Student Reflections: #3 Abstract and Surrealism

Beaverbrook Art GalleryNovember 30, 20160 Comments

Student reflections: Randi

These student reflections have been written by Randi, a high school student undertaking a co-op program at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery. Her writing offers an insider’s view of the Gallery from a high school student’s perspective, and examines the exhibitions and programs being presented at the Gallery during her term.


abstract and surreal art; pourquoi?

The Studio Watch exhibition offers us the opportunity to compare abstraction and realism so closely and easily all in one room. No one art movement or genre is better than the other, but in my experience abstract and surreal art seem to get pushed aside by the average viewer in favor of something realistic. People connect with different kinds of art for different reasons. That's the beauty of art, that there is so much for all of us to form connections with. There is definitely no shortage of great variety in art for anyone to view and contemplate. But, I think abstract art deserves a little bit more of our time.

I think that abstract art is necessary because it serves as a visual break in between all the real and tangible things we see every day. It represents concepts, ideas, and feelings in ways that we might not expect. With minimal or very intricate use of color and form, it can prompt you to think harder about things you might not have considered before. I might even say it delves more in depth into human experience and feeling than realism does, but that's always up to the viewer to decide. It can work as an un-biased standpoint to help you question what you know, and what you believe about art and the world. The subject matter is almost always up for interpretation since it often isn't as defined as realism. This, however, can be the reason some might not like it.

Reading about abstract artists can help us gain a better understanding of its significance. One example that shifted my concept of abstract art is Ad Reinhardt's series of ‘ultimate’ paintings. The paintings appear to be one solid color on a canvas from far away but if you get a closer look, you'll see that the paintings are actually made up of several squares of dark color that look black, separated only by different tones. The dark squares are tinted red, blue, green, violet, or brown. It's nearly impossible to tell which square is the true black, or if there is any true black in the painting at all. The goal of the paintings is to challenge the viewers’ perception of what they believe to be true. It's meant to make you question what else you've seen that wasn't entirely as black and white as you thought.

At first, I didn't understand the emotional connection someone could have to a piece of realism. But after hearing Studio Watch artist Katie Melanson speak about her high realist oil paintings I have a better understanding of what realism can do. A realistic painting is meant to capture a snapshot in time. They act as a form of preservation by keeping moments alive. There is great skill in realism that is certainly to be admired. We have realism for the same reason we have photography; to keep little parts of our lives with us to remember and have represented as it was experienced at one time.

No matter what kinds of art we resonate with the most, all art offers something incredible. There are limitless ways for us to connect with our own art and to other art, which is truly magic. There are always new skills and ideas for us to learn and keep us busy and curious for as long as we'll allow. Without art, there would be no expression. So, we should do our best to give as much of it a chance as possible.


Studio Watch: Emerging Artist – Painting is curated by Jeffrey Spalding and organized by the Beaverbrook Art Gallery. The series is made possible through the generous contribution of Earl and Sandy Brewer. The exhibition is on display from October 22, 2016 through January 15, 2017. You can learn more about it here.

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