Monthly Archives: January 2014

A Place Between Realism and Abstraction

Donna Zagotta, She Walks Alone

I think it’s a good idea to periodically define where you currently are in you art journey, where you want to go next, and what skills and/or ideas you’ll need to acquire to get there.

All artists, whether realistic and abstract, use the same visual language to put together their paintings. The difference is that the realistic artist uses that visual language to describe his subject, whereas the abstract artist uses that visual language in conjunction with subject matter to express his feelings or ideas. 

If we understand the “style” of Realism to be a process of emphasizing subject matter and its descriptive qualities, and the “style” of Abstraction to be a process of emphasizing the formal elements of picture making and personal expression over explaining subject matter, then the “style” of Semi-abstraction would sit in right in the center – a perfect blend of Realism and Abstraction.

Exploring the area that lies between Realism and Abstraction, and finding that “perfect” blend that feels right for me has captivated my interest for a number of years. It’s exciting to observe how my ideas, approaches, and paintings have changed and evolved along the way. At one point I moved from Realism to Impressionism, but still felt “obligated” to faithfully render my subject and its environment. Slowly I’ve been able to let go of some of the details and explanation of my subject and its environment and move closer to the semi-abstract end of the scale. At this point, I’m focusing on adding more abstraction and personal expression to my work, and my “to do” list for getting there includes experimenting more thoughtfully and imaginatively with shape, line, color, value, texture, pattern, space, repetition, and rhythm.

Here is a good way to organize your thinking, determine your current painting “style”, and generate new ideas for where to go next and what it will take to get there:

Imagine a “Scale of Styles”, with Realism at one end, Abstraction at the opposite end, and Semi-abstraction half-way between them. Next, place Impressionism on the scale half-way between Realism and Semi-abstraction, and Abstract Expressionism half-way between Semi-abstraction and Abstraction. You can continue this process and place art history “styles” that you’re familiar with or that you’d like to explore on the proper place on the scale (for example, I would place Fauvism close to Abstract Expressionism on the scale). Next, gather new ideas to add to your work by researching those historical art styles that appeal to you. BTW – I don’t place the non-objective style on my imaginary “Scale of Styles” because it goes beyond abstraction and doesn’t use a subject as a starting point.

I hope this has been helpful – I’d love to hear what you think!

Happy Painting!