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What Is Abstract Art? And Why Should I Care?

"Abstract art has been with us in one form or another for almost a century now and has proved to be not only a long-standing crux of cultural debate but a self-renewing, vital tradition of creativity. We know it works, even if we're not sure why or how to interpret that fact." -Noelle Lalonde Flowers Abstract Art Canada

What is Abstract Art?

You may love abstract art, despise it, or have no idea what it is, but if you're reading this, I'm guessing you're curious about this perplexing art form that defies definition and artistic classification.

Abstract art has been around for over a century. Some argue that abstraction began with cave paintings thousands of years ago and has held up against changing art movements, manifestos, and testimonials for centuries.

Abstract Art

The explanation. Abstraction literally means separating an idea from its objective referents. In the visual arts, this means moving a depiction away from any literal, representational reference points. Nonrepresentational art is another term for abstract art.

The Highlights

The first indications. Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, and Cubism are all precursors to abstraction. All three contributed to the realization that art could be non-representative.

The motion. Modern abstract art emerged in the early twentieth century. It was completely avant-garde for its time. Artists began to develop simplified objections that made little or no reference to the "real" world.

The father's name. The first artist to create abstract art as we know it will always be a mystery, but historians frequently credit Wassily Kandinsky for creating paintings of floating, nonrepresentational forms as early as 1912. During the Armory Show in 1913, his work introduced abstraction to America.

The present moment. Abstract art now exists in a variety of forms in the art world. It is both two-dimensional and three-dimensional. It could be large or small. Abstract art can also be created using a variety of materials and on a variety of surfaces. It can be used in conjunction with representational art or on its own. Nonobjective artists frequently focus on other visual qualities such as color, form, texture, scale, and more.

Why should I be concerned?

The appeal of abstract art stems from its ability to pique our curiosity about the limits of our imagination and the possibility of creating something completely unique in the world.

The barrier in your mind that questions whether abstract art is a legitimate art form—at least legitimate for you—is a major impediment to creating an abstract artwork. This stumbling block could be because you're still wondering, "Is abstract art really 'art' at all?" Perhaps you believe you must first master realism before you can work abstractly. Or are you concerned that your friends and family will not approve?

The Short Answers

1. Abstract art is a "legitimate" art form historically, and that decision was made well over a century ago.

2. No, you do not need a diploma in realism to create abstract art. Nobody checks your "artistic license" credentials at the door, either.

3. If you did everything your friends and family approved of on a regular basis, you probably wouldn't consider making art at all. Set aside your fear of impending judgment. You can't always please everyone, but you can please yourself.

Still, there is our frustration with the fact that there’s no universal agreement to the answer of the question: What is abstract art? What’s important here is to look at that artistic dilemma as an opportunity rather than a roadblock. The opportunity is that abstract art can mean anything you want it to in your personal work, giving you boundless territory to create.

“Abstraction allows man to see with his mind what he cannot see physically with his eyes.” ―Arshile Gorky

What Does Abstract Art Mean to You?

"As a painter, the more I try to make something real, the more abstract it becomes. This paradox appeals to me. With each passing year, I become more interested in the way abstraction and depiction, or realism—or whatever you want to call it—are actually intimately linked and in constant conflict with [one another]. It all comes down to how people perceive the world. Is it possible to paint a forest without drawing a single tree? Or depict the entire forest with just one tree?"

What is Abstract Art for Artists and Creative People?

Keep in mind that artists of all stripes, no matter what they choose to do, are rebels against the grain of society. Consider abstract art to be an outsider's merit badge that will set you apart from the crowd.

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