Abstract vs. Concrete

It seems like there are two kinds of people:  abstract thinkers and concrete thinkers.  There is a bit of each of these in all of us, but people tend to lean in one direction or the other.  The problem arises when people start to believe that one way is “right” and the other “wrong.”

Many years ago, in my first year of college, I learned a very important lesson from my “Introduction to Design” teacher.  I had excelled in art in high school, even had some of my paintings in a a public exhibition and sold one for a fair amount of money (to me then, as a student).  So I came to this class intending to major in art and with a lot of false confidence and a cocky attitude.  My teacher, Mr. Bullock, was very exacting and not at all the “abstract”, free-flowing, do whatever comes into your mind, type that I was used to–and so our first assignment was a bit ridiculous in my mind (Ah, to know it all now, as I did at 18!).

The school was in Southern California and there were lots of flowers and greenery growing about the campus.  We were instructed to go outside and pick a flower–any kind– then come inside and on a sheet of white paper dissect our flower into small pieces.  Once done, we were to study the colors we found, mix paint to match all the colors and shades of color that we saw and then paint a design using the exact (as much as possible) proportion of each color as was found in our flower.  Whew!

We were graded, not only on the success of the colors and their proportions, but also the design itself.  I was impressed with the exactness of the assignment.

After class I stayed to ask Mr. Bullock about his approach to art, telling him how spontaneity had been encouraged in my high school class and how that teacher would have found Mr. Bullock’s approach all wrong.  He replied in a way I have never forgotten and have applied as much as I can to all my “abstract” endeavors .  He said, “While creativity and talent are really quite common, the ability to apply that creativity with graphic precision is very rare.  The successful artist is the one who can.”