By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
A Connecticut mechanic found abstract art worth millions in a dumpster. After getting a tip from a friend, he found the dumpster was full of paintings and drawings by abstract artist Francis Hines. Abstract art emerged in the 1910s.
Jared Whipple, an auto mechanic from Waterbury, Connecticut, received a tip from a contractor that a dumpster full of items from a barn in nearby Watertown needed to be moved. Whipple found that the dumpster was full of pieces of artwork by the late Francis Hines, an abstract expressionist whose work included “wrapping” the John F. Kennedy Airport. All in all, Whipple retrieved hundreds of items, from paintings and small drawings to sculptures.
While he’s sold some of the art, Whipple says he hopes to get Hines into the history books.
Abstract art is not for everyone, but it’s often misunderstood. How did it come about? In her video series How to Look at and Understand Great Art, Dr. Sharon Latchaw Hirsh, President of Rosemont College, explains abstraction’s many origins.
Before the Roaring 20s, There Were the Abstract 10s
Dr. Hirsh acknowledged that abstract art is a difficult pill for many to swallow. She said that many of her students in surveys of Western art get to abstraction and simply throw up their hands and say they can’t imagine even spending time looking at it, much less enjoying it. But where did this much maligned art style come from?
“Abstraction seems to have been attempted by numerous artists in Western Europe and the U.S. all around the same time, between about 1910 and about 1912, and it’s almost something that was in the air, that everybody wanted to try,” Dr. Hirsh said. “It was not, however, a movement per se. Rather, it was a whole new visual language that was developed out of many of the new definitions of art and the ways of thinking about art that [preceded it] in post-Impressionism, expressionism, and even Cubism.”
Finally, according to Dr. Hirsh, it’s important to note that while many people think abstract art is thrown together and simply created, that’s usually far from the truth.
Jackson Pollock, known for his work that resembled paint splatters and drips of brushes, deeply objected to those who said his work was unplanned. He danced around his paintings and used body gestures, but before painting, he chose the size of canvas, the colors to feature, where they would feature, and how heavily. Pollock, contrary to naysayers, was in complete control of his paintings.
Characteristics of Modern Abstract Art
Usually, art is identified by looking at its use of color, line work, space, composition, and many other facets. Abstract art keeps most of those tools but removes three of them: perspective, gaze, and point of view.
“Ever since the Renaissance, with the agreed-upon definition that art was an imitation of nature, you had a set standard by which to judge a work of art: the better the imitation, the better the work,” Dr. Hirsh said.
Russian artist Vasily Kandinsky was a lawyer turned abstract artist who argued that the Renaissance standard of artwork was, ultimately, boring and had little to say. So what, then, was the goal? For Kandinsky, a major figure of early abstraction, it was empathy. He believed art should evoke some feeling in the audience regardless of its appearance.
In 1908, art historian Wilhelm Worringer wrote his doctoral dissertation on the relationship between empathy in art and abstraction. Worringer said that modernity might cause viewers to exercise more empathy because it was something sorely needed in an increasingly impersonal world. Kandinsky agreed.
“Remember the importance of the early abstract artist, the importance of empathy, feeling—and it doesn’t mean necessarily feeling good,” Dr. Hirsh said. “Look always at the application of paint. Sometimes in later works, the dripping, the gesture painting, and other techniques give you a window into that role of an artist.”