Dear Ms. Kamhi,
I have been enjoying your debate with Mr. Hughey and thought I might throw in my two cents.
Representational art would not exist without the concepts of abstraction. The formal components of composition necessarily apply to either mode of expression. The act of seeing is as abstract and mathematical as hearing music is without the words. One may paint the concept of a flower and one may paint the concept of red. One may write on the concept of grocery stores and one may write on the concept of words. Some concepts are specific in nature, others cover a broader spectrum. We need equal access to them all even in the visual arts.
It is important that we learn to see beyond the dabs of white paint making the reflections on a glass appear real. It is important because experience shows us that what is seen on the surface is often just the tip of the iceberg. The smiles and frowns on the face of one's friend may or may not denote a loving affection beneath. We can paint a photo-realist portrait of a flower and leave it there but whatabout the perfumed scent? What about the description of the experience of feeling the flower in one's mind? How does one paint that?
Abstraction is the answer; the visual equivalent of emotional intellect and, if done well, elevated thought. When we see, we see the outer world and we see our thoughts and emotions concerning that world. Abstract art focuses in on this specific experience through the utilization of line, color, texture and value. In a sense, abstraction is representation as seen under a microscope. Such is not a difficult concept to grasp although to do well is another matter. The same may be said for representational work.
Abstract art is a challenging essential endeavor practiced by artists as surely as musicians practice abstract understanding through scales and concertos. Art historians are handicapped if they love art only when it fits the boundaries of their favorite time period. This prohibits the ability to see anything beyond their immediate borders or even to try. In such a state no fruitful brain activity is possible. For these, a particular art "ism" is the center and the circumference of their understanding. Which only proves they have no real center in the first place. The wheels in the brains are turning and squeaking but no one's going anywhere.
Sometimes the greatest gains are made in the midst of stillness before the tornado hits. Ms. Kamhi, I suspect, can't see a Rembrandt as surely as she can't see a Mondrian.