Blue, Grey, And Yellow Abstract Wall Art
“Abstract art has been with us in one form or another for almost a century now and has proved to be not only a long-standing crux of cultural debate but a self-renewing, vital tradition of creativity. We know that it works, even if we’re still not sure why that’s so, or exactly what to make of that fact.” -Pictures of Nothing: Abstract Art Since Pollock by Kirk Varnedoe
What is Abstract Art?
You may like abstract art outright, hate it or not understand exactly what it is, but since you’ve started reading this, I can at least assume you’re curious about this perplexing art form that evades definition and artistic classification. Abstract art has been around for well over 100 years. Some might even assert that abstraction started with the cave paintings of thousands of years ago—and has held its own against changing art movements, manifestos, and testimonials for all these centuries. There is no right or wrong answer to this question. Abstract art is open to interpretation, and that is one of the beautiful things about it. Abstract art doesn't jump out and declare "THIS is what I'm all about." Instead, abstract art requires you to have an open, inquiring mind; you must enter the painting and see where it takes you. Abstract art gives you the freedom to explore the artwork and assign your own meaning to the piece. This intensely personal process enriches a viewer's experience of an artwork. “Abstraction allows man to see with his mind what he cannot see physically with his eyes… Abstract art enables the artist to perceive beyond the tangible, to extract the infinite out of the finite. It is the emancipation of the mind. It is an exploration into unknown areas.”
– Arshile Gorky
What is the Idea Behind Abstract Art?
The basic premise of abstraction - incidentally, a key issue of aesthetics - is that the formal qualities of a painting (or sculpture) are just as important (if not more so) than its representational qualities. Let's start with a very simple illustration. A picture may contain a very bad drawing of a man, but if its colors are very beautiful, it may nevertheless strike us as being a beautiful picture. This shows how a formal quality (color) can override a representational one (drawing).
On the other hand, a photorealist painting of a terraced house may demonstrate exquisite representationalism, but the subject matter, color scheme, and general composition may be totally boring. The philosophical justification for appreciating the value of a work of art's formal qualities stems from Plato's statement that:
"straight lines and circles are... not only beautiful... but eternally and absolutely beautiful."
In essence, Plato means that non-naturalistic images (circles, squares, triangles and so on) possess an absolute, unchanging beauty. Thus a painting can be appreciated for its line and color alone - it doesn't need to depict a natural object or scene. The French painter, lithographer, and art theorist Maurice Denis (1870-1943) was getting at the same thing when he wrote: "Remember that a picture - before being a warhorse or a nude woman... is essentially a flat surface covered with colors assembled in a certain order." Some abstract artists explain themselves by saying that they want to create the visual equivalent of a piece of music, which can be appreciated purely for itself, without having to ask the question "what is this painting of?" Whistler, for instance, used to give some of his paintings musical titles like Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Chelsea (1871, Tate Collection).
Modern Abstract Art
The definition. Abstraction literally means the distancing of an idea from objective referents. That means, in the visual arts, pulling a depiction away from any literal, representational reference points. You can also call abstract art nonrepresentational art. Artistically, abstraction is important because it has freed artists from objective reality and allowed them to do two things: experiment with form and give more free reign to their imaginative selves. Of course, these two things are linked - but they are also separate. Abstraction could have been a container constrained within academic or programmatic rules of some sort. But it was not. It took place within a historic period when cities and economies were tumbling, wars were taking place, and all bets were off. This almost worldwide social chaos set the artistic form loose to explore without limit. And it has done so, resulting in a (continuing) rich trove of diverse artistry. For a long while, many in the art world, especially the poobahs who pronounce, seemed to believe that abstraction, and its cousin, nonobjective art, were the grand and inevitable evolution of painting - and that all other forms, particularly the traditional ones, would just quietly fade away. The attitude was that they would likely wither from irrelevance and hence, disuse and inattention.
Abstract art can also make people uneasy because they don't automatically know what the art is "about" just by a cursory glance. Or they assume that because it doesn't look like anything, then it is not "about" anything. Abstract art doesn't contain recognizable objects, so there is nothing to grasp or hold onto. This can be very confusing, even threatening, to some who are not used to assigning their own meaning to what they see before them. The truth is, abstract art is not "about nothing". At its basis, it is about form, color, line, texture, pattern, composition and process. These are the formal qualities of artwork because they describe what the art looks like and how it is created. Abstract art is an exploration of these formal qualities. Meaning is derived from how these formal qualities are used to create a visual (and/or visceral, cerebral, emotional, etc) experience.
