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A Brief History of Abstract Art, Part Two

Jackson Pollock is one of the most well-known of the Abstract Expressionism movement. He started as a conventional artist, painting large murals. He became fascinated with the concept of abstract art. He suffered from depression alcoholism and began a course of Jungian psychoanalysis to help him overcome these difficulties. His analyst suggested that he paint as part of his therapy and this inspired him to move into the abstract art genre. Pollock is now recognized as one of the most important and influential of all the abstract artists of the twentieth century.

Pollock pioneered the technique of “drip painting.” In this technique paint is splashed or dripped directly onto the canvas. His works became incredibly popular. One of his works sold for $140 million in 2006.

By the 1950s the abstract art movement had largely run out of steam. It was in many ways a victim of its own success and people were looking for a new departure in the art world. In the words of de Kooning in 1951 “There is no style of painting now. There are as many naturalists among the abstract painters as there are abstract painters among the subject matter school.”

However, there has been a recent revival of abstract art in recent years. Many now see this as the golden age of the abstract art. This is a great deal of renewed interest in this genre with new and emerging artists as well as a celebration of the classic pioneers of abstract art. Whilst there are still many who argue that the demise of this genre is complete, for others there is plenty of evidence that it is very much in the land of the living and flourishing once more.

Technology has of course moved on very quickly in recent years and with this change emerged many new forms of expression. New forms of art have arisen from this technical revolution including photorealism, geometric abstraction, internet art, and digital art. It isn’t much of a stretch of the definition to term these new forms of art a type of abstract expressionism. However, more recently we have seen a return in interest of what could be termed the more “pure” form of abstract art. We can see this with modern artists such as Ben Berlow, Anish Kapoor and Christian Rosa.

In reality we can speculate about the definition and the demise of abstract art for as long as we wish. However, this particular genre has shown that it has an enduring quality which will be with us well into the future.

A Brief History of Abstract Art, Part One

Until the late nineteenth, art was mostly constrained by an accepted view that whatever was created should represent a visual picture of reality. In other words, if it was a painting of a scene of the landscape of Lake Windemere in England the picture should actually look like what the naked eye would see if they were standing on the shore.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century a movement began which saw artists wanting to use a different form of expression to depict the numerous changes which society, science and technology were experiencing. It was in this atmosphere of rapid change that the seeds of the abstract art movement were sown.

Artists began to express themselves in a very different way. Paintings did not follow accepted convention as they depicted people, places and things in an abstract way. Art was no longer a depiction of reality. There are very great differences in the degree of abstraction in art. In some pieces some objects and scenes can be a depiction of reality, but this is mixed with complete abstraction. Paintings no longer looked exactly like the scenes or objects which they were portraying.

Abstract art is now accepted to include other movements including Abstract Expressionism, Cubism and Neoplasticism.

It is universally recognized that a major pioneer in the field of abstract art was Wassily Kandinsky. He was born in Russia in 1866. His work “Picture with a Circle” which he painted in 1911, is recognized as one of the earliest examples of abstract art. This painting is seen as changing the course of art history. It was a first step towards the creation of the Abstract Art movement.

There are some who argue that Abstract Art goes back further than 1911 and Kandinsky. There are some who would say that Turner was in fact the father of the Abstract Art movement as his works featured a non-conventional use of scale and lightning. It is fair to say that most view Kandinsky as the definitive pioneer, not Turner.

Piet Mondrain was another very prominent figure in the Abstract Art movement. Like Kandinsky, he began with conventional figurative painting. He enjoyed commercial success with his conventional works, but wanted to explore the more abstract concepts. He moved from his native Holland to Paris in the early part of the twentieth century and was most particularly influenced by the works of Pablo Picasso. One of Mondrian’s most recognizable works is “Composition with Red Yellow and Blue” which he painted in 1927.

Abstract Expressionism began to emerge in New York during World War II. Prior to the start of the War the abstract at movement was predominantly centered in Paris. Many artists had fled Europe at the start of the Nazi occupation of Europe, and many came to settle in New York. Much of the inspiration was political, which of course is understandable at a time of such worldwide turmoil.

This new Abstract Expressionist movement started in New York City with artists who wanted to harness the power of abstract art to create a strong sense of expressive content. The most famous artists who were part of this early Abstract Expressionism included Jackson Pollok and Franz Kline, Arshille Gorky, Lee Krasner, Frank Kline, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko.

These artists paid homage to, and were very clearly influenced by, the well-known pioneers of abstract art such as Picasso, Kandinsky and Matisse.

