Notwithstanding innumerable art appreciation classes offered round the world, people still don’t understand abstraction in art. The public doesn’t understand because they were never supposed to understand. And certain artists don’t understand because they first encounter the word through the mediation of the schoolhouse.
The idea of the abstract was from its outset an obfuscation. Every artist who ever tried to draw something either faces or struggles against the ways that the materials possess their own qualities. So while abstraction as an idea might seem confusing, its reality is quite commonplace. The marks you draw are at first just marks. You begin with a blank canvas, and every line, color or tone that you place on the canvas that does not instantly present the motif in a mimetic way is “abstract.” The most descriptive marks are also abstract too, but we’re less apt to notice. The fact is that we see nature entire and each effort (of whatever sort) to separate out qualities is de facto an abstraction.
But abstraction as a deliberate confusion of seeing came into vogue and persists as things do — just because. Sometimes it can be marvelously used but it has become a convention now. Its root taps deep down into Nature, but fads do not trend the way a thing winds into the mind’s labyrinth as a touchstone of perception and dreams. No, the fad becomes a path disappearing into thickets.