Membery Design Blog

Learning to love Abstraction

Abstract art and the basics of visual communication

Visual communication can always be improved by a conscious analysis of the elements and principals of design. It will focus your message and emphasise its power. An appreciation of Abstract art is a perfect exploration of this.

The last 2 slides include a collection of images from my pinterest account.

I have always been interested in aerial photography and wanted to translate the colours and forms into an abstract art work. My first attempt at abstract painting. The whole experience forced me to question my style and ponder my change in attitude towards how I judge art and design.

Until recently, I never really appreciated abstract art (which as a graphic designer is a terrible thing to admit). I use to be one of those stunted individuals who would look on an abstract piece with a critical ‘that’s rubbish because a 4 year old could have done it’ mentality. It was an immature and somewhat snobbish way of looking at the industry because the truth is, a 4 year old could do it, but by no means should this diminish its merit.

No matter how good you are technically, abstract art can be created by anyone, a seasoned professional and/or a young child intent on decorating a roll of butchers paper. I like that abstract art is incredibly subjective and open to interpretation. Some people might love it as others may loathe it. Particularly in regards to interior design, a piece that you may not love on its own can be placed in context with other items that in some cases become the favoured item of the cohesive unit.

A very talented Creative Director I used to work for showed me something his kids had doodled very roughly on his iPad. As a whole image it was okay, you could see the inherited flair, but it wasn’t outlandishly special. However, as soon as he zoomed into the top quarter section of the sketch, I could see a pattern emerge and suddenly its relative banality disappeared to make way for a truly interesting and unique image based on a slight adjustment of scale and framing. It reminds me of the old aesthetic adage ‘Beauty is the point at which adding or subtracting visual elements is no longer an improvement’– not a direct quote, but I do remember my Dad saying something like that.

Most artists are familiar with the concept of the ‘happy accident’ where by experimentation and sometimes spilling of the inks can lead to revered work. An artist can take his or her messy drop sheet, crop a section and suddenly you have intriguing wall worthy imagery. The reality of this can be a hard pill to swallow for those who have been trained at the finest of art institutes spending hour upon hour, year upon year, honing their technical skills. The idea of ‘accidental genius’ used to irritate me which I now realise is stupid because it’s all part of a creative process. What irritates me now is hearing people say ‘I’m not creative’ or ‘I don’t have any talent’. I don’t buy it. If you just have a go, sit down and attempt, you may be surprised at what is achieved. Technical skill can be developed but creative expression is inherit in all of us.

At the end of the day, art and design is a combination of basic elements (Line, Shape, Colour, Texture, Scale, Direction) and principals (Balance, Proximity, Alignment, Repetition, Contrast, Space) to communicate a message or evoke an emotional response. All this tends to go on in the subconscious when immersed deep in the pursuit of technical perfection. Bringing the elements and principals back  into consciousness can help to focus the essential message, emphasising its power. Im no expert, but I do believe that an appreciation and practice of abstract art will bring you back to the basics, a place I believe every good designer should return to from time to time.


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