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Abstract Art

Updated on August 18, 2010

Abstract Art usually means painting and sculpture in which the materials of art (for example, paint and canvas) and the ways in which they are used (forms and colors) are the means that convey the artist's purpose. Many 20th century artists feel that they can express "reality" most directly in abstract art.

Origins of Abstract Art

When a painting or sculpture distorts or exaggerates the image of a recognizable figure or subject, it is often said to have been abstracted from that figure or subject. In the first decade of the 20th century, Henri Matisse exaggerated and heightened "natural" color, and Pablo Picasso fragmented and rearranged the "natural" contours of his subjects. These artists were working on the threshold of abstract art. In 1913, Wassily Kandinsky painted the presumably first pure abstraction- Improvisation No. 30. Its forms were free, and its colors were strong and violent. Rather than being representational, the work "expressed" an emotional condition.

Billy Alexander
Billy Alexander

Development of Abstract Art

In the early 1920's the work of the de Stijl movement (named after its periodical) was almost classical in form, contrasting sharply with Kandinsky's experimental freedom. Its leading exponent was Piet Mondrian, whose art relied chiefly on horizontal and vertical lines of differing widths. In the Soviet Union, Kasi-mir Malevich experimented with geometric forms and used the terms "nonobjective" and "su-prematist" to describe his work. His most famous painting, White on White, is a white square placed against a white background. Jean Arp called his works "concrete art" because they represented only their own concrete sensuous existence as forms and colors. The most ambitious manifestation of abstract art is "abstract expressionism," best represented by the drip paintings of Jackson Pollock and the sweeping brushwork of Willem de Kooning.

In its early years, abstract art met with opposition, especially in Nazi Germany, where it was considered decadent, and in the Soviet Union under Stalin. Even in democratic countries some critics considered abstract art "subversive" (aesthetically) and incomprehensible. Today, however, this type of art is generally accepted as a legitimate form of artistic expression.


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    • Silver Poet profile image

      Silver Poet 5 years ago from the computer of a midwestern American writer

      I'm glad abstracts became popular. It would be crummy if everything were the same and we could not experiment with new styles.