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Non-Representational Art
If ever there was a topic that divides the men from the boys or the women from the girls in art, it's the subject of "abstract" art. Even the use of term "abstract" to include all non-representational art tends to denote a somewhat inadequate understanding of the subject, in that not all abstract artwork is non-representational. And in the case of Minimal art I sometimes wonder it can really be called "abstract" in the strictest sense of the work. I've sometimes used the terms "hard" art and "easy" art with reference to the difference between non-representation and representational artwork. Representational work is, arguably, harder to paint but it's definitely easier to understand. And therein lies the crux of the situation. It is easy because the artist has done all the work for you. He or she has set the scene, and/or introduced the characters, established the mood, delineated the action, and depicted many other subjective elements in the work. Sometimes this is done with extreme rigidity (as with Gjertson) and to the other extreme, very loosely (as with Matisse, for example).

With non-representational work, that which the artist does not supply in terms of content, the viewer must, if he or she is to appreciate the work. Trying to "Understand" a piece of non-representational art is therefore important if the viewer is to enjoy anything more than the visual sensation. It may or may not cause you to like it more, but at least you may get some idea of where the artist is coming from and going to. There is a need to understand the artist and his work because that artist's thoughts are the entire content of the work beyond the formal design elements. If the artist has supplied a title, then the task is easier. If not, then it can be a hard job doing so--"hard art"

Good non-representational work is heavily weighted on the idealistic/emotional end of the visual spectrum. Poor work is often empty of thought, merely design for design's sake. That is what happens when you find the work does not "move" you. Not to imply that it's "poor" work, but this is why the Minimalist work is so misunderstood. In its purist form (Newman's work for instance) it is shorn of emotion other than that which is inherent in the colours the artist has chosen to explore. Think of it as a scientific experiment. It might blow up in your face or it might develop new insights...conceivably both, I guess. In any case, as an art movement, this type of work was instrumental in moving ahead the development of art and in particular, the subtlest relationships of shapes and colours. If you love the colours and subtleties, you're going to love the work, which is why it would seem to take an artist to "like" Minimalism. To the novice, lacking a sense of refined aesthetics, expecting to find great depth or some narrative depiction, it seems empty and cold. In a sense, it is hard, non-representational art made still harder because there is so little about it to sink one's teeth into--hence the term Minimalism. And if you don't like it, perhaps you can take comfort in the fact that a lot of abstract expressionists don't either.

Contributed by Lane, Jim
15 October 1999

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