On Abstract and Abstraction

On Abstract and Abstraction

Utku Dervent

Every thought is part of one’s self-consciousness, and carries traces of this conscioussness it is part of. Thoughts are in a constant state of change, by way of transforming into one another. What brings about this change are evocations and associations. The mind zooms on one thought among the many possible others floating around simultaneously, and chooses to address it.

In order to lead our lives we must personally process, evaluate and store internal and external data.

We gather a large bulk of our data on the external world by way of sight. What our consciousness makes use of is only a small portion of the data we actually receive. Among the whole influx, we screen for whatever it is we need in that moment. Due to the urgency of various situations we find ourselves in, to which we must provide answers, we have to quickly process the rough mass of data that enters our sensory field, in order to figure out how we may make use of it.

The fact that sight is the most dominant element among those that form our consciousness may be explained as being a result of how sight precedes speech. Even before we start speaking, we come to know the world by way of sight. Our acts of seeing the world and describing the world we see interact with each other. What we see shapes how and what we describe, and what we describe in turn shapes what we see.

The act of seeing is an active and connective process by which the brain brings together past experiences and the limited and imprecise information provided by the eyes in a meaningful whole, and interprets them. From our life experience, we know that the pieces of reality that reach our sensory organs as data are limited. What lies at the foundation of all of our actions is that we are all trying to compensate for the shortcomings of this limited knowledge, to make it complete.

As the tool by which we express our life experience, language is a system of signs. And all it does is signify (or point at). As a sign or signifier, a sentence gains meaning according to how we construct it. Any sentence we construct reveals how we perceive reality, rather than reality itself.

Even if they are complete, words do not carry meaning in and of themselves. They may take upon significance when they exist within a sentence, as part of a whole, and to the extent to which they are connected to each other appropriately in order to form some kind of meaning. The definition of a word marks the boundaries of a specific area, signified and demarcated by that word. The knowledge of these boundaries is not one with the knowledge of the area within. Definitions resemble physical borders in a mental geography. These borders may form a surface once they come together in order to create meaning. Carrying on with the same metaphor, it is possible to say that only to the extent to which these surfaces, which represent sentences, are joined together appropriately in an act of speech or writing, unified by a certain vision, can they acquire volume and actually create some kind of vision.

Dictionary definitions set across each word may be seen as parallel to the various colours on a colour chart. Constructing forms with colours on canvas may similarly be likened to constructing sentences on paper using words. Yet sentences are, first and foremost, utterances; they are voiced, uttered.
Writing, as a mode of signification, is an encoding of a sound cluster in a system where sound is non-existent. If I were to ask what you were reading right now, you would not hesisate to voice these signs you see upon this paper and recognize for what they encode.

The coloured forms or formed colours upon canvas are also in a certain relationship to each other. They do not, however, impose a specific sequence (or arrangement) as words do in forming a sentence.

A colour chart or dictionary act as tools or units of measurement while painting or forming sentences. Through them, we are able to check whether an element we wish to use is consistent with the whole. As a sequence of signs, language is only able to exist by way of common consensus. Yet colours or forms are not things to agree upon. Even if painting is to be classified as a visual language, it is important to underline its structural characterestics different from those of verbal language.

The painting of an apple must resemble an apple to the extent that it cannot be taken for something else. We do not, however, expect for there to be any similarity between an apple and the word ‘apple’. This is so due to the fact that language is a code system. As a signifier based on common consensus, the word is a sign that summons to consciousness an image based on acquired perceptions of the thing it signifies. When you read or hear the word ‘apple’, the image of that thing appears in your consciousness according to the context provided in the sentence it exists within. The painting of an apple, on the other hand, imposes itself as an image.

If a word signifies a characteristic, a phenomenon or an emotion rather than an object that may be perceived by the senses, the mind cannot create an image of what the word signifies based on data it has acquired from prior perceptions. What this kind of word signifies is abstract, since it cannot form associations with any image whatsoever.

Things that are described and designed based on the qualities of objects, based on what may be sensed and perceived, yet are not perceptible or tangible in and of themselves are called abstract. (For example; round, yellow).

Due to their etimological ties, it may be difficult to clearly perceive the difference between abstract painting and abstraction in painting. A figurative painting renders abstract the reality it wishes to depict, by way of using the appearance of that reality as a tool that signifies or points at that reality.

An abstract painting, on the other hand, is not about appearances or their description, despite being an image itself.

In a world of images constructed by elements of form, colour and texture, which have been derived from appearances by way of abstraction, these paintings focus on the nature of relationality, i.e. the nature of meaning itself, through the relations between form, colour and texture.

Each and every painting is a self-portrait, and the subject matter is always an excuse.

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