When I was painting one morning
with my neighbor girl Sophia
and her brother, Santi,
I learned a new perspective on modern art.

While we were painting,
I brought up the names
of a few of my favorite artists,
seeing whether they’d
get any traction
with my young friends.
They didn’t know
the names of
Van Gogh
or Monet,
but were anxious
to see their artwork.
So I pulled up pictures on my phone.
They liked everything,
recognized some, like “Starry Night.”

Santi knew of da Vinci
and enjoyed adding
a famous painter’s name
to the mix.

He tried his hand at sketching,
then painting,
like I was.
Sophia likes the paint-it-all-as-you-go approach,
and has a unique sense of color, shape and style.
Very bold and fresh,
matching her plucky personality.
Very four.
Santi is a bit more guarded,
at nine.

They asked a lot of questions
about my painting,
about what I was doing
but also why.
When I was painting a rose
I’d clipped from the front yard rosebush
prolific with flowers,
one of them asked why
I like to paint something
I’m looking at.
It was in answering their questions
that the terms representational
and abstract came up.

without missing a beat, said,
“Oh I know what that is.
Abstract means it’s nothing.”

I had to think about that for a minute.

“You know. It’s nothing that’s real.
Nothing that you’ve ever seen,” he added.

Interesting way to describe abstract.

I’d always thought of abstract
as giving the gist of something,
a hint of something.
Perhaps representational
but not realistic.
Abstract artists that come
readily to my mind,
and which I like, are:
I could see their artwork in my mind’s eye
when I was trying to grapple
with Santi’s statement,
“Abstract means it’s nothing.”

Continuing to think further about this,
I looked up definitions of abstract art.
I wasn’t that far off,
but neither was Santi.
“Art that does not attempt to represent
an accurate depiction of a visual reality
but instead use
forms and
gestural marks
to achieve its effect.”

Gleaning from several others,
I got:
theoretical, and
expressing a quality
apart from an object.
Having only intrinsic form
with little or no
attempt at pictorial representation.

“It’s nothing that’s real.
Nothing you’ve ever seen before.”
So true.