History and Development of Abstract Art

Abstract Art

Native Art has always contained abstract elements but our current perception of abstract art dates back to around 1910 and the cubist art of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. Cubism eventually led to the pure abstract art created by Piet Mondrian and Russian abstract artists such as Wassily Kandinsky. Although cubism was influenced by the abstract elements of native art (as in Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon) for the first time in art history artists began to paint abstract art as a result of a deliberate artistic and philosophical development.

In the mid-19th century philosophers had begun to doubt the sincerity and usefulness of classical art, with its emphasis on technique and its dependence on nature as a model. At the same time the art of painting had become devoid of inspiration and innovative thought. The impressionists provided new inspiration but their emphasis on first impressions failed to convince men like Van Gogh, Gauguin and, ultimately, Picasso who perceived impressionism as shallow and sought more powerful means of expression.

Post-impressionists (such as Van Gogh and Gauguin) aimed to express their inner world and Gauguin would begin to paint from his imagination rather than to use nature as a model. Braque had pioneered the technique of “faceting” an image, a way to capture the essence of an object rather than it’s appearance. Picasso used the geometry of Braque’s faceted paintings to create a style that served as the link between Braque’s cubist style and the pure abstract art that followed from cubism. From that point abstract art could be roughly divided into two directions:

Geometric abstraction

The first refers to a style that consists of the depiction of geometric objects: squares, rectangles, triangles etc. The prime example of geometric abstraction is Piet Mondrian’s neo-plasticism, a style that consists of rectangles painted in the three primary colors: red, yellow and blue. Geometric abstraction emphasizes the conceptual, intellectual side of art.

Painterly automatism

Painterly automatism is about emotionality and spontaneity. “Painterly” refers to the technique of painting in which the brushstroke remains clearly visible and serves as a means of expression. “Automatism” refers to the intuitive and spontaneous aspect of painting, as if the paint is applied without thought.
As abstract expressionists felt limited by the geometric and cubist boundaries, abstract art began to gain expression and at the same time “lose shape”. Abstract paintings by Jackson Pollock demonstrate how abstract expressionism moved towards the production of paintings without conscious control. When the emphasis on form is reduced, or absent, in abstract art and expression dominates then the appreciation of such abstract art becomes instinctive and emotional.

Contemporary paintings no longer reflect the direct contrast between abstract art and figurative art, but either merge together in paintings by contemporary artists such as Claire Malan and Samira Harris, or exist independently in pure figurative paintings or pure abstract paintings like those of Alison Pilkington.

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