I had never understood abstract art. The shapes, the colours, the intricacy––all beautiful, but I hadn’t quite connected with it––no matter how many times I tried. Maybe that’s where I went wrong. I searched for familiarity in a process that wasn’t supposed to make sense. I studied patterns that didn’t require specific object identification. Then one day I stopped. I walked past art galleries instead of into their doors. Life coloured me in all shades of busy and burnt-out. I went through the motions and checked off the tasks to achieve the “American dream”. Yet, I awoke each morning longing to explore the world I had escaped to in my sleep––the one where I wasn’t stuck in traffic and recycling the same to-do list.
Here is where the island of Jersey comes into play. It called my name whispering for me to leave behind the curated version of life and begin living. Jersey’s shores welcomed me to take long deep breaths and exhale the autopilot version of myself I had been flying in. Of my time in Jersey, one day, in particular, stood out. I had the privilege of meeting artist Tom Parker, who showed me a selection of his work. Tom unveiled one of his projects, a monoprint series.
Tom’s seven-piece monoprint series took me on an unexpected journey. It was as if there were an invisible string coming out of each piece and connected to my soul. The longer I looked at the art, the harder the pull… like the veil over my eyes was lifted. At that moment I understood abstract art was not for visual literacy but answered its call with an emotional response and self-reflection which would later inspire me to try my hand at mono-printing––but that’s a story for another time. This one is about the world I had felt left out for years. I realized that I had the tools to exist in the space with abstract art all along but didn’t know how to use them until I saw Tom’s work. And so if you too struggle connecting with abstract art, I hope the following reflection points help you.
3 Ways To Connect With Abstract Art:
1. Take your time viewing it
Spend more than a few seconds examining the piece. Look at it from various angles. Shift where you’re standing and the positioning of your head. Take it all in and don’t be afraid to look away for a few seconds before looking back, to see what stands out at the next glance.
2. Identify the emotional story you think it’s telling
How does the piece make you feel?
What do you think the artist is trying to communicate?
What feelings do the paint colours bring up?
How may the artist have felt while painting it?
Do you feel rushed, calmed, defensive, etc. by the style or materials used? Why?
3. Ask yourself, if this piece were to have a soundtrack to explain it, what would be on that album or playlist?
What instruments would be playing? Would they be loud, soft? A mixture?
What genre would the painting translate to?
What would the lyrics be?
Where would you play this soundtrack?
How does the soundtrack help you to understand what the artist has created?
I’ve found using other forms like writing and music help me to tap into the deeper meaning of the art and not rely on quite literally what I see, but rather what I feel when standing in front of a piece. Engaging the other five senses also heightens our awareness and can deepen the understanding to better connect with art.