February 24, 2019

Essay by Tylyn K. Johnson: "Transcendence of Abstract Expressionism"

A socially-conscious writer from Indianapolis, Tylyn K. Johnson has published a short story in Severance Publications' “Depravity” anthology, and other works of prose and poetry in "Reverberations," a Shortridge High School literary journal sponsored by Butler University. He has also had a winning essay published by the Adlai Stevenson Center on Democracy, and other essays published by the NUHA Foundation.

Number 8 by Jackson Pollock 1949 Courtesy of WikiArt

Transcendence of Abstract Expressionism
It was the 1940s, the Great Depression had recently ended and tensions were rising as World War 2 begins. An art style more shocking than Surrealism would throw the center of the art world from Paris to New York. Abstract expressionism is admirable because the artworks are created by the artists’ instinct and the viewers’ perception. I came to this conclusion after reading various articles on Abstract Expressionism and by observing and recording my own observations of certain, eye-catching artworks. Then, I asked others their observations of the exact same works. The abstract paintings I observed in my unofficial studies were: Jackson Pollock, Untitled, ca. 1948-4
  1. Jackson Pollock, Untitled, ca. 1948-49
  2. Lee Krasner, Night Creatures, 1965
  3. Elaine de Kooning, Juarez, 1958
  4. Mira Lisa Schiratis, Winter Time.
Abstract Expressionism is also known as “Action Painting,” implying that the act of painting was as important as the result itself. While the artist is making the artwork, they are also deciding to turn the painting into something beyond a painting, an event, into whatever they or the viewer wishes to see. “What was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event,” Harold Rosenberg. The artist chooses to create with their instincts, not with any specified technique. The artists do not emphasize the technique or the result; they focus on the journey and the message(s) of the result. Instead of accentuating the traditionally perceived “beauty” of other types of developing works, Abstract Expressionists looked to create more of a sublime beauty, one founded after increased study of the works and/or their messages. However, the artists’ message is reduced without the people that study them, the viewers.
The viewers perceive and interpret the artworks artists create, from before Baroque to beyond Abstract Expressionism; the viewers have studied and assigned meanings to various parts of art. Like two snowflakes, no two people see the same thing the exact same way, especially in perception and interpretation. The far-from-exact survey I conducted using the four aforementioned paintings demonstrated that every viewer sees the abstract artworks differently, even on a miniscule level.

Results of Artwork Perception Survey
Winter Time
Night Creatures
  • Creature squeezed together
  • Number eight
  • Infinity
  • Flowers releasing rain
  • Kittens
  • Burning transformer
  • Fast-moving birds eye view of trees
  • Face
  • Smeared flowers in watercolor
  • Globe and body
  • Carnival run by dogs
  • Shadow figures
  • People dancing in hula-hoops
  • Hooded reapers with scythes
  • Blood
  • Various animals (Birds, unicorn, etc.)
  • String people
  • Zombie apocalypse
  • Poorly drawn people
  • Couple taking pictures while dancing in the moonlight
  • 3 beings in bad weather
  • Fox w/ innumerous tails
  • Anguished faces in a lost world
  • Blood
  • A story of death
  • Dead souls
  • Roses
  • Organism(s)  (Babies, goat, fox)
  • Mixture of body parts
  • Screaming people
  • Bugs
  • Ghosts
  • Clouds
  • Hybrid creature
  • Bees exiting a sac
  • Beautiful bird
  • Australia
  • Howl’s Moon Castle (Anime)
  • Devil
  • Red-eyed bird
  • Deformed beasts
  • Person(s) riding a beast
* So my interpretations come from the same person
* A few interpretations were similar; this is not noted within the table

This chart provides the data proving part of my thesis correct; no one views an artwork the exact same way. In the conducting of this survey, I surveyed 9 people, including myself, who were all kept from knowing any information about the artworks themselves, as well as from knowing the opinions of others. This chart documents all of the responses I received from the surveyed; I simplified the chart to an extent, since a few responses were very similar, differing on a very miniscule level. This data’s importance is in seeing how very different people saw the exact same artworks with different ideas. For example, in Winter Time, I had some say that there was an eight in the picture, yet others said it was an infinity symbol on its side. Yet, in Night Creatures, many saw appendages and animals, some seeing the same, others seeing differently. These miniscule similarities and differences in perception help to define Abstract Expressionism at it’s finest works created not only by the artists’ intuition but also by the varied perception of its viewers, who give life to the works through their reactions to it.

Perception and interpretation are often subconscious actions, becoming conscious only when the viewer forces it. But what if the work pushes itself onto the viewer? Perception doesn’t start and end with the senses; likewise, interpretation doesn’t start and end with the mind, they are both combinations of each. Abstract Expressionism utilizes this by producing shocking works; yet, they incorporate the very subconscious mind of the artists. In order to create these great works, the artists don’t completely plan a certain form, they simply go with the flow and create as they see fit and feel, with a heavy focus on the sublime message(s). The viewers are the other partner of the duo that scrutinize the artworks, perceiving and interpreting these works in ways that the artists may have never even planned. Of course, the original messages are found and understood, but the newly perceived ideas of these works are that which inspires its uniqueness, agreement on the meanings are not very easy to come by.
~Tylyn K. Johnson

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