Recently a long-time painting friend of the nonrepresentational persuasion allowed herself to cross over into a more objective depiction. Though she'd painted in a number of styles during her career, her true love was in the paint itself, free of any ties whatsoever to the real world. No doubt with some reticence, she showed her newest, somewhat expressionistic, work to friends in hopes of eliciting comments and hopefully improving her work. On the whole, I don't think she was too satisfied; not so much with what was said of her work, which was by and large positive, but by the fact she got so LITTLE real input of any concrete value. I know I certainly didn't have much to say. I WISHED I knew what to say, but frankly, I didn't. And for me to be at a loss for words is rather rare.
This is the biggest problem in critiquing abstract (as opposed to nonrepresentational) art. Realism tends to impose absolutes in terms of value judgements--perspective, proportions, likenesses, naturalism, etc., etc., etc. They provide a firm foundation upon which to judge work. The further one moves from realism toward the abstract, the shakier the ground for the critic. The question arises, (as in this case for example) was the lack of aerial perspective intentional or an oversight on the part of the artist? Only the artist could answer that and the artist is free to go either way as suits her purpose. Expressionism is so internally generated, critiquing the work of such an artist might even be considered an act of foolishness, which is why there is often not very much constructive criticism from presenting such work. No one but the artist knows the framework upon which to base remarks. I, and I think most others, tread very lightly in this area of art criticism, first because of friendships, but also because of the problems I've mentioned above. If I critique a work of art, I like to think my comments have a high degree of validity. If I don't feel they do, It's best I keep my mouth shut and, as Lincoln said, be THOUGHT a fool, rather than spouting off and PROVING it.
The strange thing is, that once the artist crosses over into NON representational work, there are LOADS of proportional relationships, color, design, textural, and technical elements that come into play which, though highly complex and esoteric, DO provide a strong basis for criticism for someone who understands them (though not to the degree one finds in realism). Decisions in nonrepresentional painting, though often thought to be emotional, very often are NOT. They are quite rational, does it work or does it NOT questions with yes or no answers. But add the slightest element of objectivity to the CONTENT of the work, no matter how abstract, then the painting suddenly becomes IRrational because it starts to flirt with realism, but at a great distance. And art critics are rational beings. We have to give REASONS for what we say. Obviously, we can do that with realism very easily. And with a lot of two-dollar words plus some clever, artsy posturing, at least give the APPEARANCE of doing so when discussing the nonrepresentational. But, man, give us a painting depicting the slightest recognizable content of the artist's mind and we silently run for cover like a bunch of scared ants.