Abstraction or decoration?

Francis Bacon was not a fan of abstract art. He dismissed it as “decoration”. For a long time I agreed with him. As a figurative and represenational painter, I wanted my pictures to mean something, to reproduce an image in paint which I saw before me.

Of course, I recognised that expressing my feelings, or expressing a mood was all part of this and I used colour and shape within my pictures to try and develop a view of the world which was my own.

But I still did’t understand how that related to abstraction. How could a picure composed entirely of shapes or colours or textures convey any kind of meaning? How could it be more than decoration?

I think what stops good abstract art from becoming wall-paper is the intention of the artist and the language he/she uses in constructing the picture. Art has to say something. And it doesn’t have to be “here’s a building” or “here’s a landscape”.

It can also be here is an interesting conjunction of shapes and colours which evoke an emotion in the viewer. The same rules of composition, colour theory, contract and depth apply, but not in a represenational way. They apply for their own sake in a construction which is harmonious and can be appreciated for what it is.

But the artist has to start out with an idea, an intention, even if that intention goes off in interesting new directions once the picture starts to evolve.

We have to see the hand and mind of the artist at work.

Otherwise yes, it is just decoration.

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