History and Styles of Abstract Art
Stylistically, abstract art included the movements of Surrealism, Dadaism, Cubism, and Fauvism. Other abstract art forms include Suprematism, Art Informel, Neo-Plasticism, and De Stijl. Included in the collection of famous artists favoring the abstract are Pablo Picasso, Piet Mondrian, Wassily Kandinsky, and many more.
The roots of abstract painting, though, can be found with Post-Impressionism. Post-Impressionism was an art movement developed in France just before the turn of the 20th century. In these early days, you might be able to make out a picture of a person, but up close it might have been constructed of planes and angles. For example, Georges Seurat created abstract art with a technique called pointillism. Pointillism is using dots to create people and places.
Wassily Kandinsky, of Russian descent, lived in Germany during the Bauhaus movement. He was one of the pioneers of abstract art using form and color in his paintings.
Vincent van Gogh, another French artist, is an example of Post-Impressionism. He focused more on color and light in his works, giving the impression of light dancing on the fields and meadows he drew.
Pablo Picasso, a famous Spanish artist from the 20th Century, started his career painting representational pieces. In around 1910, he developed Cubism, which is the drawing of planes and angles that vaguely looked like the people he was drawing, but looked more like geometry.
Man Ray was one of the famous Surrealist artists. Surrealism was a movement that included visual arts and writing that developed in the 1920s.
Abstract Expressionism developed in the United States after World War II. Abstract art came over from Europe as people fled from war-torn areas and came to America. In the mid-1940s.
Kandinsky, Expressionism & Fauvism Demonstrate The Power of Color
The use of color and shape to move the spectator was paramount in the development of abstract art. Impressionism, including the variants of Neo-Impressionist Pointillism and Post-Impressionism, had already drawn attention to the power of color, but German Expressionism made it the cornerstone of painting. One of its leaders, Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) published a book entitled 'On The Spiritual In Art' (1911), which became the foundation text of abstract painting. Kandinsky was convinced by the emotional properties of shape, line and above all, color in painting. (He had an abnormal sensitivity to color, which he could hear as well as see, a condition called synaesthesia.) He believed a painting should not be analyzed intellectually but allowed to reach those parts of the brain that connect with music.
Even so, he warned that serious art must not be lead by the desire for abstraction into becoming mere decoration. Most German Expressionists (eg. Ernst Kirchner, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Max Ernst, Alexei Jawlensky, Oskar Kokoschka, Franz Marc, August Macke, and Max Beckmann) were not abstract painters, but their vivid palette - along with Kandinsky's theoretical writings - alerted other more abstract-inclined artists to the power of color as a means of achieving their goals. The parallel Parisian avant-garde style of Fauvism (1905-08) merely underlined the effect of color with works like Red Studio (1911, MoMA, NY) by Henri Matisse.
This type of intellectual abstract art emerged from about 1908 onwards. An early rudimentary form was Cubism, specifically analytical Cubism - which rejected linear perspective and the illusion of spatial depth in a painting, in order to focus on its 2-D aspects. Geometric Abstraction is also known as Concrete Art and Non-Objective Art. As you might expect, it is characterized by non-naturalistic imagery, typically geometrical shapes such as circles, squares, triangles, rectangles, and so forth. In a sense - by containing absolutely no reference to, or association with, the natural world - it is the purest form of abstraction. One might say that concrete art is to abstraction, what veganism is to vegetarianism. Geometrical abstraction is exemplified by Black Circle (1913, State Russian Museum, St Petersburg) painted by Kasimir Malevich (1878-1935) (founder of Suprematism); Broadway Boogie-Woogie (1942, MoMA, New York) by Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) (founder of Neo-Plasticism); and Composition VIII (The Cow) (1918, MoMA, New York) by Theo Van Doesburg (1883-1931) (founder of De Stijl and Elementarism). Other examples include the Homage to the Square pictures by Josef Albers (1888-1976), and Op-Art originated by Victor Vasarely (1906-1997).
Minimalist Abstract Art
This type of abstraction was a back-to-basics sort of avant-garde art, stripped of all external references and associations. It is what you see - nothing else. It often takes a geometrical form and is dominated by sculptors, although it also includes some great painters. For more information on minimalist art, see below ("Postmodernist Abstraction").
Today we can see that there is a rebirth of painterly painting with greater complexity and in some cases, narrative. We also see abstraction expanding to include a greater human element. It's all becoming richer and more interesting - appropriate as the reflection of an increasingly complex culture. Today the new forms of abstraction have lost their formerly lustrous crown as the "head of the heap", but have gained a fresh role as one of many significant aspects of post-contemporary art.
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Blue, Grey, And Yellow Modern Abstract Art Print
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