Light Red Over Black 1957 Mark Rothko 1903-1970 Purchased 1959 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T00275

What actually is Abstraction? How to Understand Abstract Art.

Abstractly speaking, the term “abstraction” in its main sense is a conceptual processwhere general rules and concepts come from the usage and classification of specificexamples, literal symbols, primary principles or other methods. “An abstraction” is the outcome of this process. The word “abstract” means to separate or withdrawsomething from something else.

In the world of art, “abstraction” is used as a synonym for abstract art in general. It refers to art unconcerned with the literal or realistic depiction of things from the visible world. However, it might refer to an object or image which has been distilledfrom the real world, or even another work of art. In the 20th century the trend toward abstraction coincided with advances in science, technology, and changes in urban life, eventually reflecting an interest in psychoanalytic theory. Since then, abstraction was manifested through colour, freedom from objective context, and a reduction of form to basic geometric designs. Any artwork that reshapes the natural world forexpressive purposes is called abstract.

As mentioned earlier, abstract art is art that does not attempt to represent an accurate depiction of a visual reality but instead uses shapes, colours, forms and gestural marks to achieve its effect. Prior to the 20th century these abstract elements were used by artists to describe, illustrate, or reproduce the world of nature and of human civilisation. Exposition and representation dominated over the expressivefunction. Abstract art is often seen as carrying a moral dimension, in that it can beseen to stand for virtues such as order, purity and simplicity.

There are many theoretical ideas behind abstract art. While some have taken the idea of ‘art for art’s sake’ (that art should be purely about the creation of beautiful effects), others have proposed art can or should be like music, in that just as music is patterns of sound, art’s effects should be created by pure patterns of form, colour and line. The idea, derived from the ancient Greek philosopher Plato, that thehighest form of beauty lies not in the forms of the real world but in geometry, is alsoused in discussion of abstract art, as is the idea that abstract art, since it does notrepresent the material world, can be seen to represent the spiritual.

Timothy Hawkesworth – UNTITLED I, 2004

A practicing artist Timothy Hawkesworth shares his philosophy of abstract art by saying: “For me ‘abstraction’ is not an art movement, a moment in art history or a style of painting. It is a crucial integral connector to the vitality of painting. What isextraordinary for me is that as I go out past what I know—past where I am controllingwhat I do—to find coherency and form. Contact with this wordless coherency, the gift of form is a profound homecoming.”

Let’s have a closer look at the history and origins of abstract art. The periodof Romanticism had put forward ideas about art that denied classicism’s emphasison imitation and idealisation and had instead stressed the role of imagination and ofthe unconscious as the essential creative factors. Gradually many painters of this period began to accept the new freedom and the new responsibilities implied as a result of these attitudes. Maurice Denis’s statement of 1890, “It should be remembered that a picture—before being a war-horse, a nude, or an anecdote of some sort—is essentially a flat surface covered with colours assembled in a certain order,” summarises the feeling among the Symbolist and Post-Impressionist artists of his time.

All the major movements of the first two decades of the 20th century, including Fauvism, Expressionism, Cubism, and Futurism, in some way emphasised the gap between art and natural appearances. Originating from these early 20th century avant-garde art movements, represented by the work of such artists as Sonia Delaunay, Juan Gris, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Paul Cezanne, Paul Klee, Henri Matisse, Wassily Kandinsky, Egon Schiele, Umberto Boccioni, Gino Severini, Giacomo Balla, Andre Derain, Piet Mondrian and many-many other prosperous names, whose work still depended on the visual world for their subject matter, it still triggered the evolution towards more extreme approaches to abstraction.

Windows Open Simultaneously (First Part, Third Motif) 1912 Robert Delaunay 1885-1941 Purchased 1967 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T00920

During the four or five years preceding World War I, such artists as Robert Delaunay, Wassily Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich, and Vladimir Tatlin turned to fundamentally abstract art. Kandinsky was traditionally regarded as having been the first modern artist to paint purely abstract pictures containing no recognisable objects, in 1910–11. That narrative, however, was later questioned, especially in the21st century with the renewed interest in Swedish artist Hilma af Klint.

Swinging 1925 Wassily Kandinsky 1866-1944 Purchased 1979 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T02344
https://www.guggenheim.org/exhibition/hilma-af-klint

During World War I the emergence of the de Stijl group in the Netherlands and ofthe Dada group in Zürich further widened the spectrum of abstract art. Abstract artdid not flourish between World Wars I and II. Overpowered by totalitarian politics and by art movements placing renewed emphasis on more realistic imagery, such as Surrealism and Social Realism, it received little notice. But after World War II an energetic American school of abstract painting called Abstract Expressionism emerged and had wide influence. This movement is represented by such incredible artists as Louise Bourgeois, Willem de Kooning, Helen Frankenthaler, Adolph Gottlieb, Franz Kline, Lee Krasner, Norman Lewis, Louise Nevelson, Barnett Newman, Isamu Noguchi, Jackson Pollock, Ad Reinhardt, Mark Rothko, Carolee Schneemann and more.

Landscape at Stanton Street 1971 Willem de Kooning 1904-1997 Purchased 1986 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/P77158

Beginning in the 1950s abstract art was an accepted and widely practiced approach within European and American painting and sculpture. Abstract art puzzled and indeed confused many people, but for those who accepted its non-referential language there is no doubt as to its value and achievements.

Looking at abstract art is the vital practice towards learning to understand it more. We have prepared for you a carefully curated selection of Abstract – Expressionism Art that we have here at The Platform:

Text by olha.korovina

One thought on “How to Understand Abstract Art

  • Paul BoothMay 16, 2021 at 11:25 am

    When you withdraw something from something else, and then repeat that process, ad infinitum, then you, surely, end up with something so far removed from the original that it has virtually no connection. Brainwashing and intimidating people into believing that a mere daub is great art undermines the whole artistic/creative endeavour. If people need a lengthy course of “re-education” to “appreciate” art, then it’s surely time for the art world to take a serious look at itself.

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