Abstract art has a definite place in everyone’s life

Published 9:10 am Saturday, September 11, 2010

Bev Jackson Cotter, Art is…

More than 30 years ago, I spent an afternoon wandering through an art gallery in San Francisco. While I thoroughly enjoyed the variety of art displayed, the piece I remember best was one that I described as, “You wouldn’t believe what I saw! That ‘art’ looked like someone took a five by five foot piece of board, set a round hat box on it, covered the entire thing with a stretchable canvas, painted it all yellow, and then hung it on the wall.”

Bev Jackson Cotter

Later that evening, over a glass of wine, my friends and I laughed at the idea of “modem art” and its abstract notions of creativity. Over the years, I’ve mentioned that yellow piece in several conversations, and the response is almost always the same, “Yeah, I don’t know how anyone can call that art.”

Email newsletter signup

But can you tell me, why it is that 30 years later, I still cannot get that yellow creation out of my mind?

We had spent five days in San Francisco, admiring the Golden Gate Bridge and a beautiful restored atmospheric 1920s theatre, appreciating Red Skelton’s delightful performance and his humble demeanor, and enjoying the beautiful, colorful old homes. There were many more experiences that I’ve forgotten, yet when that city comes up in a conversation, that yellow painting is what first comes to mind.

So, where am I going with this?

I’ve come to understand that abstract art, modem art, expressionist art has a definite place in our lives. In fact anything that is “out of the box” makes an impression that is long lasting — maybe positively, maybe negatively.

About 25 years ago, the Minnesota Festival Theatre (MFT) presented “Waiting for Godot.” What was it about? Anyone who saw it can tell you that we spent the entire evening waiting for Godot. We waited, and waited, and listened to the idle chatter of a couple of his on-stage acquaintances sitting on a park bench also waiting for him to arrive. He never did. When his friends gave up and decided he wasn’t coming, they stood up and walked off of the stage, and the curtain closed. People in the audience looked at each other and said something like, “We spent the entire evening here and nothing happened? What kind of a play is that?”

Funny thing. The Minnesota Festival Theatre presented many, many wonderful plays — musicals, dramas, entertaining and thought provoking, yet when I think of MFT, it’s “Waiting for Godot” that comes to mind.

Maybe we like challenges and when we think outside of our comfort zone, we are challenged. Maybe in a world of day-by-day routine, we need an occasional bump of surprise. Maybe in our world of technology that duplicates reality and cameras that give us scenes identical to the original, artists feel free to create from imagination, knowing that no one else will do the same interpretation of an object, person or place.

Maybe abstract art is simply fun — letting the paint find its own home, finding a design in unusual places.

In one of my drawing classes, again years ago, our instructor showed us the work of a modem artist whose paintings contained colored circles in a watery appearing background. There seemed to be a movement, a restlessness in the art that is hard to describe. Then he told us that her inspiration was cold grease congealed in frying pan. Then it all made sense.

I love the visual arts, all types — the beautiful winter scene of a mountain peak glistening in the sunset, the picture of a great-grandmother holding her very worn bible, the orange and rust hues of a fall bouquet still life, the peacefulness in a painting of cows in the pasture near a stream, the excitement of a black and white drawing of wild horses galloping across the prairie. But I also love abstract art — a doll made from found pieces that only someone with a marvelous imagination could create, a canvas of stripes rippling and waving into infinity, blobs of color running and weaving their way among each other, and a portrait that is and it isn’t.

There is a place for all of us and for all of our ideas in art. And while the normal and routine is enjoyable and peaceful, the abstract can take us into a new world.

Bev Jackson Cotter is a member of the Albert Lea Art Center where the expressionist art of Gilbert Johnson will be on display through Sept. 25.