Abstract art is an art form which implements the use of lines, colors, and shapes which, while independent of true reality, remains representative of the same reality. When referring to a painting or sculpture of any kind, abstract art is one of three main categories typically referenced, with the other two being figurative art and representational. These two forms reflect works which are very near reality, while abstract art itself has been taken from reality and worked into the artists own vision, and this vision is usually very different from the real thing, though the subject is clearly recognized for being what it is, if indeed there is a subject that the piece is based on. It is also important to keep in mind that abstract art can be partially or completely abstract; in other words, the work can depart from the reality of the subject minimally, or it can appear so far from the truth that the subject cannot be recognized at all. Therefore, there are different levels of abstraction in this form.
Here we will discuss abstract art in deeper detail, including the history of the form, various abstract artists and their works, the theory of abstract art, and differences that are found in this genre when comparing works from the past to those of present day. We will also consider its contributions to the art world and the differences in its past and present, as well as the reasons some of the changes have taken place. This will aid in clarifying all of the primary points which make this form one of the most popular in the world today, setting it apart from traditional, or more realistic, forms of painting and sculpture which are commonly exhibited. It will also provide a better understanding of what works fit into this extraordinary category and enable you to begin to see how abstract art itself it a major necessity to the world of art and free personal expression.
The History of Abstract Art
Abstract art is a form which communicates mostly using different use of lines and shapes, and the color is used freely by the artist creating the work. This can be clearly seen all throughout history, and even more clearly when we look closely at items found which date back to ancient history. Hieroglyphics are perfect examples of this; people and things were clearly represented in the drawing, which used stark shapes. One with an angular skull had their faces portrayed as a simple triangle, for example.
Abstractive art took a much more solid position in the world during the 1800s, with it being embraced as a true art form which stood on its own. It came about through three specific forms which were its predecessors, so to speak. These forms included Expressionism, Romanticism, and Impressionism. As the public began to embrace these forms on an individual level, each evolved in its own manner, resulting in the abstract art form being born and embraced as well. During this time it also should be noted that the church began to turn its back on such works, and this had a direct impact on the opinions of others when it came to pieces of the abstract.
Post-Impressionist art led to the abstract works which were contributed in the 1900s. By this time artists had not only taken the form from expression through shape and color, but they also began to successfully experiment with surface texture, using the look and feel of the paint itself to generate an emotional response while conveying the message they wanted to send. The artist Cezanne made a clear point that all things can be portrayed in painting using only three basic shapes: A cone, a sphere, and a cube, and Picasso ran with this in some of his most famous works during this time. His piece ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’ reflected this clearly and depicted five prostitutes in a brothel, each painted with what is described best as ‘violence’ using this exact technique. It is highly inspirational of emotion in any viewer who is to truly observe the piece and is a perfect example of the female form being represented through abstraction.
The early 20th century saw many abstract artists perfecting the development of Cubism, the very form of abstraction discussed above, and there are several other related forms which were developed as a direct result. All of these sub-genres take root in the abstract category itself. European and American abstraction became much more closely intertwined and relational during this period because of the changes which were so rapidly taking place, as well as the variety of artists who were expressing themselves with this form. ‘Modernism’ became the focal point, and exhibits and books enabled all artists to compare notes and take the form to new heights altogether. These resources allowed for ideas to be shared and artistic experimentation to take place, which would otherwise never be possible. To put it simply, abstraction was, and is, taken to personal levels which no other art form permits, regardless of what is being painted, and because of this fact it is often referred to as the only ‘pure art.’ It is completely untouched by reality and is entirely dependent on individual vision and implementation. It is thought to be one of the purest forms of artistic expression in existence, and as it grows and evolves more and more doors open for abstract artists the world over.
“Modern art,” which is a sub-type of abstraction, and is the common reference to the abstract, plays by absolutely no rules. There are no lines the artist must color in, and there is no dictation as to what should or should not be done when it comes to expression. Nazi Germany influenced this on an excessive level, as raw emotion played out the world over, enticing artists to take abstraction and all of its categories to places they had never been before, creatively speaking. In essence, abstract art in all forms is emotion on canvas, and emotion cannot be chained or dictated to. Today we see that some of the finest abstract art in existence makes absolutely no sense to the mind, but the heart can follow it precisely, and that is exactly what the form has always been about, since its birth all the way to present day.
