The Problem with Abstraction-a work in progress

Posted on by inaka

fine-art-antler-carving-nrssAs a biologist, I try to make my pieces as detailed and correct as possible. For flowers and animals, it is fairly easy to study specimens and pictures and determine the correct number size and shape of constituent parts. Then I attempt to model the parts and put them together, or else I try to carve the parts into the larger piece. Some skill is of course required to convert visual observation into a physical piece. But once the parts are completed and in place, you can usually tell when you are finished.

Abstract pieces are another thing altogether. This work-in-progress is entitled: Nuts and Roots and Seeds and Shoots. First, there is no model to measure and compare with. In fact, for original abstract ideas, there is really nothing to start with, except an idea in your head. Further, you never know when you are finished. The idea in your head is a starting point, but once it becomes translated into a physical thing, there are always other things that can be added, subtracted or modified to improve on the idea. Basically, you continually work on the piece until something inside says, “that is finished!”  In a few abstract pieces, I’ve kept working on it until I’ve gone one step too far and then decided to remove or repair that last addition, subtraction or modification. But even then, for several weeks, every time I looked at the completed piece I wondered if there was something else I could do to improve it.

Can you tell which are the real almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios and peanuts?

Can you tell which are the real almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios and peanuts?

An abstract piece does have the advantage of being more open for discussion. People seeing the piece before or after completion will often give ideas, comments or criticisms. These are all very welcome because their comments are based upon their view of the idea behind the piece–a view that is just as valid as mine was when I started. Comments on a realistic piece are much more limited: “that looks like the real thing”, -“his nose looks too long”, etc. Abstract pieces allow a person to provide more input from their own frame of context and can engage a person more fully.

For other abstract pieces already completed, see Cornucopia and Orchids (under Miscellaneous in older posts or in Gallery )

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