Abstract art is one of the most divisive things to ever exist.

People that watched Oopiri know exactly what I’m talking about, but I’m sure we are all familiar with the running joke about abstract art: the mental image of a person (preferably someone with an obnoxious hat and glasses) that runs around splashing paint randomly onto a canvas, and then everyone else is scammed into thinking it’s something profound.

 “Hey, even I could make that!!” is where I’d put my money if I had to guess the most likely response to showing someone an abstract painting. In a world that is so used to equating monetary value with the amount of work you put in, it is very difficult for people to accept that a painting that looks like a bunch of random shapes and colors thrown together could sell for millions. It feels almost unfair to see something that looks like it could be done in three minutes sell for more money than most of us make in our entire lives.

 And I have to admit: when I found out that the painting shown below was sold for 84 million dollars, I too couldn’t help but feel a tad bit infuriated. I mean, it looks like something I could recreate in MS Paint in literally under 40 seconds.

Black Fire I – Barnett Newman

So, what is up with the hype behind abstract art? Is it really an elaborate practical joke being played on people with way too much money to think twice before buying things? Why should the everyday person appreciate abstract art?

 I could answer these questions by trying to write a detailed and well-researched explanation of all the factors that go behind creating and interpreting these artworks. But I am not going to do that. And it’s not just because I’m lazy (although that is not entirely false). I just believe that we are all entitled to our own views. Instead of convincing you to agree with a particular side, I’d like to share two opposing ways someone with zero ‘artistic knowledge’ could look at abstract art. And in the end, you’re free to form your own opinions.

 A pessimistic outlook on abstract paintings is that since the meaning behind them is not immediately apparent to the viewer, it’s trivial and meaningless. It’s almost like the artist found the perfect loophole to avoid any criticism: since there is no clear meaning, it’s not possible to find anything wrong with the image. Abstract artworks also force us to perceive them on our own in order to get any meaning out of them. It’s almost as if more is expected from the person that is looking at the painting than the person that’s actually painting it.

 But then again, if we are being completely honest: most people that criticize abstract art don’t really do it because they care about the existence of meaning behind art. For most, the negative reaction stems from a feeling of jealousy. I believe most people wouldn’t be as offended by abstract art if they did not read headlines with news about a simple-looking painting selling for millions.

So in order to understand a viewpoint in favor of abstract art, let us try to forget about the money for a second. Let’s assume that abstract art is meaningless and the artist was too lazy (deja vu) to even think about what they wanted to express through the painting. In a world full of algorithms that directly push prepackaged content onto our screens, is it really a bad thing to have an art form that asks you to think for yourself?

In my opinion, there is no real right or wrong way to interpret the meaning behind an abstract painting: it can be as thought-provoking or silly as the viewer wants it to be. I find that freedom to be oddly comforting. Maybe it is not so bad after all to have a style of art that allows us to interpret it in whatever way we like. And even if there is no meaning at all that can be interpreted from the artwork, here’s the thing: it doesn’t have to! Art can exist simply for art’s sake; it does not need to have a meaning or a purpose to be considered ‘legitimate’.

I would like to stop myself before I start talking about the parallels between art and life, and how both can be interpreted as blank canvases where the meaning is whatever we want it to be. Because all that sounds very obnoxious and honestly, I am still a little pissed off trying to understand how a painting with two black-and-white boxes and a line sold for 84 million dollars. Maybe abstract art is a scam after all.

No matter what your views about abstract art are, I hope you understand the other side’s perspective a little bit better now. Also, here is my recreation of Black Fire I which took 24 seconds to make in MS Paint. The auction starts at 1 billion dollars.

Black Fire II – Me

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