Socio-Political Abstractionism (SPA) is a term used by Rich Sheaffer starting in 2017 to describe a new genre of art in which hot-button social topics being discussed in the political milieu are expressed via painting in abstract form. Such works are primitive expressions of dreams or visions. They are not intended to be realistic, accurate or precise expressions of any real things, but rather expressions of ethereal dreams or visions of concern to the artist. They typically use generous applications of heavy-body acrylic paint to portray what the artist sees. They do not use concepts of lighting, shadow, perspective or other aspects of more traditional art, but rather portray dream-like, abstract images that exist even fleetingly in the artist’s mind.
Being the art of a “common man”, although artist brushes may be used on occasion, the artist may use his hand and fingers, outdoor tools, utensils found in his kitchen or garage, engineering or drafting tools, specialized devices of his own creation (like the “hurricane generator”) and so on.
These works of SPA are intended to exhibit imagination, creativity and concern, all in an effort to cry out in anguish on behalf of humanity at the state of affairs. With the intent and focus being on conveying an issue of importance to humanity, they are purposefully as simplistic as possible.
Generally, each work is inspired by an event, or something said, or something done in the social or political world that inspires the artist, or provides the material for nightmares. One might ascribe this artform as largely reflecting the “new national angst” that has beset us en masse since the start of the presidential campaigns of 2016. Ideally, the works are intended to present an issue, advocating for democratic principles, human rights and human decency, albeit without advocating a particular side or political party to support.
The artist hopes that all significant issues are dealt with by all political parties on a non-partisan basis, in a manner indicative of basic human decency and respect, for the benefit of all. The artist also recognizes the difficulties of that occurring, and points out through SPA many of these significant issues needing resolution. These works represent dreams or visions of the artist for discussion and debate and, ideally, fresh insights for each viewer.
A key characteristic of SPA is that, with rare exceptions, a viewer would have no idea what the work meant or what was in the artist’s mind that inspired the work unless the artist had documented the inspiration for the work. Then, the next key characteristic is that the artist has refrained from explaining too much, so that the viewer has only a starting reference and then supplies further interpretation and meaning, hopefully discussing and perhaps even debating with others. The final key characteristic, that may only apply to few viewers, is that the work inspires others to actually alter their thinking on a subject, and, among the very few, may inspire some to actually take action to remedy a situation or to prevent its recurrence.
Like other forms of Abstract Expressionism, it involves the expression of feelings or concepts in abstract form. Yet, it involves more than that, and everything on the canvas (or hardwood painting panel) is symbolic of something in the artist’s mind, based on current social events.
Some will scoff at these works of SPA … look at how primitive, simplistic and unprofessional they are, see how childlike and unsophisticated they are, and so on. Yet, the artist finds that is exactly why children can relate to these works, as well as some adults. “Look Mommy, a volcano! What’s happening?” “Look Daddy, a dinosaur! Why does he look angry?” It is with childlike innocence that anyone may ask such questions. With a lifetime of experiences, many of them bad experiences, adults may try to teach children (or other adults) the cruel “realities” of life. Without a lifetime of such experiences, and with faith and trust, kindness and an understanding of the value of respecting others, children may try to teach adults their realities of life. We may find that there is much to learn from one another, and that children may possess a certain wisdom that the passing of time has not yet snuffed out.
Is SPA to be considered “fine art”? The scholars may debate that topic, and even the scholars don’t have one solid definition of “fine art”, but the artist will offer some ideas. So what is “fine art”? Is SPA “art concerned primarily with the creation of beautiful objects”? Absolutely not! Is it “art for art’s sake”? No! But is it ever mass-produced? Never! In terms of art intended to stimulate the intellect and to be meaningful, as opposed to being applied art or décor … yes! In the artist’s opinion, SPA meets some definitions of “fine art” but not all, but it does not fit into other typical categories (it is not intended to be decorative or functional art). So you be the judge.
One goal of creating works in Socio-Political Abstractionism is to provide a historical record of some perspectives on the human condition of our times. Perhaps in fifty years or so, if the human race should survive, people may look back at these works with curiosity or bemusement, wondering what we were thinking to bring us to these states of affairs. If so … will it have made any difference now, or will it make any difference then? Regardless, the work goes on …
Haven’t shaved for a week-and-a-half … too focused on art …