When I was younger, I visited the vatican with my father. I remember feeling overwhelmed with sadness during our time there. I think it was the over stimulation from viewing rows upon rows of masterful paintings all drowning in each other.

Fast forward to my fourtieth year and my eyes have long lost their virginity. On a trip to New York City with my husband I soaked in the eclectic living city. My eyes ached, my imagination was in overload and i loved every minute! The highlight of the trip for me was visiting MOMA for my first time. To have had the opportunity to view artwork in real life that I had loved for decades in books blew my mind. The moment that forever changed how I view art happened as I stood in front of Mark Rothko’s No.10. It was like I fell into a cloud. My body and my mind relaxed. In a world of over stimulation and constant visual bombardment, Rothko’s colour field painting transported me to a meditative space that felt so true and authentic.

I now understand that modern abstract works of art can affect one on a different level than representational and conventional painting. Where I see abstract art as honest, inspiring and beautiful, many others fail to appreciate what is has to offer. The question is why?


In North American society we have a need to define and label everything. We are most comfortable with paintings that reflect the world around us. We look at the subject matter first and need a story line to go along with it. Abstract Art focusses on the artistic process and sometimes attempts to reveal a subject to us from a different point of view. When viewing paintings, it helps to start from a place where you question how a piece makes you feel. Just like my experience with the Rothko painting, art that comes from a place of pure creativity as opposed to imitation can move one in a completely unexpected way. Adolf Gottilieb stated, “Visual images do not have to conform to either verbal thinking or optical facts. A better question would be,

“Do these images convey any emotional truth.”


There is an arguement to be made that representational art is more of an abstraction of reality than abstract art. After all, a house, a tree or a woman painted on a canvas is not a REAL house or tree or woman BUT a line or a square is always a line or a square. Most abstract art comes from an intuitive centre that penetrates our preconceptions about the world. Jackson Pollock said, “When I am in my painting, I’m not aware of what I am doing. It is only after a sort of ‘get acquainted’ period that I see what I have been about. I have no fear of making changes, destroying the image etc., because the painting has a life of it’s own. I try to let it come through. It is only when I lose contact with the painting that the result is a mess. Otherwise, there is pure harmony.”


Many artists explore their place of darkness and their creative outlet brings them back to the light. Art is a useful tool when used for healing from past trauma and suffering.

The truth is that most artists create from a happy place. Research has shown that creativity is more likely to occur in the presence of positivity. Scientist, B. R. Frederick wrote in American Psychologist in 2001, “Experiences of certain positive emotions prompt individuals to discard time tested or automatic behavioural scripts and to pursue novel, creative and unscripted paths of thought and action.” Just because Van Gogh cut his ear off, that doesn’t make all artists dysfunctional.


Viewing a master painters classical painting can be awe inspiring as the depth of skill is simply out of most peoples reach; however, this need not negate the skill that goes into creating a more minimal painting. Artwork should not be judged based on an opinion of the ability used to create it.

A movement away from representational art emphasizes how we see the world as opposed to imitating it. Most people found uttering the phrase, ‘I could have done that’ are overly focussed on subject matter. Piet Mondrian stated, “Every true artist has been inspired more by the beauty of lines and colour and the relationships between them then by the concrete subject of a picture.”

Every artist has their own process and sophisticated method of expressing themselves. The idea and execution of that idea came from the artist. You could have done that- BUT, YOU DIDN’T.

All it takes to appreciate or understand anything in this world is an open mind. It is amusing that an art movement created for all, started as a statement of contempt towards the conventional painting of it’s time as it represented bourgeois society is currently embraced most enthusiastically by the well heeled.

The world of modern and abstract art opened it’s doors and windows to everyone, now if only everyone might open their minds they may find something unexpected.

Stacey Stuart @staceymstuart

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