15 October 2006
about eight years ago, i spent a semester studying in london. upon my first trip to the national gallery, i decided i would work my way through the national gallery and the tate chronologically, beginning with the earliest works and moving on until i reached the contemporary work displayed at the tate. after about four weeks of madonnas and crucifixes and other medieval and early renaissance pieces that generally failed to speak to me, i gave up on my plan and found my way to the tate. where i experienced 20th century art for the first time. and experienced is the correct word. i found myself especially drawn to the abstract expressionists. david smith's sculpture, which relied as much upon surface variations and the way they played with light as it did upon form. mark rothko's beautiful, intense color fields. and pollock's wildly erratic, vibrant, massive works. as i encountered them, i realized that where all of the early art i'd consumed at the national gallery tried to communicate a specific story--often one laden with specific subsurface messages to go along with the story--, these works of abstraction were all about surface. about line and texture and motion. about hue and contrast. but the lovely discovery was that because they are all about surface, they have so much more depth. there is no pat explanation, no set understanding to be gained looking into a pollock. there's no moral of the story to be taken home from a rothko. there is only the color and the form and the texture and your own soul.