Essay: Abstract Artists and Show

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¶ … abstract artists and show how the aims in their work differ from those of earlier generations of abstract painters.

Abstract art is commonly defined as, "... art that does not depict objects in the natural world, but instead uses color and form in a non-representational way. (NationMaster Encyclopedia: Abstract art). This definition does not deal with all the issues surrounding the meaning and understanding of abstract art and there is a great deal of dissension and argument among critics and art theorists about the nature and meaning of the term 'abstract'. However, the general view is that abstract art is essentially non-representational and non-objective. It is also seen from an artistic viewpoint as an attempt to provide an understanding of the world and reality that cannot be obtained by the methods and techniques of representation.

This paper will attempt to show the way that ideas and conceptions of abstract art have changed and developed since the early years of the Twentieth Century through a comparison of two modern abstract artists with more traditional views of abstract art. This comparison will show how contemporary abstract artists still adhere to the formal and stylistic tenets of early abstraction but that many differ profoundly in terms of the aims and intentions of this form of art. This comparison will refer to the works and writings of the founder of abstract art, Wassily Kandinsky. Kandinsky will be compared to representatives of modern abstract art such as Frank Stella and Robert Pepperell.

2. Brief overview of abstract art

The term 'abstract art' first emerged as a method of describing the different style and methods of art that developed in the early Twentieth Century. This term was initially used to describe all non-objective and non-representational art works. For example the term was applied to Cubist works by Picasso and Braque. However, the true beginning of the abstract art movement can be traced to the works of Wassily Kandinksky, who is generally seen as the early innovator and originator of the modern abstract and abstract expressionist movement. "Wassily Kandinsky was the original abstract artist producing the first completely abstract work of art in 1910" (Art History: Abstract Art: (1910 -).

Wassily Kandinsky's Composition VII, (1913).

Source: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Kandinsky_WWI.jpg)

Kandinsky also wrote and lectured on the meaning and intention of abstract art. His famous publication entitled, on the Spiritual in Art, became a seminal source and manifesto for the emerging abstract art movement. His general theory was that art should move away from representation or the realistic portrayal of the material and objective world and should"... portray the spiritual realm and not just the visual world" (Art History: Abstract Art: (1910 -). In order to achieve this end the artist must make use of methods and techniques that are appropriate to the exploration of the unknown and non-objective spiritual dimensions.

The artistic attitude and the philosophical approach that Kandinksky suggested can be gauged for the following quotations from his work. "Finally, science itself, in its most positive branches?

physics and chemistry - is reaching a threshold whereon is inscribed the Great Question: Is there such a thing as matter?" (Kuspit, 2008) This implied that the sciences and the modern technological world have reached the limitations of its potential and that art has the potential to expand knowledge and understanding further through abstraction.

In the1911 publication, on the Spiritual in Art, which is seen by many as the "bible" of abstraction, Kandinksky clearly states his artistic position with regard to the material world and representational painting. He states that, "...pure abstract art is one of the most powerful agents of [the] spiritual life...in its protest and struggle against 'the long reign of materialism... The whole nightmare of the materialistic attitude'." (Kuspit, 2008) This point is important in terms of a comparison with the attitude and views as well as the praxis of contemporary abstract artists. The emphasis on the exploration of hidden spiritual dimensions and the higher goals and ideals that Kandinksky envisaged for abstract art has to a large extent changed in the works of contemporary abstract artists, with a few exceptions. The modern abstract artist in general tends to continue the style and formal aspects of abstraction but does not adhere to the sense of spiritual "inner necessity" that Kandinksky saw as a fundamental and essential component of abstract art and its artistic mission.

The above points are reiterated and emphasized by eminent critics like Donald Kuspit, professor of Art History and philosophy at SUNY Stony Brook and a.D. White professor at large at Cornell University. Kuspit states that, "Pure abstract art officially came into being with a large abstract watercolor Kandinsky made in 1910. But it was in his " impressions," improvisations," and " compositions" (1909-14) that he fully entered and explored virgin [artistic] territory,"... (Kuspit, 2008) the central point is that Kandinksky is concerned with is the exploration of artistic "inner necessity" and not external nature.

Kuspit also compares this search for spiritual ideals and the 'inner necessity' of art with the development of abstraction after Kandinsky, and especially to its importation into the United States. Referring to the views of Horkheimer, Kuspit noted how the essential idealism of earlier abstraction has become altered into a form of subjective materialism in many modern abstract works.

In the United States, the moral and spiritual nonconformity of Dadaism and abstraction dissipated into ironic social conformity -- Horkheimer notes that "abstract pictures are now simply one element in a purposive arrangement," that is, "pure wall decoration" with no mystery to them-- even as their methods became more refined. (Kuspit, 2008)

While there were many abstract artists after Kandinsky, such as Mark Rothco, who adhered to and followed the ideals of non-materialism, yet critics note that abstract art has become a "purely formal endeavor" without the inner spiritual idealism that was the original driving force in abstraction. (Kuspit, 2008)

This change in the essence of abstract art can be seen in the works and statements of many contemporary abstract artists.

3. Modern abstract artists: Frank Stella and Robert Pepperell.

Frank Stella has become one of the foremost artists in the world. Stella was born in 1936 in Malden, Massachusetts. He first achieved renown in the art world with the "black paintings": which were severe and minimalist in style but also showed the use of color and form typical of abstract art. He would add to his artistic repertoire and go on to produce irregularly shaped canvases in the 1960s. Stella is also known for his postmodern sculptural paintings, which are a combination of various media and are described as, "...three-dimensional painting-constructions that often incorporate bright colors, enlarged versions of French curves, and lively brushstroke patterns. (Stella, Frank) One view of Stella's later works is that they "....explored the limits of the artist's organizational abilities and the fringes of what the eye and mind can comprehend." (Frank Stella, Leading Contemporary Abstract Artist...) This can be seen in a work such as Il Drago e la cavallina fatata" (1986).

FRANK STELLA "Il Drago e la cavallina fatata," 1986

Source: (http://www.akiraikedagallery.com/aw_stella.htm)

However, while he adheres to the basic tenets of abstract style and the non-representational use of color and form, yet he is a typical modern or post-modern artist in that he works with different intentions and ideals about the aims of abstract art when compared to the works of earlier abstract artists. As noted above, Kandinsky stated in his writings that the aim of abstraction was to transcend form and style in the conventional sense and to explore the spiritual and mystical dimensions of experience. In other words, in the beginning abstract art had as its motivating force the pursuit of higher ideals that went beyond the mundane or material world of ordinary experience. This was the central reason for the rejection of rationality and objective representation in art in the first place.

In a modern context, while Stella expands on the stylistic and formal elements of abstraction taking abstraction are to new heights of invention, he does not adhere to the higher ideals and aims that were so important to earlier abstract artists like Kandinsky. In fact Stella is well-known for his view that there is nothing outside the painting,

What you see is what you see." (Abstract Expressionism: The Art History Archive - Movements) This statement therefore clearly points to the view that pure abstract art has become "...devoid of any spiritual or metaphysical connotations." (Abstract Expressionism: The Art History Archive - Movements)

Therefore, many critics state that Stella as a representative of the contemporary abstract artists is not concerned with the external or deeper meaning of abstraction. For example critic notes that, "Frank Stella is not interested in expression or sensitivity. He is interested in the necessities of painting." (SOLOMON, 2003) This refers to the fact that many abstract artists consider the formal aspects and material used in a painting to constitute the entire meaning of the work of art and there is no desire or necessity… [END OF PREVIEW]

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