Abstracting in Shaping Our World
War was and still is the most
irresistible - and picturesque - news.
In recent months and years, our collective human experience has undergone a metamorphosis, compelling us to reevaluate our core essence and social interaction. Susan Sontag's insightful research, primarily focused on war photography, unravels the paradoxical nature of our saturated exposure to traumatic information, resulting in numbness rather than enlightenment. We are prompted not just to question what we see but what we are compelled to perceive.
Human life contains various circumstances, some of which coerce us to abstract our surroundings. Confronted with the weight of traumatic events, our minds instinctively seek abstraction as a coping mechanism—a cognitive distancing that allows us to grapple with the incomprehensible. This dance, as philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty posits, is not a passive reception of sensory stimuli but an active engagement, a constant interplay between the body and its environment. The research of psychologist Daniel Kahneman further reveals the nuanced ways our minds abstract and simplify information to navigate the complexities of the world.
The popularity of abstract art after two world war is often taken by art historians as the need for abstraction in critical situations, processing collective trauma. The canvas, once a mere reflection of the tangible, transformed into a realm where emotions and experiences are distilled into formless expressions. Post-1945 artists like Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Mark Rothko embodied this transformative shift, creating works that transcended representation, challenging viewers to confront the reality.
Today, perception becomes an entity shaped not only by the artist but also by the observer. The interplay between creator and spectator evolves into a delicate dance, where interpretation transcends the canvas. Artists today wield abstraction not merely as a shield against trauma but as a lens through which to challenge our preconceptions. They invite us to question the reality. As example, Cindy Sherman's transformative self-portraits abstract identity and challenge societal expectations. Duane Michals, through his sequential photography, constructs narrative abstractions that blur the boundaries between reality and imagination. Kara Walker, in her powerful silhouettes, employs abstraction to confront historical narratives and challenge ingrained perspectives. Their works challenge the viewer to abstract from the immediate visual and delve into the layers of meaning, prompting a nuanced reinterpretation of reality.
In a world where every image is susceptible to manipulation, filtration, and curation, the authenticity of visual representation is very unstable. Sontag's concerns about the exploitation of suffering for artistic or political gain reverberate through our contemporary perspective. How do we navigate the thin line between authentic portrayals of pain and those meticulously crafted to evoke predetermined reactions?
The act of capturing suffering, once an unfiltered reflection of the human experience, now stands on the precipice of becoming a distorted art form in itself. As we traverse this complex terrain, we are confronted not only with the question of what we see but with the realization that our very act of seeing shapes the narratives we perceive. In this intricate dance of interpretation, the ability to abstract emerges not only as a survival mechanism but as a profound force shaping the very contours of our understanding.
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Kahneman, Daniel. "Thinking, Fast and Slow." Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. "Phenomenology of Perception." Routledge, 2012
Sontag, Susan. "Regarding the Pain of Others." Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003