Down by the Water

Reflections on Abstract Art

I was listening to Tom Allen’s radio show, Shift, on CBC2, as I usually do weekday afternoons. Tom commented on the song Down By The Water by The Decemberists’ saying that he really loved the song even though he would be hard pressed to say what it really means. Except that he gets that stuff happens “down by the water and down by the old main drag”.

Part of what makes a great song for Tom is just having the refrain play over in his head, a memorable phrase, and puzzling out what it means. I have to agree with Tom that it is precisely this sort of engagement that makes many creative works meaningful. As you listen to the song, and put your own spin on the lyrics, the song becomes personalized for you and thus more meaningful.

Just the same way an enigmatic title on a piece of abstract art may lead you to start asking questions about what the title means, why did the artist choose it, why did she make that piece of art, and ultimately, what does the art mean to you?

Not “getting” a piece of abstract art at first glance, can be a good thing. It shows that the art isn’t a one-liner, but is more complex, and requires you to put something of yourself into interacting with the artwork in order to arrive at an understanding of it.

Sometimes just a little effort will bring an insight that connects you to the piece and rewards you with long-term enjoyment.