Owning the inner abstract

Beer on fire (pub lights glow up my beer), cell camera, www.carolineallen.com

Driving home from Boston late at night on a Saturday night, I am hollering like a mad woman at the top of my lungs, “I’m so bored! I’m so bored! Boring! Boring! Boooooooooooooooooring!” I scream until my throat turns raw, and I break into a coughing fit for nearly 3 miles. (When I was a teenager, I used to take one of my sisters in my Ford Pinto down the highway, and with the windows rolled up we’d scream, holler, wail out our frustrations. It’s one of my favorite things to do when mainstream society gets too much to bear.)

I’d just spent that Saturday night looking at abstract art on Newbury Street in central Boston with a friend. I had a lovely time with the friend, but the art was a killer. So mindlessly, witlessly boring. So cleaned up. So safe. So predictable.

My mother used to say: “Carrie can take anything but being bored.”

Come back in time six months. I have just lost my art studio because of the financial crisis. On the same day, I have my first session with a new therapist, Gordon. For some reason, we immediately launch into a discussion of conservative mainstream art versus abstract art. I have some sort of epic clash in my soul between realism and abstract art. I constantly find myself being harshly judged by painters who are representational. I find myself questioning my own abilities because my style is so eccentric. My self esteem can plummet around my own visual art abilities. I want to be stronger inside. I logically know that my art, even though it’s not mainstream, is attractive. I know it brings me happiness. But still, I am often crushed by even well meaning representational artists who like to “give me advice” on “what I’m doing wrong.” No matter where I go in the world, this clash dogs me. (Because it is such a pattern, I know this is something epic that I need to figure out this lifetime. So I even need to honor the clash.) At the end of the therapy session, Gordon says: “it seems to me our work together is to help you own the inner abstract.”

The night in Boston was one way to do that — go to the street known for its abstract galleries and breathe in the essence of me. All I inhaled was mindless boredom.

Another way to explore this abstract self was to join a local group of abstract artists. I was so excited for the first meeting I could barely drive. When I got there, it was a rag tag group of what looked to me like people who had spent a long time being beaten down for being different, for being abstract artists. I felt drained and underwhelmed. I left knowing I wouldn’t go back.

I spent a few days being depressed about all of this. And then I stopped myself. I “crossed the street” so to speak. There have been many great abstract artists. Instead of being around those who seem crushed by the mainstream, I knew I needed to surround myself by the empowered. So I decided to start with the famous ones, to make a list of the people I love: Kandinsky, Chagall, Picasso, van Gogh, Louise Bourgeois, Matisse. I am putting up posters of their art in my kitchen/studio. They will be my mentors.

I know that this is not just a personal issue. I went to see a fantastic art show at the Museum at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) by New Yorker Arnie Zimmerman. He built a ceramic city of buildings and figures you could walk through. It was mindblowing, abstract art at its best. In his promotional material, he bemoans the cleaning up of New York City, the corporatization that has thrown a pall over the eccentric and the abstract.

I believe the struggle with the inner abstract is a universal one. I believe that struggle is just as valid for a writer as it is for a visual artist. I believe as we regulate life, make it safe, we lose the raw and primal energy that makes writing and art sexy.

To own the inner abstract, we have to go against what the world says we should be as an artist or writer, and be who you deeply are. This is much more difficult than it sounds. I am reminded of the book by Alan Watts called The Book: On the Taboo against Knowing Who You Are. We are told who to be, how to act, what to wear, how to feel. To explore our inner abstract, to really own our eccentricities is taboo. I believe it is essential to finding our voice as poet or painter. I also know the journey can take a lifetime. To get there we must surround ourselves with those who are empowered — friends, authors, books, canvases, posters — those who broke through the mainstream, who refused to hide, who owned their messy, silly, sexy selves.

I’m a writing coach. Contact me for a free initial consultation: CarolineAllen@aol.com, www.artofstorytellingonline.com.


One thought on “Owning the inner abstract

  1. Hi Carrie,
    I love your article. FYI I am giving a demonstration/lecture on Feb 23rd at 7pm for the Chelmsford Art Society (at the old town hall/community center in the center) on “ArtPLAY vs ArtWORK!” – how to loosen up. Guests are welcome. This will be a HUGE leap for me to share a very personal part of myself in front of an audience of fellow artists. With your permission, I would love to quote a few lines from the final paragraph of your article. Your writing always inspires me and/or provides great food for thought. Thanks. 🙂



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