Rebellious Curator

(posted on 3 Nov 2020)

I've taught Classical drawing and painting for over twenty years and lately, some my students have requested to learn how to make abstract art. I usually respond by saying that it is not possible to teach how to do abstract art because abstract art is expressive and has to come from inside you. There really isn't a right or wrong way to do it. What is crucial though is - Did it work? Did your message get across? What are you even trying to say?

If I ask my students, What do they want to say, or what is in here?(pointing to my heart), they usually say, "nothing". Oh really? Nothing is in there? Well, nothing they want to share anyway..well then, I wonder if they are ready to make abstract art? So they look around on the internet and see these trending posts and videos of ordinary folks pouring paint, painting with mops, or melting crayons on a canvas. They think this is abstract art. I tell them, if you want to learn abstract art from me, you're not going to get parlour tricks or new slick ways to make an "abstracted" image. Instead, you are going to learn what it is to wreck canvas after canvas and make mistakes. You will learn to be vulnerable, to face a blank white canvas, and to boldly make marks when you think you can't make marks. That's how you do it, and that may take many many years. Yes, many MANY years.

So my best method(besides being brutally truthful), is to give them a deck of cards. They then gesso each card, either black or white. Then take one card at a time and make some abstract art. It is possible to do a few at once, or do not move to the next card until the previous one is complete. In this way, they will have completed 52 small abstract images. Smaller is manageable, not as intimidating, and seemingly not as wasteful when mistakes are made. After 52 cards, a person will know if they want to continue to pursue abstraction. If they do, they can move up to trying a larger format. In my experience, most people give up after only half the deck. That says something doesn't it? Only one or two will continue on to bigger substrates. I think it means that good abstract art is much harder to execute than it looks - especially when it comes from "here".