Abstract Art

1907 – Present Day

Abstract Art is the umbrella term for a myriad of art movements that share in common a departure from realistic depiction. Each of the movements fall somewhere on a scale between semi-abstraction and wholly abstract.

This movement embodies the idea that the visual elements of the painting are important in their own right. For instance, the colors of paint, or the line of a drawing, or the texture of the media are as important as the realistic portrayal of an object in a realistic artwork. These elements are beautiful on their own without having to be representational of anything. These elements can be used to create beauty, moods, feelings, or sensations.

Origins and Historical Importance

It is argued that abstract art has existed since the beginning of time in the designs on pottery, the exaggeration of features in ancient sculpture, and in patterns on textiles.

The Abstract Art movement as we know it today evolved out of art movements in the late 19th century that were moving away from the previous masters of realism, such as the Impressionist and Expressionist movements and moved into Cubism and Fauvism.

The movement hit its stride in 1940s New York City. A group of artists that were mostly known to each other created the “New York School”, a group of abstract artists engaged in abstract expressionism that included greats like Jackson Pollack, Lee Krasner, and Willem de Kooning. They valued movement, expression, and spontaneity.

Abstract artists were exploring the processes and meanings of creation for their own reasons. It is a misnomer that these were artists that painted this way because they couldn’t paint realism. Their early works do show that they had mastered realism and were looking for something original and new.

With the interest of art collectors like Peggy Guggenheim, and art critics, this movement gained popularity.

The Abstract Art movement encourages both artists and the public to think in new ways and to reflect on both the expansive and the minimal and to seek new perspectives.

Key Highlights

  • Kandinsky – Wassily Kandinsky was a Russian painter in the Expressionist movement that was one of the earliest painters to break out the abstract movement. He founded the German Expressionist movement, Der Blaue Reiter. His book, “On the Spiritual in Art” inspired and became a cornerstone of the Abstract movement.
  • Cubism – Primarily led by Picasso and Braque, Cubism was practiced in the early careers of the most famous Abstract artists. Cubism sought to take the natural shape things and to reimagine them on a 2D canvas with 3D aspects, or sometimes to reimagine a thing reconstructed altogether.
  • Abstract Expressionism – The works of Pollack, Krasner, and the rest of the New York school are often what comes to mind when a person hears the term “Abstract Art”. This time period valued exploring the psyche and feelings of the artist in the process of making the work.
  • Russian Suprematism – Kasimir Malevich founded this movement and named it. The movement believes in the supremacy of sensation in art. This work is characterized most often by simple shapes of color on a single color (often white) canvas.
  • De Stijl – created by Theo van Doesburg, this abstract movement was a collection of Dutch artists with their own journal and included both painters and sculptors. One of the most famous members was Piet Mondrian, who was known for his compositions of clean lines and blocks in three to four primary colors.
  • There are many subdivided layers of Abstract art and a single piece can be included in many of them. Therefore it is often difficult to categorize an artist into just one part. Pollack, for instance, is an Abstract Expressionist that uses both Emotional/Institutional Abstract art principles as well as Gestural and Action Painting.
  • The Abstract movement also includes sculptors such as: Constatin Brancusi, Pablo Picasso, and Vladimir Tatlin. Abstract sculptors also believed that things could be represented by form rather than detailed realism.
  • The highest price paid for an abstract painting was $186 million for Rothko’s No. 6 (Violet, Green, and Red). The sale took place in August of 2014.

Top Works

  • Jackson Pollock – Convergence
  • Lee Krasner – Milkweed
  • Willem de Kooning – Villa Borghese
  • Adolph Gottleib –  Mist
  • Franz Kline – Painting No. 7
  • Karel Appel – Two Heads (Deaux tètes)
  • Robert Motherwell – Elegy to the Spanish Republic, 70
  • Wassily Kandinsky –  Harmony Squares with Concentric Rings
  • Kasimir Malevich – Black Circle
  • Natalia Goncharova – The Cyclist

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