Abstract Art: Abstract Artists and Art History

Abstract art is a broad term for all art that does not have a recognizable subject. It can therefore be abstract and, for example, expressionistic at the same time.

What Does “Abstract” Mean?

The word “abstract” means to separate something from its concrete or physical form or representation. “Abstract” can also refer to something more theoretical or conceptual and less concrete or tangible.

In art, “abstract” refers to a style or approach where the artist does not seek to represent real objects or figures but instead focuses on colors, shapes, lines, textures, and other elements to create a visual expression or mood. Abstract art can range from geometric patterns to more emotional and expressive expressions.

In mathematics and science, “abstract” refers to ideas and concepts that are not tied to any concrete or physical manifestation but exist only in thought or theory. Abstract concepts in mathematics and science can be very useful for describing and understanding complex phenomena that would otherwise be difficult to visualize or handle concretely.

What Is Abstract Painting?

Abstract painting is visual art that does not resemble anything recognizable. In other words, it is non-figurative.

Abstract painting is a form of painting where the artist does not seek to represent real objects or figures but instead focuses on colors, shapes, lines, textures, and other elements to create a visual expression or mood. Abstract painting can range from strictly geometric forms to more emotional and expressive expressions.

In abstract painting, it is often up to the viewer to interpret and find meaning in the work. This means that the painting can have different meanings and interpretations for different people.

What Is the Opposite of Abstract Art?

The opposite of abstract art is recognizable or figurative art. Figurative art is characterized by representing recognizable objects or figures, whereas abstract art often has no direct representation of reality and may focus more on colors, shapes, and lines. Figurative art can include portraits, landscape paintings, still lifes, and other types of art that depict objects and figures, while abstract art can range from geometric patterns to more emotional and expressive expressions.

Sometimes it can be difficult to determine whether art is abstract or has a recognizable subject.

History of Abstract Art

Abstract art emerged in the West in the twentieth century but has existed as Islamic and Asian art for many thousands of years. Specifically, it is said that abstract art in the West started around 1910, and in 1912, “Über das Geistige in der Kunst” was published, which is the Russian painter and art theorist Wassily Kandinsky’s manifesto that deals with the spiritual in art. These new forms of artistic expression broke with traditional representative (where pictures represented or resembled something) art. Since then, abstract art has evolved and continued to be a significant and popular style in modern art.

Über das Geistige in der Kunst

“Über das Geistige in der Kunst” (On the Spiritual in Art) is a manifesto written by the Russian-German artist Wassily Kandinsky in 1910. The manifesto is a central work in art history and is an early attempt to formulate and define the ideology and philosophy of abstract art.

In the manifesto, Kandinsky argues that art should have a spiritual dimension and that the artist should seek to express the spiritual through art. He argues that the artist should free themselves from traditional representation and instead focus on colors, shapes, and lines to express emotions and ideas.

Kandinsky also writes about the importance of abstraction in art and how abstract forms can be more “spiritual” than representative forms because they can free themselves from the physical and material and instead express pure ideas and emotions.

“Über das Geistige in der Kunst” was an important text for the development of abstract art and inspired many artists in the 20th century to experiment with new forms of artistic expression that broke with traditional representative art.

How to Create an Abstract Painting?

In abstract art, the focus is on colors and shapes, but there are no rules to follow. One can talk about the (important) feeling the painter has while painting and the feeling the viewer should achieve by contemplating the work.

An abstract work does not have to be beautiful, ugly, or subject to long analysis. It can simply be a tool for emotions.

Here are some steps to help create an abstract painting:

  • Choose Colors: Select colors you want to work with that will create the mood you wish to express in your painting.
  • Choose Materials: Select the type of materials you will use for your painting, such as acrylic paint, oil pastels, or spray paint.
  • Paint the First Layer: Start by painting a first layer on the canvas or paper. This can be a simple base color that forms the background for your painting.
  • Experiment with Techniques: Experiment with different techniques and ways of applying the color to the canvas. Try spraying, dripping, or splattering paint on the canvas to create different effects and textures.
  • Work in Layers: Build your painting in layers and work with different colors and textures. You can work on covering some areas with darker colors and create contrasts with lighter colors.
  • Add Details: Add details to your painting that can create visual interest, such as lines or patterns.
  • Check the Overall Impression: When your painting is finished, step back and look at the overall impression. Consider if you need to adjust some areas to achieve the desired result.

Remember, abstract art gives you great freedom to explore and experiment with different techniques and materials, and it is up to you as an artist to find your own approach and style.

Famous Abstract Artists

  • Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944): Russian painter and pioneer of abstract art.
  • Hilma af Klint (1862-1944): Swedish painter who created some of the earliest known abstract paintings.
  • Piet Mondrian (1872-1944): Dutch painter and one of the earliest to create abstract painting.
  • Kazimir Malevich (1878-1935): Russian painter and pioneer of abstract art and the Suprematism movement.
  • Sonia Delaunay (1885-1979): Ukrainian-French painter and designer, a pioneer of abstract art and the Orphism movement. Delaunay painted the image that accompanies this article.
  • Joan Miró (1893-1983): Spanish painter, sculptor, and ceramicist known for his abstract, surrealist works.
  • Jackson Pollock (1912-1956): American painter and pioneer of the Abstract Expressionism movement.
  • Agnes Martin (1912-2004): Canadian-American painter who created abstract works with subtle colors and repeated geometric forms.
  • Sonja Ferlov Mancoba (1911-1984): Danish sculptor and painter who was one of the first Danish artists to work with abstraction. She was known for her sculptures in stone and wood and abstract paintings.
  • Mark Rothko (1903-1970): American painter known for his large, colorful, and abstract works.
  • Lee Krasner (1908-1984): American painter and one of the most important contributors to the Abstract Expressionism movement.
  • Willem de Kooning (1904-1997): Dutch-American painter and one of the leading figures in the Abstract Expressionism movement.
  • Lee Bontecou (1931-): American painter and sculptor known for her abstract, organically inspired sculptures.
  • Yayoi Kusama (1929-): Japanese painter and sculptor who has created a range of abstract, polka-dotted works.
  • Lynda Benglis (1941-): American painter and sculptor known for her abstract, organically inspired sculptures.
  • Cy Twombly (1928-2011): American painter, sculptor, and photographer known for his abstract, gestural work.
  • Anselm Kiefer (1945-): German painter and sculptor known for his abstract, expressive works that often involve historical and political themes.
  • Maja Lisa Engelhardt (1956-): Danish painter and sculptor who works with various materials and creates abstract works with a strong sense of spirituality.
  • Agnes Denes (1931-): Hungarian-American artist who creates abstract works focusing on nature and science.
  • Judy Chicago (1939-): American artist known for her feminist perspective and creating abstract works focusing on women’s experiences.
  • Asger Jorn (1914-1973): Danish painter and one of the most important representatives of the European CoBrA movement, who created abstract and expressive works.

All iconic painters who have each contributed in their own way to the art we take for granted today.

If a famous or unknown artist paints an entirely black painting today, we might not think it’s anything special. But when Malevich exhibited his work “Black Square” for the first time in 1915, it caused a scandal and shook the concept of art.

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