Is Abstract America Lost on its Viewers?

by | Aug 3, 2009 | Blog | 13 comments

Here is a link to a short video on the Abstract America show currently at the Saatchi Gallery in London.

I am wondering what you may think of it. I thought it was extremely well made, and I especially liked the subtle point of view conveyed without any narration or voice over. Perhaps this is just my impression, but it really seemed to be saying that art is not accessible to people, that it is so departed from reality that it has no effect or power anymore. Any opinions out there?

Featured course

complete guide to acrylic painting

Bring your visions to life on canvas! From your first brushstroke to your ultimate masterpiece – this course has it all.

Featured Course

Complete Guide to Acrylic Painting

Bring your visions to life on canvas! From your first brushstroke to your ultimate masterpiece – this course has it all.

– END –



  1. dendy

    thanks for sharing!

  2. Eraethil

    As an abstract artist, the past few decades of conceptual abstract art, with references within references, and content that only the scholarly student can hope to identify, let alone interpret leaves me cold and a bit frustrated.

    I find myself doing a forced 5 second look, rather than the 2 I am inclined to give the more conceptual pieces. And once in a while I am rewarded with an insight worth the extra 3 seconds, but not often. I can only imagine how disconnected the average viewer feels – I suspect many go for a laugh and for the ridiculous story to bring back to the water cooler at work. ("an upside down red painted chair with three legs passes for art nowadays hahaha")

    In my opinion, we have a reputation to rebuild in the abstract art genre, though I respect that conceptual art perhaps needed to be explored.

    I didn't think that the video was attempting to do any more than show the exhibit, and people of a variety of demographics interacting in their own way with the art. Looked like an interesting exhibit that I would enjoy viewing. Cheers!

  3. gigi

    All in all, art is, after a reflection of the culture it's created in, so perhaps it was the artists' and curators' intention to project that generalized shallow detached irony.

  4. john

    thanks for the good advice!

  5. skyeblue

    After the first viewing, the immediate correlation which came to mind was "Painting as Object". The soccer team was chasing the ball, an object, and then immediately the film switched to the viewers, viewing the pieces. The question seemed to arise, were the viewers viewing the pieces just as objects or had the pieces actually engaged the viewer? I think in several instances in the film that the work had engaged the viewer. Painting, Sculpture–Art must engage the viewer. Just as the team had engaged the ball no longer as a ball, but as a instrument to an overall destination. Thanks for posting the link.

  6. TLaird

    I too viewed the video only once,but that was enough for me. From what I could see it looked as thought the "three second view of art" rule was beat out by the "casually glance at the art as you walk by" for the most part. There was no excitement or interest in the faces of those viewing the artwork. Maybe I get too animated when I see something in a museum I really like. I rarely can keep myself contained if it's exciting. Unfortunately too, none of this art fit that bill. It just was not engaging to me. Perhaps that's why most people seem to be streaming through with flat affect.

  7. Eve

    I don't quite agree … the fast cuts in the video make it impossible to tell how much time time people spend looking at any one piece of art. And I did see lots of folks taking pictures of the art, taking notes (it looked like a class), talking to each other about the art …
    I really like the juxtaposition–at the beginning and end–of the soccer game, but that, to me, is more of a commentary on the different kind of attention required for physical versus cerebral activity.
    (I have to say that I had trouble seeing the entire video w/o some stutter/"reloading".)
    I think the exhibit looked interesting–I'd like to get a change to see it. I especially liked the circular (literally!) staircase, the mound of clothes on feet, and the old guys in wheelchairs.

  8. Mercia L.

    I thought the video was well done, and I, too, liked the absence of a 'voice over'.
    The contrast between the engaged and interacting kids playing soccer and the (mostly) detached (mostly) adults wandering listlessly(?) from object to object was thought provoking. Many different 'types' of gallery-goers, from the young people (art students?) with sketch pads who seemed to be paying more attention, to the fashion victims who paid more attention to each other, to the truly befuddled.
    How little time was spent engaged with each work was striking. Perhaps this is a reflection of the sadly reduced concentration span of the general public after years of being subjected to 'quick cutting' in the media and TV.
    On the other hand, it may be a comment on the obscurity & inaccessibility of the works.
    Many of the works seemed to be artists' conceptual in-jokes on the state of our culture, which, I feel, don't elicit much more than a passing giggle or grunt of recognition, instead of real personal connection with the artist's perception, as a fellow human being, of the world around him/her.
    All in all, art is, after a reflection of the culture it's created in, so perhaps it was the artists' and curators' intention to project that generalized shallow detached irony.

  9. Peggy Stermer-Cox

    I thought it was an interesting, elegant presentation of the work and response by the public. It seemed to hint at the difficulties in responding to the art. I thought it thought provoking about the relevance and communicative power of abstract art. I like how it presented questions and only hinted at possible answers.
    Interesting articles on your blog; thank you.

  10. Margaret Ryall

    I make these comments after one viewing of the video. It was well done and gave you a good overview of the range of art and viewers.
    It began with young people playing. Perhaps I "over read" this as important and watched the responses of the younger viewers to the art presented throughout the video. I felt that they were much less engaged than their older counterparts who often spent focused time trying to make sense of what they were seeing.

    Overall I do feel people were engaged in what they were viewing but there were extreme differences in how engaged they were.
    I found much of the imagery very evocative personally and would have enjoyed seeing the real thing. I think when you put something in front of viewers that they don't get right away, it takes a certain degree of inquisitiveness and patience combined to reach a point were you take some meaning from what you are seeing.

    I want to go back again and look at it to compare the time given to viewing realistic images and the more abstract ones.

    There's lots of fodder for discussion in this video. I hope you get more responses.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

About Nancy

Nancy Reyner is a professional fine-art painter with over 30 years experience using a variety of mediums including oil, acrylic, watercolor and mixed media. She has appeared on television for HGTV’s “That’s Clever,” and authored several best-selling painting books with F&W Media. She currently lives in Santa Fe, NM. Read more.
Visit Nancy’s Youtube

Join Nancy’s mailing list to subscribe to her blogposts & newsletter.

Join Mailing List