Definition of Abstraction

I’ve never worried my mind about a definition of abstract art, or of what I do, but occasionally have stumbled upon possibles. Just now I came up with what I believe to be a simple and accurate one. Abstraction is freedom of invention. Of course that can exist in any mode or genre, and every artist knows that freedom is enabled by limitation, but abstraction comes out of a feeling that conventional picture making prevented certain possibilities from unfolding. The dance of forms, the chorus of colors, the complexity of incidents and layers, the undiscovered meanings. These things can be found through doing, and so abstraction allows a new, modern kind of energy to be felt in art. It’s probably that willingness to just put colors and forms into motion and discover what they want to do that I respond to in Stella. Yet again, as he knows very well, freedom can’t exist without preparation and limits. The desire to open pictorial space, which Stella has claimed for his own, is really too theoretical to matter—what moves through that space makes it matter. So in this print he can make a volume by tracing orthogonals over a

Frank Stella, Feneralia 1995

notional crushed or battered sphere, or two of them, but if it’s only a device to indicate space then it’s not interesting. But in the event, the orchestration of all the parts of the picture carries the day, or so I believe. Not that he is always successful, because the forward moving method is not guaranteed to give results. The Imaginary Places series, among other things, are about frames and forms that break out of them, and these two volumes are in some kind of bumping relationship that accords with their chubby personalities, and that pushes the front one farther forward into our space than it might otherwise appear. Which brings me to one of the best aspects of Stella’s work, something I can do myself, but which I find hard to locate in other artists—namely his forms have an interest in and of themselves. Not all of them, but enough. To look at a shape and say I like that because it is what it is—to feel it as it is what it is and feel its rightness—this is the best guide in the world of dynamic, moving, energy based abstraction. A form does not have to be justified by its meaning or by what it refers to or by a formal purpose—it shines with its own self and needs no justification. This is why I don’t like geometry, this is why I have reservations about Stella’s use of ready-made shapes, this is why I have no time for an artist like Richter—because I want to take a chance on the individual form. Let it have its own identity and presence, its own charisma, if it’s capable of that, of standing for itself. That’s a risk, but it’s the best kind of art, with no conceptual alibis. Stella goes on to turn

Frank Stella, French Tactics: An Example for All  1999

these depicted smashed-in beach balls into literal volumes—and what’s the point of that? I guess that they are not a device to inflate the picture space, but real things. But now I’ve wandered over to another possible definition: Abstraction is the thing itself.

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