“Now all I want is facts”, says Mr. Gradgrind the hardnosed, sharp tongued head teacher in Charles Dickens’ tenth novel, “Hard Times”.
I can imagine that tick boxer Gradgrind, disciple of Birbeck’s Utilitarianism, objector to freedom of thought and deviation in class, will ring his hands in despair faced with the prospect of purchasing a 21st.C. Abstract painting and hanging it over his desolate hearth.
At their worse Gradgrinds see imagination as weakness and wholly unnecessary in a civilised society. Feelings and imagination, the very trait that defines humanity are sentimental tosh. Removing what one deems to be “fanciful thought and practise”, will enable a more productive, dehumanised, Gradgrind individual. These Gradgrinds overly concerned with material value and practicality; unable to reach inside and arouse their inner souls.
Cognition and pragmatism is Gradgrind's self-imposed cage. The bars are on the inside! The Great Unknown is an abomination; every magical moment has to be filed and accounted. It all has to be within the grasp of human understanding enabling the mystique to be banished to trivia.
Meaning attributed to everything, bringing the unknown small mysteries of life within the grasp of human understanding and the imaginative faculty contained within a criteria of evidence based assessment and procedures.
The very connotation of “Abstract” thought flies in the face of the Gradgrind character, it is inconceivable that a thought or idea with no physical or concrete existence is of value, that abstract thought embraces concepts such as love, beauty and humanity.
This honesty and purity associated with abstract art greatly challenges the deep rooted inhibitions of Gradgrind and his ilk. His shortcomings and insecurity exposed, closer examination will destroy him.
Disempowered Gradgrind will attempt to hang on to the man made belief system, unable to cope with that which is not imitable and is a participant in his game; he will boast about opportunity and equality whilst retreating to his deterministic subjective world. The paradox is that abstract art is the real world because Abstract Art is not imitation, it is real art. It creates reality, by addressing the mystique. It is not pretending to be anything but what it is.
Artist Gerhard Richter…….“My pictures are devoid of objects; like objects, they are themselves objects.”
To paint without reference is not easy because arbitrary choice and chance play an important part. When I begin painting I have no idea or plan as to what it will look like when finished.
I am looking for balance and rhythm. The painting has to take on its own visual language and inform me when it is finished. Indeed more often or not it is never finished in the conventional sense and is an evolving process.
The painting may say to me, “I am finished” at any stage in its development, when it becomes proper and meaningful to myself or a viewer. It has nothing to do with what I can see, it is what I can feel; the sensation.
I am searching for something else, like Gerhard Richter,
” looking for rightness……. That excludes painting in imitation. In nature everything is always right: the structure is right, the proportions are good, and the colours fit the forms. If you imitate that in painting, it becomes false.”
Gerhard Richter denounces all content in abstract art, as “without a reason, without a function and without a purpose. This is the quality that counts.” The abstract painting devoid of imitated representation is in fact the work of art in itself. A complete invention of shapes, colours, and textures embracing freedom, imagination and passion and in my case the chance encounter between medium and process.
The work transmits specific feelings, messages, memories or whatever for the viewer’s personal interpretation. It makes no attempt to patronise, the viewer’s autonomy, allowing him/her to interpret it for themselves, BECAUSE it is their painting. A private exchange between art and viewer enabling and connecting.
“Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect.”
–E.M. Forster, Howard’s End
And as for Gradgrind! ” I had proved my system to myself, and I have rigidly administered it; and I must bear the responsibility of its failures. ……… I have meant to do right.’ He said it earnestly, and to do him justice he had. In gauging fathomless deeps with his little mean excise-rod, and in staggering over the universe with his rusty stiff-legged compasses, he had meant to do great things. Within the limits of his short tether he had tumbled about, annihilating the flowers of existence with greater singleness of purpose than many of the blatant personages whose company he kept.”
“ NOTHING BUT ART ”
Allan Storer MA Chelsea BA Wales PGCE Kings