Abstract Art: Its Theory
The process of defining the theory of abstract art is really very basic and simple. The artist cannot truly create art if they are forced to adhere to realism or rules. True art is a direct expression of the emotion of the artist, and it knows no bounds. While realism and traditionalism in the painting may be admired for its physical beauty in conveyance, abstract art, in and of itself, is considered beautiful because it takes what is inside and places it in the hands of others, allowing for the literal soul to be held, viewed, and appreciated. Abstract art is about expression through representation, using shape, color, and line to get the point across, and as modern artists have clearly shown, this has been done with great effect, backing up the above theory without question. Does this make the traditional realist any less an artist? The answer is no, but it can be definitively stated that some of the greatest artists who have ever lived are indeed the ones who have dared to be themselves, completely, on canvas. The act of ‘abstraction’ literally means ‘to draw out of.’ This is possibly the best way to put the form, as well as its theory, into words.
It is by grasping the theory of abstraction that one discovers how to appreciate the art form. Once an understanding is possessed by the observer a realization that the heart and mind of the artist are before they assist them in getting in touch with their own personal emotion as it relates to what they see before them. Now the door is open for each one to understand themselves.
The Embracing of the Abstract: Its Popularity
In the early year's abstract art in its many forms was kept at further than arm’s length, as the public viewed it as not only messy but as complete ‘non-art.’ If painted subjects did not look as they should, the work in question could not possibly be art. This prejudice, while making problems for the genre, succeeded to drive abstract artists only deeper into their desire for personal expression through their works. All it would take was the opening of minds, and souls, for the form to be accepted, and painters continued to strive harder and harder to show this to the world. Slowly, but surely, this was accomplished. Today the modern art of yesterday, which could not sell due to the misconceptions of its time, is greatly loved and recognized. Its expression is embraced easily today, as society is much more open to raw emotion and the conveyance of it in any form. There are still those who look at modern art as merely ‘kindergarten’ in implementation, showing little to no talent on the part of the artist. The fact is their talent lies in their ability to express. The same individuals with this mindset are unable to appreciate this fact, as it is not traditional to their thinking.
Abstract Artists and their Works
Here is a generalized list of some of the most well-known and recognized abstract artists, as well as some of the works they have contributed to the world. While each one’s work is attributed to varying sub-forms, each is considered to have given work that is abstract in theory and implementation.
Paul Cezanne, 1839-1906
Cezanne produced works which included “The Large Bathers” and Madame Cezanne in a Yellow Chair.”
Wassily Kandinsky, 1866-1944
Paintings Kandinsky is known for include “Improvisation No. 30” and “Houses at Murnau.”
Henry Matisse, 1869-1944
Matisse is much loved for works such as “Woman with a Hat” and “Blue Nude.”
Marsden Hartley, 1877-1943
Considered one of the greats, his contributions include “Madawaska” and “Movements.”
Paul Klee, 1879-1940
“Angelus Novus” and “A Young Lady’s Adventure” are among the works of Klee.
Pablo Picasso, 1881-1973
Picasso is one of the most loved of the abstractionists. His works sell for millions and include “Les Demoiselles” and “Girl Before a Mirror.”
Mary Swanzey, 1882-1978
Referred to as the first Irish Cubist, Swanzey gave us works like “Woman with White Bonnet” and “Reading the ‘Employment Offers.’”
Hans Hofmann, 1880-1966
The works of Hofmann include “Kaeidos” and “Table-Version II.”
Jean Metzinger, 1883-1967
“Two Nudes in an Exotic Landscape” and “Femme Au Chapeau” are attributed to Metzinger.
Josef Albers, 1888-1976
Included in the works of Albers are “Growing” and “Study for Tenayuca.”
Paul Nash, 1889-1946
Paul Nash contributed several wonderful paintings, including “The Menin Road” and “Existence.”
David Bromberg, 1890-1957
Bromberg did more than one self-portrait, and also painted “Mount Saint Hilarion and the Castle Ruins” and “At the Window.”
Jean Arp, 1887-1966
Works by Arp include “Nuit Recachetie” and “Before My Birth.”
Mark Tobey, 1890-1976
Mark Tobey contributed “Red Man, White Man, Black Man” and “New Crescent.”
Andre Masson, 1896-1987
“Battle of Fishes” and “The Kill” are only two of the fine paintings created by Andre Masson.
Evie Hone, 1894-1955
Hone gave “The Dining Table” and several stained glass pieces to the world. Evie Hone was and Irish Cubist.
Adolph Gottlieb, 1903-1974
“Flotsam at Noon” and “Man Looking at Woman” are among some of Gottlieb’s known paintings.
Barnett Newman, 1905-1970
Newman was adept at using lines and color together and had a large impact on the abstract form referred to as Post-Painterly. His works include “Voice of Fire” and “The Wild.”
