What possibly could you learn about life from an abstract painter? If the artists name is Amy Sillman, the answer is quite a bit. The very concept of abstract is confusing to many. Abstract art does not attempt to represent an accurate depiction of visual reality. Some like the way it springs from nothing. Others dislike it for the same reasons. 

Amy Sillman in her video “To Abstract” in Art 21 discusses the process of making abstract paintings. Along the way, she touches on techniques, philosophy, and ways to turn abstract into a successful work of art. Valuable pointers that can help in finding success beyond art in life and business.

Stillman notes it’s the “not knowing” that draws one to abstract art. You are alone with the canvas. The skills and tools gained through time your only resources. It tests your very being. You have to trust yourself in this free space. There is no easy route from a to b, you have to discover it.

You struggle to move ahead learning that the next step depends on the last one you made. You scrape on a patch of color, knowing you have to find a way to blend it. Always trying to make things happen. The movement back and forth creates tension, threatening to crash things. 

You make mistakes all the time, with practice you learn to deal with these through finesse that moves the work back to balance, then forward again. A sense of what balance means only gained with time striving on the canvas of life. Sometimes there is regret, but it fuels trying again with new skills learned.

The result even when successful is never perfect. The canvas not hiding the flaws made in the process. Accepting these is an important part of growth. In the end, you arrive at a place where everything is pulled together. Sillman says you should never just move on to the next project. Take some time to study your work. The stages of development you went through. All adding to the wealth of your resources.

Amy was ask one time what would describe her abstract work. Without hesitation she said, “trouble.” It’s always on the edge of life if you look hard enough. It’s the place where you find the greatest opportunity. It’s a risk to put yourself in trouble, but if you find your way out you may have a masterpiece.


Post Paintings: "Salmon Run" and "Passing Desert Storm" by David Young (an ode to Amy Sillman and her abstract process)