Jazz, Abstract Art, and the Nature of Creating in the Moment, By Mike Briggs, Web Designer, Smithsonian Museum of African Art

Posted by Gregory Johnson on


I asked a friend of mine to guest-blog on this site because I admire his overall knowledge of the arts. Below is his entry:

What one witnesses in each scenario is essentially the same. The creation of the art of that moment through their eyes and means of expression. 


Abstract expressionism and free jazz have always been connected in creative spirit and dissertation with good reason but if they are actually vastly different approaches and the painter gets off super easy for all the moaning they are allowed to get away with. 


Painters may have an internal dialog with a multitude of different contributors to a work of art. It might be paint, light, the temperature in the room, even the hunger in their belly. 


The musician has an equal amount of these elements to consider or react to as well. 


The difference is the musician must also carry on a conversation with others, each with their own concerns, and who must respond for the conversation to continue. 


The final works may look or sound like they come from the same neighborhood as other abstract or unfamiliar expressions. 


They don’t. 


That makes free jazz actually a richer form of abstract expressionism than any painting could. 
Fit that in a gallery. 


My response:

Now, if you're an abstract expressionist, you may be wondering what Mr. Briggs is talking about. As far as I can tell, Abstract Expressionism isn't about "moaning" and "getting away super easy" with it. And even though free jazz and abstract art are inexorably connected, (check out all those fiftys album jackets), to compare the two is ridiculously simplistic. They are two completely different approaches. I think we can agree on that.

But what struck me about this blog was the lack of understanding about the visual artist's motivations. If you look at Pollack or de Kooning paintings, you almost get lost in the expressions. I'm sure they both had reason for self-pity, but there is precious little of it in their work as far as I can tell. There are many artists out there, including me, who express personal pain and struggle through our work. As I have said often, and many artists would agree, those types of work are therapeutic, but not one artist would say he or she "got away with it super easy". Or some such nonsense. What's the trade-off when baring ones soul? Nakedness. And a kind of psychic embarrassment.

The editor of Neon Door, an on-line lit mag that published some works of mine, (neondoorlit.com), put up one of my paintings on their Twitter account. They compared my work to "another misunderstood artist who also liked the color blue" (I'll leave the allusion there...I don't think I'm in the same league). But from the moment I decided to go public with my work I knew deep down that very few would come close to getting it. And that has definitely been the case, as the above guest-blog attests. If it wasn't a dig against me personally, then it was against all artists who have the temerity to "moan", or more precisely, to share ones inner struggles in order to connect with like minds. I am one of those at times.

If you feel as an artist that your work is being misunderstood, misinterpreted, or downright disrespected, the important thing is to keep on FUCKING DOING IT. You're on the right track. Don't try to fit it into some genre or preconceived notion. Don't try to make anyone happy. Honor the creative impulse. Moan, if you wanna moan. There will always be somebody, probably thousands, who will try to reduce it.

Put THAT in the gallery.




  • Thanks for the critique but I’m not rethinking a word. The way I write hasn’t changed since the day I first picked a pen up with my foot. I write and “publish” with trusted intention. How you read it is all on you.

    Besides, I’m comfortable knowing most artists/audients have a better sense of humor and perhaps a less personal view in this particular case.

    For example, I heard Munch was a scream.

    floogee on

  • Okay that clears it up a bit. I think the main problem with the original blog was that it was thrown together too quickly. That’s why it needed to be so “explained”. But still, apples to oranges.
    And you can’t explain away the “moaning” reference. You’re damn right I took it personally as would any artist reading it. It was callous and simplistic. Think before you write, as my old English teacher used to say.

    gregory johnson on

  • Since you haven’t responded as fast as you did the first time as you work on your “man” series I need to close this conversation.

    What concerns me is your personalization of my piece. Do you know the musician Luke Stewart? You will someday. He’s becoming a real voice in the jazz community but his grasp of language goes far beyond that idiom.

    The reason I ask is because HE was the individual who inspired me to write the piece after seeing him perform live on electric bass accompanied by a drummer.

    Not you.

    Do you really think after all these years that I would trash, in any way, your attempts to become the artist you are?

    Keep drawing about man.

    Rrose Sélavy on

  • First off, apologies for my explanation being longer than the original thought. 😂

    Collaborative painting vs Free Jazz

    Imagine a room of five individuals, all with superb ability and all with something unique to say being asked to draw a structure that not only satisfies themselves but an audience as well. In real time.

    Could they do it?

    That was the embellished, assumptive and somewhat personally referential attempt to amplify the point of the writing concerning “whiny” abstract expressionists.

    I was just reversing perceptions and making fun of it. The actual Free Jazz movement didn’t have to wait to be ridiculed by writers, they got their answers that night … as a unit, not as individuals.

    The section about the musicians classifies them as individuals first, so therefore just as “whiny” as anyone.


    Imagine a room of five individuals, all with superb ability and all with something unique to say being asked to play a structure that not only satisfies themselves but an audience as well. In real time.

    They’ve done it. Repeatedly.

    In summation. Personally, I just think it’s harder to compose in the living moment when there are multiple human beings involved than it is as an individual.


    Like before I can go even deeper if you’d like but this does the basic job of explaining my intention and doesn’t include as much conjecture

    floogee on

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