What I Learned In My Abstract Art Class

Last Monday was the final class, and the big end-of-session critique, in Abstract Art. I had little to show and surprisingly few opinions. But sometimes you learn more when you listen than when you talk.

Each student brought to the front of the class a collection of paintings they had completed. They varied wildly. I mean, wildly. And I was at a loss about what to think about much of the work.

I was recounting all this to Sherry Kwint-Cattoche, my figure drawing teacher.

“I just don’t get it,” I said. “I just can’t do it.”

“A lot of figurative painters can’t do abstract,” she said with a shrug. “We are too into the narrative of our work.”

I stopped talking, again! Of course, Sherry is right. I wasn’t a psych major by accident. I didn’t spend my first career asking people questions and writing about what they were doing by happenstance. I wasn’t drawn to publish websites where people congregated, communicated and worked together because I was an introvert.

It has always been about stories for me. And people (or people-like animals) are always the stars of my stories.

But paintings are, in fact, paintings and not short stories. And I am seeing a little “Tesia” in my work now. I’ve learned a bit more about paint handling and composition for its own sake. It all adds to the “paintingness” (instead of the short-story-ness) of my work.

Next post, I’ll deconstruct my latest painting and show you exactly what I mean.

By Joanne

Joanne Taeuffer is an expressive painter. She lives in the Berkeley Hills and Healdsburg, CA, with her husband and their black cats, Oscar Wild and Percy.


  1. I love a painting that tells a story. I wouldn’t be surprised if the cycle brought us back to narrative painting, either. Do you think there is a way to possibly combine the two (narrative and abstract)?

  2. My favorite figurative painters such as Elmer Bishoff use all the tricks of abstraction…and you can find many abstract paintings within their works. I’m hoping that my figurative works include more and more good, abstract elements.


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