Abstract Art Defined

In Liza Fabrizio’s article Flights of Fancy about the upcoming movie United 93, about the heroism of the passengers on United Flight 93 who refused to let themselves be used to help destroy another building on 9/11, she makes a point about how memorial sculpture has been made less uplifting over the years. These days such sculptures are usually abstract art that seek not to offend anyone (like the Vietnam Memorial) instead of being uplifting representations of people (like the Iwo Jima memorial).

In it, she makes her point quite well. I found her definition of abstract art to be one of the best I’ve seen:

Abstract art: the work of those unskilled in the depiction of the recognizable

That’s a definition worthy of Ambrose Bierce (author of The Devil’s Dictionary [1906]), and reminds me of another good definition I learned while living in Los Angeles in the 70’s from a pal, Kim Hawkins, who had studied the subject in college:

Architecture: that which falls off a building during an earthquake

Both have some workability:

“Don’t stand under that architecture during an earthquake, Jimmy!”

And “Let’s put some real sculpture in the lobby, not some abstract art thingie.”

I like art that conveys a message I can understand. I may not like the message, but I definitely want to “get it” and not have to have some Ph.D. or art critic try to explain it to me using snide comments. Art either communicates — or “it ain’t art.” And you can quote me on that, although L. Ron Hubbard put it a lot better:

Art is a word which summarizes the quality of communication.


Works of art are viewed by people. They are heard by people. They are felt by people. They are not just the fodder of a close-knit group of initiates. They are the soul food of all people.

From a coffee-table book compiled from the writings of L. Ron Hubbard called Understanding, the Universal Solvent

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