I remember when I was working on BFA in the eighties, one of my I remarked to one of my profs that I didn't really distinguish between representational and so-called abstract or non-representaional art. He was taken aback and said, "well I guess that makes you a true post-modernist, then. At one time those distinctions were sharply drawn." I'm aware of the debates around this issue, but they never really made sense to me.
First, all art is some kind of abstraction. As a child, I remember looking at an impressionist painting--a Monet or a Renoir, probably--and noticing that the closer I looked at it the more it broke down into discreet splotches of colour, but as I moved back it clicked into a picture. So, if you were to take a small piece of a Monet painting and magnify it, you might end up with an abstract expressionist painting. I know the two things are different in nature and intent, but, really where's the line?
For me, I am ambivalent about the fact that I easily (maybe not easily; readily?) switch back and forth between nearly photographic realism and colour/ shape exploration, and any admixture thereof. I feel ambivalent, because part of me goes back to the comment by my prof about the nature of abstraction, but at the same time, the two approaches fulfill the same function; to come to terms with reality. One is an exploration of the visual world, the other is an exploration of the mental environment.
That's not quite right. They are both like conversations with the painting (or drawing). "I'll put some green there. Does that work? Good--I'll add more. Wait--I need to curve this line, How is that--not so much--too far" Kind of try this, test that, etc. The content of the conversation doesn't matter, so much as the quality of the conversation--the give and take.
So, as far as painting, the question is not "are you looking?", but "are you listening?"