There seem to be certain emotions that are characteristic of childhood. I remember feeling certain ways and I notice that these feelings have become sparse. It seems to me that there where experiences of beauty and fascination pervading my early childhood days. Such feelings bring up emotional memories about being small, being in the garden or on the street. I remember the strange patterns of curtains or carpets and of cracks on the paving slabs and the branching patterns of ferns. These feelings seem to be rare now, but they can be evoked sometimes by something I see or a sound I hear.
What is essential about these particular aesthetic emotions is that there are no explicit concepts involved. When you grow up, the world is increasingly blanketed by a mesh of concepts. You do not see a visual structure again, you see a wall, a fence, a leaf. You do not hear a sound, a noise again but a car, a banging door or a bell. You identify the objects and what reaches your conscious attention is predominantly a conceptual representation. The immediateness of perception is lost.
One of the reasons I like abstract art so much might be that it throws me back into a state before words. I don’t have concepts, except for very basic “geometrical” ones like “line” or “speck”, to describe what I am seeing, or very general ones like “waves” that do not really capture the structure that is there. I cannot create an interpretation. I just see. I just hear. And there it is again, that feeling of pure beauty and fascination.
In a way, the small child is living in a world of abstract art, a world that is not yet interpreted by concepts. This is what you would see if you could step out of all those conceptual constructions again. The pictures children of this early age are drawing are purely sensual, with no discernible objects.
Then the drawings change. There are people consisting of heads, arms and legs, faces consisting of eyes and mouths, and houses with windows. The drawings of the children become conceptual and that immensely rich world of uninterpreted, beautiful and fascinating shapes, structures and textures is more and more driven to the back of our minds.
However, the non-conceptual perception can still be experienced, evoked by unnamed natural structures or by works of art that are “strange” in the sense of not being covered by our concepts. So one of the main avenues into such an experience is abstract art.
An abstraction in the original sense of the word is a completely conceptual thing, a very general concept with reduced sensual content. I think, therefore, that calling abstract art “abstract” is actually a misnomer. Better words would be “direct art”, “pre-conceptual art”, “non-conceptual art” or simply “sensual art”. It is art before words, and for me, it brings back those fascinating aesthetic feelings of early childhood, when the world did not yet consist of things.
(The picture is from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Coloured_reflections_2_(3796445408).jpg)