Favorite Museum Experience – Raya Ward ’21

To be clear, I hated abstract art. I didn’t understand it. Not only was non objective art confusing, it was frustrating. I couldn’t figure out what these wacky artists were trying to say, and it seriously upset me. I was looking at a coded message––knowing it held something beautiful, some secret answer to an unknown question––but being completely unable to decipher the message. I could not wrap my head around why these artists thought it was so cool to be illusive rather than just tell me what they were trying to say!

However, now, I am mesmerized by non objective art. Attracted to it in galleries, I find joy in the obscurity and feel greater fulfillment after spending time experiencing these works.

The change happened during my junior year of high school. I spent a good three to four months thoroughly exploring abstract expressionism. My research started with an examination of Jackson Pollock’s work, but soon led to an adventure into the politics of abstract expressionism and finally a deep dive into the profile of Wassily Kandinsky and his theory on art and society.

From such extensive research, I started to grow an appreciation for non objective art. Visually, I was most excited by Pollock, but it was Kandinsky’s theory that most strongly influenced me and my opinions on abstract art. With Kandinsky’s definition of art as a transcendental experience creating avenues for spiritual revelations, I now saw pieces of art as mediums for conversation. I respected a work for its ability to draw in its viewer––posing questions rather than promoting answers.

This research process not only transformed my thoughts on art but also dramatically influenced my own creative process and work. Prior to my studies of Kandinsky and Pollock, my art work had always been representational and impressionistic. Afterward, my work became remarkably more expressive, sometimes even non objective. Inspired by these Abstract Expressionist artists, I began to truly invest myself in my work, releasing subconscious emotions and learning about myself from the process.

Interestingly, I found that by focusing on expressing elements of my own self, I produced works that presented universal emotions that diverse audiences could appreciate and engage with.

Shortly after completing this in-depth study, I visited New York (#tbt to endless college visits). During this short visit, I got the opportunity to visit the Museum of Modern Art. Not having done much research into the Museum’s holdings or even picking up a museum brochure, I wandered aimlessly through the galleries, selecting random works to study.

I can still remember the moment when I walked into the gallery holding Jackson Pollock’s One: Number 31. I’m pretty sure I squealed. Here was this magnificent work by an artist who had recently been extremely influential in my studies and creative adventures RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME. (eep!)

For the next ten minutes, I just looked – no, I didn’t just look, I experienced. I thought, and I felt. It was absolutely wonderful. I cannot describe to you what I felt, but it truly was transcendental. As I stood there, I watched Pollock paint; I saw his drips fall into place and dance across the canvas.

One: Number 31, Jackson Pollock. 1950. Oil on canvas. Museum of Modern Art, New York City, New York.
Source: Photograph taken by Raya Ward at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City on June 5, 2016

It was while engaging with this work by Pollock that I finally understood the effect Kandinsky claimed abstraction could have on a viewer. I understood why he held abstraction so far above objective works. The subject matter and ease of recognition representational art allows enables viewers to quickly glance at a piece and feel accomplished. With such brief and limited engagement, the viewer has drawn conclusions. On the other hand, abstraction requires attention, it requires additional time – further engagement. It is through this extra step that non objective art invites its viewers to have a conversation with the original artist. Through the canvas, the work’s creator and its audience are connected through shared feeling.

This experience was not only magical because I was able to experience a work by an artist who meant so much to me, but because it changed how I interact with works of art and solidified my beliefs in the spiritual and deeply emotional power of non objective art.