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abstract

Isn’t it ironic that the dictionary is so precise about specific uses of the word abstract? I’m not sure. I won’t get to the word ironic for years.

But all kidding aside (What do you mean you’ve never noticed any attempts at humor here? Shut up!), the dictionary I’m looking at has three entries for abstract. One of the entries has four definitions, some with subsidiary definitions. The other two entries have three and five definitions for abstract, but no subsidiary definitions.

Because the definitions and subsidiary definitions within each entry are closely related, and because I don’t want this entry to get any more boring than it absolutely has to be (I know; I know; you can’t always get what you want), and because I’ve gotten to only words beginning with ab and I have to get to words beginning with zy, I’ll shorten things up a bit by summarizing the three entries.

I’ll start with the second two entries because I want to make some comments about one usage of one of the meanings in the first entry and I don’t want that nonsense to slow my readers down if they don’t want to read those comments. (Note the use of the plural, readers, in the previous sentence. My optimism knows no bounds.)

The second entry is a noun with three variations. An abstract can be a summary of a document. Often, an abstract is provided for free and used as a teaser to get people to buy the whole document. But it can also be provided for free documents so potential readers can decide whether it is worth their oh, so very precious time to bother reading the document that the author might have put considerable research, thought and effort into. Abstract can also mean a concept or creation that is generic and/or conceptual, rather than specific and/or precise.

The third entry for abstract is a verb that means to create an abstract of, for example, a document (see preceding paragraph), to create a generalization from a specific instance or instance, to draw away attention, to steal, or to extract something.

This leaves me with the first entry for abstract. It’s an adjective. If you don’t know what an adjective is then you probably failed elementary school grammar. My sympathies. Adjective starts with “ad” and I’m at the “ab” words so you won’t have to wait as long for me to get to adjective as you would if you have to wait to hear what I have to say about, for example, xylophones. But that is neither here nor there.

As an adjective, abstract can mean general rather than specific; naming a quality or state, rather than the specific thing that has that quality or state; theoretical rather than actual; or not being a pictorial representation of anything in real-life.

It’s this latter adjective meaning or, rather, one context in which it is used that I want to comment on.

There is a genre of art called abstract art. The art form can be drawing, painting, sculpture or pretty well any visual art. Regardless of the media, what defines abstract art is that it doesn’t look precisely like anything you might come across when you are out for a wide-ranging walk in your neighborhood, or anywhere else on the Earth for that matter.

Some abstract art might vaguely bring to mind something real. Or the artist might try to convey an emotion or a wooly, generalized notion. But none of it can be precisely identified as anything specific and some of it is merely seemingly random shapes, including possibly paint splashes, that the artist thought looked nice or meaningful for whatever reason.

When I hear the term abstract art what comes first to mind are paintings that appear to be random splotches of paint on a canvas, whether or not they were indeed random. Some of those paintings are somewhat visually appealing to my tastes, but others hurt my eyes and give me migraines.

But appealing or appalling, I don’t understand this type of abstract art. I know that makes me a ghastly Philistine in some people’s eye’s, but it is what it is.

To be perfectly honest, if you gave a chimpanzee a paint brush, some paints and some canvas, I probably couldn’t distinguish it’s output from most “professional” abstract art of this genre.

That’s probably just me. I’m sure it’s solely because I’m totally artless. Everyone else in the world would probably have no difficulty distinguishing between human-created and animal-created art. For sure; there’s no doubt in my mind.

Oh, wait. Maybe not. In 2007 a German art expert was duped into a painting done by a chimpanzee was actual done by a respected artist. And there have been other instances, both before that and since, of animal-created art being mistaken for art done by professional artists. So it’s not just me.

I get the sense that this genre of abstract art is like the emperor’s new clothes. Nobody wants to admit that they don’t see anything worthwhile in it because they’ve been told that only artless morons wouldn’t see worth in it. Well, I don’t see it.

OK. You can start hurling the “ghastly Philistine” insults at me in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 …

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