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Abstract Art

Related: Abstract Expressionism - abstract - figurative - modern art - representation - art

Contrast: figurative art

"We stand at the threshold of an altogether new art- an art with forms which mean or represent nothing, recall nothing, yet which can stimulate our souls as deeply as only the tones of music have been able to." --August Endell, 1898.

Since the arrival of abstract art the term figurative art has been used to refer to any form of modern art that retains strong references to the real world. [May 2006]

The association between abstract art and free jazz is a long and obvious one, though potentially misleading. It begins with Atlantic's use of Jackson Pollock on the cover of Free Jazz by Ornette Coleman's Double Quartet. --Brian Morton, Wire Magazine, Apr 2004

Rain, Steam and Speed - The Great Western Railway painted (1844) - William Turner
This painting is a precursor to Impressionism and abstract art

Nocturne in Black and Gold, the Falling Rocket, ca. 1875
James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903)


Abstract art is now generally understood to mean art that does not depict objects in the natural world, but instead uses shapes and colours in a non-representational or non-objective way. In the early 20th century, the term was more often used to describe art, such as Cubist and Futurist art, that does represent the natural world, but does so by capturing something of its immutable intrinsic qualities rather than by imitating its external appearance.

Abstract pattern making has an ancient history dating back to the earliest decorations on textiles, pottery and so on. However, the idea that the arrangement of shapes and colours is not simply to be understood as design, but as fine art dates from the nineteenth century when photography began to make the illustrative function of visual art obsolete. Even before the widespread use of photography some artists, such as James McNeill Whistler were placing greater emphasis on visual sensation than the depiction of objects. Whistler argued that art should concern itself with the harmonious arrangement of colours, just as music deals with the harmonious arrangement of sounds. Whistler's painting Nocturne in Black and Gold (1875) is often seen as a major move towards abstraction. Later artists such as Wassily Kandinsky argued that modern science dealt with dynamic forces, revealing that matter was ultimately spiritual in character. Art should display the spiritual forces behind the visual world. Wassily Kandinsky and Kasimir Malevich are generally seen as the first fully abstract artists. Kandinky's art is sometimes called 'soft edged', while Malevich's is 'hard edged'. This distinction is repeated in later abstract artists. The blurred, dynamic lines and colors used by Kandinsky developed into Abstract Expressionism, which the use of overlapping or interacting geometrical forms is found in the work of Piet Mondrian and many later artists such as the op artists of the 1960s. --http://wikipedia.org/wiki/Abstract_art

Amos Vogel on abstract art [...]

by Amos Vogel Film As a Subversive Art (1974) - Amos Vogel

A beautiful and true story is told of the abstract painter Frank Kubka. In the course of a walk, he apologized to nature for having attempted to copy her and promised not to do so again. (Michel Seuphor, Abstract Painting, 1964 )

There have always existed in the plastic arts tendencies towards forms and images undefiled by representations of reality. This can be seen in Neolithic abstractions, Egyptian designs and Indian patterns, Byzantine artifacts and Renaissance concerns with structure and design. In our day, having removed reality from the image, attempts are being made to remove the image itself.

In 1898, the young Munich art nouveau architect August Endell foresaw this:

We stand at the threshold of an altogether new art, an art with forms which mean or represent nothing, recall nothing, yet which can stimulate our souls as deeply as only the tones of music have been able to. (Frank Whitford, Expressionism, 1970)

There could be no better definition of the aims and aspirations of abstract art. It was an art, as Herbert Read wrote, that was to echo basic laws and structures of the universe, "liberated from the tyranny of appearances"; an "objective" investigation of colors, shapes, lines, and visual rhythms in order to create force patterns capable of evoking emotions and feelings.

Elements of three tendencies converged in abstract art; the surrealist and dadaist heritage expressed in abstract shapes related to the subconcious (Arp, Miro, Klee, the Eggeling-Richter films Diagonale Symphonie and Rhythmus 21, and Jackson Pollock's "automatic painting"): the romantic realism of Gauguin, Matisse, and the Fauvists which led to the "hot", sensuous abstractions of Kandinski; and the cubist attempts to reduce objects to their essence, which connected Cezanne, Picasso, and Braque to the "cool", meticulous abstractions of Mondrian. [...] --Amos Vogel Film As a Subversive Art (1974) - Amos Vogel


(1) Michel Seuphor, Abstract Painting, 1964 (2) Frank Whitford, Expressionism, 1970 (3) Piet Mondrian, "A New Realism", in Plastic Art and Pure Plastic Art, 1945 (4) Rudolf Arnheim, Toward a Psychology of Art, 1966 (5) Gene Youngblood, Expanded Cinema, 1970 (6) Youngblood (7) Kenneth Knowlton, "Computer-animated Movies", in Cybernetic Serendipity, 1969

František Kupka

František Kupka (September 23, 1871 - June 24, 1957) was a Czech painter. He was born in Opocno in eastern Bohemia. He studied at the Prague Art Academy, Akademie der Bildenden Küste in Vienna, Académie Julian in Paris and the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

Kupka's contribution to the early phases of the abstract movement is increasingly being recognized. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frantisek_Kupka [Sept 2004]

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