Jackson Pollock, 1912-1956
“The Key” and “Easter and the Totem” are only two of the many paintings by this well-known artist. He is also considered the catalyst behind the ‘action painting’ movement.
Franz Kline, 1910-1962
Kline was known for frequently using the sharp contrasts produced when shades of white and black are used together. An American artist, two of his works are “Chief” and “Le Gros.”
Roy Lichtenstein, 1923-1997
Lichtenstein may have gained fame through his production of pop comic strips, but he was also a fine abstract artist, contributing works such as “Modern Painting with Clef” and “Modular Painting with Four Panels, #1”.
•Antonio Saura, 1930-1998
This Spanish painter was born in Huesca, and he had a style which was referred to as ‘semi-abstract.’ His works include “Mutacion” and “Perro de Goya.”
Gerhard Richter, born 1932
The German abstract artist Richter is known for Neo-Expressionism. Two of his contributed works are “Mrs. Wolleh with Children” and “Christa and Wolfi.”
Frank Auerbach, born 1931
Here is a British artist who is also considered semi-abstract, and his contributions to the form include “Head of E.O.W. IV” and “Looking Towards Mornington Crescent St.”
Georg Baselitz, born 1938
Baselitz is probably best known for the way he would feature his painted subjects in a transposed fashion. This can be seen in the works “Bottoms Up” and “Dinner in Dresden.”
While the above artists are some of the most well-known and loved, there are too many who have contributed incredible works of abstraction, and each one has impacted the various sub-genres for which they are associated. With research, one can find complete lists of artists who have worked in any movement which was or is considered abstract, and you can easily look at any of the pieces contributed by them by browsing online.
Changes in Abstract Art over Time
With each new artist comes a new perspective and fresh forms of expression. Personality, talent, and experience all play a vital role in each individual’s contributions. Other factors which play a part in changing the face of abstractionism include cultural and political influences, as well as the varying mindsets which surround each as the years go by. In the abstract form’s beginnings, much of what we saw was based on a real subject, yet the work itself seemed to skew off the course of that of the common abstract pieces the world was used to seeing due to the free use of shape, line, and color. The result worked, which consisted of what appeared to be chaos but was indeed expressive to the point of being embraced heartily by the public. Today abstract art is held in high regard under any sub-category, bearing any appearance and form, and completed using any technique. The more abstract the work, the more expressive and artistic it is considered.
It is important to keep in mind that this art form, like any, has literally evolved; changes in the past, present, and future have happened and will certainly continue to happen. A thorough study, even if done simply to learn to love the abstract itself, will show anyone how changes have taken place by the theory of abstraction itself. To fully appreciate the effect of time’s passage on this form, one must observe various examples contributed over the lifespan of abstract art.
The Major Contributing Role of Abstraction to the Art World
To sum up the purpose of abstract art briefly, it is a method of bringing the mind, will, and emotions and making them a tangible, visual part of our existence. This can only be accomplished by finely tuning oneself to a personal level of understanding, which succeeds in breaking one apart from reality, not melding them with it. It enables the individual to think creatively, outside of the proverbial box. This, in and of itself, is a major contributing factor to personal growth, both for the creator of these works and the viewer as well. No longer can an observer of the abstract see the world in black and white; at least, not if they have been touched in any manner by the piece or pieces they are viewing. Suddenly the world becomes full of possibility that has never been recognized before. An understanding of the artist and a means of personal expression through the observation and ownership of their work is a catalyst for the liberation of all.
This is the role of abstract art in the world and on those who inhabit it. So important is its role that it has successfully become an appreciated entity all its own. It is filled with life and color and individuality that is fully representative of the human race and all of its glory, and it also succeeds in helping to convey emotion in a way that no other medium can quite do. While traditional realism in art provides beauty and stability to our world, the abstract forms balance that out by taking things to the other extreme, and it is only through this balance that people can see the differences in each other, while fully appreciating the things which are, indeed, similar.
The years have given us some of the most incredible works of art, in many forms. Anything created which expresses is indeed an art and however misunderstood abstraction in art has been, it is indeed one of the rawest, purest forms. Its acceptance by the public over time was, and is, inevitable. Even those who naysay cannot deny having seen a work which inspired them to one end or another, and many would be shocked to learn that the motivational piece was certainly abstract. While its form may not be a flavor suited to every artistic palate, it is a strong, strong genre, and becomes more and more popular every day. Cast your own eye over the works of abstract artists past and present, and you will find something that captures you. Study the work and come to understand the artist’s use of shape and color. You will certainly be surprised by the fact that you, too, are a lover of abstract art.
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