Trump and The Abstract

According to, the meaning of ABSTRACT can be “a work of art, especially a nonrepresentational one, stressing formal relationships. Also, of or relating to the formal aspect of art, emphasizing lines, colors, generalized or geometrical forms, etc., especially with reference to their relationship to one another.”

Two and three dimensional artworks produce tangible abstractions. The image is simplified in order to represent generalized, yet distinct, relationships. Ironically, outside of the arts, ABSTRACT has a quite different meaning. Again,

“The act of considering something as a general quality or characteristic, apart from concrete realities, specific objects, or actual instances. An impractical idea; something visionary and unrealistic. The act of taking away or separating; withdrawal: The sensation of cold is due to the abstraction of heat from our bodies.”

This one word embodies two opposing meanings. The practical perspective on the abstract is to write it off, render it “visionary and unrealistic.” The aesthetic perspective allows possibilities to flourish. Nothing gets written off. Every element is worth consideration. Without the willingness to explore ideas, we’d lead narrow lives that cling only to what we know best – whatever it may be. We’d avoid the impractical. We’d willingly reduce our world to be only what we see and hear for ourselves. We’d leave the abstract battles, the conversations considering things “apart from concrete realities,” to our surrogate leaders – whoever they may be – lawyers, doctors, academics, scientists, priests, pastors, rabbis, politicians, etc.

Without intellectual exploration driven by an interest in ethics and ideals, simply succeeding at what’s considered to be immediately practical becomes our obsession.  That’s how Mr. Trump got elected.

People who have hit several dead ends, unable to see multiple possibilities, are looking for hope. They are especially susceptible to his message. He promises solutions that sound better than what they could have provided for themselves. But he doesn’t only play to the downtrodden. The abstract complexities of the world, the circumstances filled with subtle relationships, are actually beyond the grasp of much of Middle America, the working poor, wealthy entrepreneurs, and all the other demographic segments of our society. Admittedly, we all disdain the abstract to some degree because it evades our immediate comprehension. That’s why we willingly seek and follow leaders. We’re hoping that as a collective, leaders will allow relationships to evolve in order to establish cooperation and make sense of the world.

Mr. Trump is missing the fact that there are millions of people capable of comprehending abstract circumstantial relationships, opposing political concepts, and many of the details he dismisses. It’s up to us to voice our perspectives and beliefs. There are other possibilities beyond Mr. Trump’s. He’s caught up in a tit-for-tat, shallow mindedness that reduces the abstract spectrum of colorful possibilities to black and white for those who are easily overwhelmed.

Mr. Trump can only control us if we let him. I offer this advice to those of us who are comfortable with considering multiple perspectives, allowing the underlying relationships to form a whole greater than its parts: IT’S TIME TO RESIST.

What was I thinking

I began working on this image a couple of weeks before the recent 2016 presidential election.  Like many other people, I’d become weary of the drivel that had dragged most election related conversations into the gutter.  What I had anticipated to be a no-holds-barred dogfight had turned into a nightmare reality.  Substance no longer mattered.  It was all about mud and seeing what would stick.

What was even more disturbing were the parallels with the rise of Nazi Germany.  It didn’t help that I had just spent a week in Dusseldorf.  I had attended glasstec along with thousands of other trade show enthusiasts.  The week leading up to the show had been filled with festivities in the center of town, culminating in cycle races through the city’s streets on Sunday afternoon.  The harsh sound of German shouted through loudspeakers combined with roaring crowds of Aryan onlookers gave me flashbacks of scratched black and white scenes of Hitler addressing a sea of mesmerized faces.  As I wandered through pristine neighborhoods, the orderly parade of shiny Audi’s and Beamers along with the periodic flash and growl of a top model Porsche made me quite certain that beneath the veneer of serenity was a very aggressive and capable economy and culture.

Back at the hotel, news of the American elections with scenes of Trump egging on a crowd juiced with the power of us against them hovered above the bar beside panning shots of the chanting soccer audience on another TV and channel.  I had this weird sense that humanity was spinning out of control.  It was like any minute, rioting would become a sport.

While still under this influence, I sorted through photos I’d taken at the holocaust memorial below the Legion of Honor in San Francisco a couple years earlier.  The encrusted bodies frozen in despair said what I felt.  I began constructing their message and filling in their world.  The more I looked at the monitor, the more intently I felt as if I was one of them.