I just started watching the Netflix series Abstract and first of all – If you haven’t already seen it, do it! I am already hooked. I’ve hardly gotten past the title sequence (12 minutes into the first episode) and it’s already given me tonnes of inspiration.
The first episode follows the German-based illustrator Christoph Niemann, who amongst other things, has been published on the New Yorker front page 22 times. Using the heart as a symbol for love as an example, he beautifully described the abstract vs figurative spectrum of art. On one side, you have the ultimate simplification of a heart, a red square. You can’t make the shape of a heart more abstract than that. But if you go to that extreme, no one will get the message.
But if you take it all the way to the other side, by drawing the pumping human heart, pulsing and with all the veins, the last thing the viewer will think about is love. It becomes too visual, too grotesque.
But somewhere on the scale, between the two extremes, you’ll find the universal symbol for love, that red emoji heart.
I loved this simple allegory. And it made me think about how making art online works today and one major struggle for us artists.
The more factual – figurative – your art is, the more people will understand it, which will lead to more people liking, sharing and understanding it. This makes me think about how I’ve always seen it as very important to describe myself and every project I do in one or a few short sentences. To capture the constant flow of website visitors before they – seconds later – wash on further down the stream, after failing to find a branch to cling on to.
Lately, I’ve started to understand that my art, whether it is photos or texts or videos, is not for everyone. I don’t HAVE to get as many as possible to the shore. If I have to throw a life-buoy and drag them out of the water to make them stick around, they’re probably going to walk away as soon as they catch their breath.
Appreciating (I was going to say “understanding” but that’s not a good choice of word) art demands determination from the viewer. A choice to stop everything else for a while and open up to something. You might not know what that something is but you’ll have to trust that it might be there.
Art is not made to be understood. As soon as a piece of art has any kind of abstract component, it is an interpretation from the artist. And everything can be interpreted in different ways. So I have stopped trying to understand art, instead, I open myself up to feel art. When I walk away, I don’t have to be able to describe to someone else what I thought. What I thought about it. It’s like asking someone “Why do you love me?” It can’t be described. It is such a complex movement inside you.
But what if you were to create a piece of art that was so abstract, so deep, that only you could understand it? Would you look back at it as a failure? I wouldn’t. Because I would still have made a difference for one person, probably the most important of them all.