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Definition: abstract art from The Macquarie Dictionary

a 20th-century concept of art, which rejects the function of art as portraying perceived reality; non-representational art.

Plural: abstract arts

Summary Article: abstract art
From The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Nonrepresentational art. Ornamental art without figurative representation occurs in most cultures. The modern abstract movement in sculpture and painting emerged in Europe and North America between 1910 and 1920. Two approaches produce different abstract styles: images that have been ‘abstracted’ from nature to the point where they no longer reflect a conventional reality, and nonobjective, or ‘pure’, art forms, without any reference to reality.

History Abstract art began in the avant-garde movements of the late 19th century – Impressionism, neo-Impressionism, and post-Impressionism. These styles of painting reduced the importance of the original subject matter and began to emphasize the creative process of painting itself. In the first decade of the 20th century, some painters in Europe began to abandon the established Western conventions of imitating nature and of storytelling and developed a new artistic form and expression.

Abstract artists Vasily Kandinsky is generally regarded as the first abstract artist. From 1910 to 1914 he worked on two series, Improvisations and Compositions, in which he moved gradually towards total abstraction. His highly coloured canvases influenced many younger European artists. In France around 1907, the cubists Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque also developed a semi-abstract style; their pictures, some partly collage, were composed mainly of fragmented natural images. By 1912 Robert Delaunay had pushed cubism to complete abstraction.

Many variations of abstract art developed in Europe and Russia, as shown in the work of Piet Mondrian, Kasimir Malevich, the Futurists, the Vorticists, and the Dadaists. Sculptors were inspired by the new freedom in form and content, and Constantin Brancusi's versions of The Kiss (1907–12) are among the earliest semi-abstract sculptures. Cubist-inspired sculptors such as Raymond Duchamp-Villon and Jacques Lipchitz moved further towards abstraction, as did the Dadaist Hans Arp.

US art Two exhibitions of European art, one in New York in 1913 (the Armory Show), the other in San Francisco in 1917, opened the way for abstraction in US art. Many painters, including the young Georgia O'Keeffe, experimented with new styles. Morgan Russell and Stanton Macdonald-Wright invented their own abstract style, Synchromism, a rival to Orphism, a similar style developed in France by Delaunay. Both movements emphasized colour over form.

Later developments Abstract art has dominated Western art from 1920 and has continued to produce many variations. In the 1940s it gained renewed vigour in the works of the abstract expressionists (see abstract expressionism, and in the 1950s minimal art developed as a more impersonal, simplified style of abstraction. The line between abstract and figurative art blurred during the latter half of the 20th century, leaving greater room for viewer interpretation.


Is Modern Art ‘A Load of Rubbish’?


Pure Abstraction

Towards Abstraction

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