What is an abstract painting ?

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What is an abstract painting ?

A few months ago, we published a post entitled “How to paint an abstract painting” on these pages. Many budding painters caress the idea of ​​approaching this artistic movement and trying with their brushes and colors to create an abstract work.

To understand abstract painting, however, it is necessary to study how its development came about, the innovative forces of the various artists of this movement, and the meaning behind the fundamental works of abstract art.

We, therefore, decided to provide an introduction to abstract painting, an essential first step in understanding the meaning of abstraction in art.

Abstract painting: assumptions and definition

Before giving a brief definition of abstract painting, it is necessary to talk about its various assumptions.

The assumptions of abstract painting

Why has abstract painting and cool drawings always attracted amazement and even heavy criticism at its origins as it still does today? Why abstraction as an art movement does escapes so many people? Simple: because it is something significantly different.

The representation of reality

Let’s think about it for a while. Art, at least in the West, has been based on representing the reality that surrounds us for centuries. Just enter any museum, in any art gallery, to see paintings and sculptures representing men, landscapes, animals, environments, cities, and so on.

Thanks to perspective, starting from the Renaissance, we have come even closer to “photography of reality,” with images that reflect the world seen by artists as faithfully as possible.

Strolling through a gallery of paintings painted between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries, one would see anatomically realistic and extremely well-finished figures, exact reproductions of landscapes and cities.

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abstract painting

abstract painting
abstract painting

What is abstract painting, in short

So we can now see what abstract painting is. There are many different definitions of abstractionism, which not surprisingly has been with us for over a century. The artists themselves have sketched their definitions.

For example, Arshile Gorky, exponent of abstract expressionism, explained that “Abstract art allows man to see with his mind what he cannot physically see with his eyes.” More concretely, abstract painting is a painting that does not want to represent reality.

Instead, creating images by combining colors, points, lines, and shapes to express messages and concepts.

The image in and of itself thus becomes unrecognizable. By placing yourself in front of the painting, it is possible to experience the sensation that the artist intended to convey.

Still, an explanation is often necessary to understand and experience the work. According to abstract painters, therefore, art must not imitate reality but still has a mission, indeed, a more profound mission.

We can get closer to abstract painting to discover the beginnings of abstract art: what were the first steps, where were they taken, and by whom?

Abstractionism and Wassily Kandinsky

What is the birth of abstractionism?  Who is the father of this movement? As is well known, it is not always easy to identify the natural starting point of a current or an artistic movement, much less when it comes to something that has spread internationally and has created a whole new way of approaching art.

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Kandinsky, the father of abstract art

We could never have arrived at abstractionism, and it must be said, without Symbolism first and without the parallel experiences of the Fauves and the Cubists.

Exceptionally, in abstract painting, it is possible to find an initiator and recognize the role of the “theorist” of the movement in this pioneer. We are talking about Wassily Kandinskij, the first work recognized as abstract, a watercolor painted in 1910. But who is Wassily Kandinsky? He is a Russian artist, born in 1866 in Moscow.

After an education that should have guided him towards the legal profession, the young Wassily met music, devoting himself to studying the cello and the piano. Yes, these are the very foundations of the initiator and most famous interpreter of abstraction, that is, jurisprudence and music.

Piet Mondrian and geometric abstractionism

Those who approach abstract painting very often do so through Piet Mondrian’s paintings, a famous painter of post-impressionism.

Mondrian, starting from 1910 – and therefore starting from the birth of abstraction – gradually began to deviate from reality, up to the representation of geometric shapes, which, starting from the 1920s, made him famous worldwide.

It should emphasize that the juxtaposition between Mondrian and Kandinskij is much less direct than what might appear in these lines: they are very different artists who offer two critical perspectives from which to study abstract painting. 

On the one hand, there is that of Kandinskij, pure, accessible, lyrical; on the other, there is that of Mondrian, geometric, linear, which the artist himself will insert into Neoplasticism.

Kandinskij and Mondrian are always cited among the leading abstract painters of the “first wave.”

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Still, it must say that this movement involved many artists, from Theo van Doesburg to Paul Klee: here we can only reduce and synthesize. Let’s now see how abstract painting has evolved over the years: let’s look at the postwar period.

Abstract art in the post-war period

Abstract painting continued to be central to the art world even after World War II but assumed significantly different forms.

To be successful, especially in Europe and France, was first the geometric current, first brought in triumph by Mondrian, as seen. However, there was another parallel innovation, which led to the most substantial change in abstract painting.

If the artists looked at abstractionism as a planned and deliberate work in the first decades, starting from the Second World War, the tendency was to conceive abstract painting as an immediate expression of one’s feelings.

And here, we can only think of Jackson Pollock, with his abstract paintings made thanks to the dripping technique.

Via the shapes, via the pencil, via the brush, via even the easel: Pollock made his paintings, as is well known, letting the color flow directly from the tube, if not from the can.

Abstract painting, in this sense, becomes Action Painting, the maximum expression of the artist’s spontaneity. Pop Art responded to the extremes of abstract art starting from the 1960s: but that’s a whole other story!

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