The Abstract Expressionist artist often use unconventional materials in their work. They are also known for very large scale works of art. Whilst many of the works of this genre may at first sight seem to have taken little contemplation, in reality there is a very complex process which is involved in creating abstract art.




The Definitive Guide to Reading a Piece of Abstract Art, Part Two

Read All About It

This may seem like a very obvious point, but if you are struggling to interpret a piece look for some clues. Usually the piece of art will have some written label of interpretation beside it, so always look and think about this. Sometimes it will just have a title, but this will often help to create context for the piece and to make it easier to start thinking about just how to read it. Even a date can help you to realize the context of the period of time that the art was created.

If you are still none the wiser, see if there is anyone in the gallery who can help you. Often you can start a conversation with a stranger and ask them their take on the artwork. Gallery staff can also be very knowledgeable – they are there to help you, so ask when you are stuck.

There May Not Be an Answer

You could be looking for an answer which very simply isn’t there. Sometimes the artist has no idea themselves. Or did know when they created the piece, but has simply forgotten. Artists are human after all. Ellsworth Kelly has confessed that he could not remember what the meaning was behind his “Chatham Series.” If the person who created the piece is having difficulty with its meaning you really should give yourself a break!

There is sometimes a lot of pretension surrounding the interpretation of abstract art. This can make it an inaccessible art form if you allow yourself to feel inadequate in being able interpret abstract art. Do not allow yourself to be intimidated by those who you feel have more knowledge than you do. Abstract art is for everyone – not an exclusive few. Allow yourself to accept that there simply may not be an answer at all.

You Do Not Have to Like It All

This goes along with the pressure to find the answer. You may find that you simply do not enjoy the piece. There is no rule which says that you have to like everything that you see. What one person enjoys in a piece may be something which another person finds completely unappealing. Do not allow yourself to force yourself to like something just because that is the general view. That is not the aim of any work of art.

Remember that just saying that you are not enjoying a piece of art does not mean that you don’t understand it. Sometimes you may feel pressured into expressing a liking for a particular abstract art piece because you are surrounded by people who are expressing their positive feelings for it. Always be respectful. By that we mean don’t stand there and say the often heard phrase “my two-year-old could have done that.” Think about it. They really couldn’t. Just remember it is fine not to like something. Each person has their own taste.

Perseverance Pays Off

The more that you learn about abstract art, and the more time that you take to actually study this type of work, the better that you will get in reading abstract art pieces. As you learn more and see more abstract art you will notice that you are acquiring a deeper knowledge and interest. This is bound to help you in interpreting works of abstract art. If you take some time to pursue your interest, you will most certainly be rewarded.

The Definitive Guide to Reading a Piece of Abstract Art, Part One

Be truthful. Have you ever stood in front of a piece of abstract art and simply not know how to read it? Rather than walking away and giving up we should take the time to see if we can learn something. It is difficult to give an absolutely definitive guide to reading a piece of abstract art, but here are some basic ideas to help you on your quest for meaning in this very particular art genre.

The Search for Meaning is Worth It

You may be so intent on looking for the answer, that you don’t enjoy the experience of simply standing back and appreciating abstract art. It has been created for people to look at and find their own meaning within it. There are no prizes for getting to the “definitive answer” the most quickly. Enjoy the experience of simply standing back and looking at the art. Do not get overly confined by the compulsion to find a meaning. Simply enjoy it.

Give Yourself Some Time

It may take some time to interpret the piece of art. Don’t think that just because you do not get it immediately that you should give up on that piece. Sometimes interpretation takes some time. Research suggests that visitors to a gallery spend on average 30 seconds looking at each work. This really isn’t enough time to appreciate any art work, and certainly isn’t long enough to even begin to think about reading a piece of abstract art. Take your time to appreciate the art before you move on to the next piece.

Remember as well that what you see at one stage in your life you may not see in another. If you revisit a piece of abstract art sometime after your first viewing, you may have a very different interpretation of it.

Free the Mind

Abstract art is very much about freedom of expression and a wish not to be constrained by convention. Try to approach the art piece with an open mind. Don’t always start with the idea that you have to work out what the abstract art is meant to represent in conventional terms. The whole point of abstract art is that every day things are looked at in a very different way. You need to move away from conventional thinking and open yourself up to other possibilities.

With abstract art you should try to look for the less obvious points of interpretation. A free mind is necessary to think outside the box. The whole point of this genre is that art should not be put in a box, so don’t let your mind be clouded by a narrow view.