understanding abstract art pp

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  • 1. Understanding Abstract Art "Abstract Expressionism and thegoals of abstract art

2. Lets differentiate between two types of paintings:- Representationaland- Abstract 3. We call a painting "representational" if itportrays specific, recognizable physicalobjects. In some cases, the representationalpaintings look true to life, almost like aphotograph.For example, consider the following painting by Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606-1669). Thispainting is called "The Anatomy Lecture of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp", and was painted in 1632. 4. When you look at this painting, it is easy to recognize what you arelooking at. There are eight men wearing funny-looking clothing(actually, the style of clothing worn in 17th century Holland), and ona table in front of the men lies a dead man, whose arm is beingdissected. It is easy to identify all the objects in the painting, aswell as the overall meaning of the painting. (You are looking at ananatomy demonstration.) 5. Not all representational paintings are so realistic. For example,Paul Czanne (French, 1839-1906) created some beautifulpaintings of fruit. Take a look at this one, "Apples, Peaches, Pears, andGrapes", which Czanne painted from 1879-1880Obviously, this paintingis more abstract thanthe previous one. Still,what you are looking at isrepresentational. Theobjects in the Czannepainting may not be asrealistic as the ones inthe Rembrandt thereis no way you wouldmistake the Czannepainting for a photograph but it is easy torecognize that you arelooking at various typesof fruit in a bowl. 6. Abstract paintings are different. Theyhave designs, shapes or colors thatdo not look like specific physicalobjects. As such, abstract paintingsare a lot harder to understand thanrepresentational paintings. Indeed,when you look at an abstract painting,you often have no idea what it is youare actually seeing. Lets see if wecan make sense out of this. 7. In general, there are two types of abstract paintings:The first type of abstract painting portrays objects that have been "abstracted" (taken) from nature. Although what you see may notlook realistic, it is close enough that you can, at least, get an idea ofwhat you are looking at.If you have ever seen any of the paintingsof Claude Monet (French, 1840-1926), you will know what I mean. In1899, Monet began to paint a series ofpaintings called "Water Lilies". Thesepaintings depict the garden at his housein Giverny, Normandy (in France).Although the objects in the paintings dontreally look like lilies, or water, or clouds,they are close enough that you can get afeeling for what you are seeing. 8. "Water Lilies (The Clouds)" [1903] by Claude Monet. 9. A second type of abstract painting, sometimesreferred to as "pure" abstract art, is even moreobtuse. Such paintings do not reflect any form ofconventional reality: all you see are shapes,colors, lines, patterns, and so on. Here, forexample, is a painting of the Spanish painterJoan Miro:As you can see, nothing inthis painting is recognizable.There are no people, fruit oreven water lilies. 10. When you look at such art, it is natural towonder why anyone would bother to createsuch paintings in the first place. What could theartist possibly have in mind? In some cases, the design itself might bepleasing to the eye, and we might look upon thepainting as nothing more than a decoration. Most of the time, however, this is not the case.Indeed, a great deal of abstract art is notparticularly pleasing to the eye. Moreover, why would an artist spend so much time creating amere decoration? There must be somethingmore to it. 11. The truth is, yes, there is a lot more to abstract art than what meets the eye, and to see why, we have to consider the basic purpose of art.To truly appreciate a work of art, you need to see it as more than a single, isolated creation: there must becontext. This is because art is not timeless. Everypainting is created within a particular environment, andif you do not understand that environment, you will never be able to appreciate what the artist has to offer you. This is why, when you study the work of aparticular artist, it makes sense to learn somethingabout his life and the culture in which he lived. 12. Although the qualities of a paintingdepend on the skill and desires ofthe artist, a great deal of whatyou see on the canvas reflects theenvironment in which the art wascreated. As an example, take alook at the following two paintings: 13. "Princess Diana""Mona Lisa" (1503-1508)[1982] by Andyby Leonardo da VinciWarhol.If you study the lives of da Vinci and Warhol, you will find that therewere as you might well imagine significant personal differencesbetween the two men. These differences, however, do not account forthe vast dissimilarity in painting styles. When you compare these twopaintings, what you are seeing, more than anything else, are culturaldifferences. When an artist creates, he is strongly influenced by thetimes in which he lives and, no matter how innovative he might be as aperson, he cannot completely escape the boundaries of his culture. 14. As you study the history of art, you see that,at any particular place and time, there isalways a dominant "school" of art that definesthe prevailing artistic culture. Most artists ofthe time work within the norms of that culture.A few artists, however the visionaries andthe experimenters break new ground and, asthey do, they encounter tremendous resistancefrom people who dont understand the "new"style of art. However, it is from the work ofthese innovators that art evolves. 15. So how does this pertain to abstract art?Until the end of the 19th century, virtually all painting was representational. Artists painted pictures thatwere straightforward, and people looked at thosepaintings for one reason: to see the particular images that were depicted.At first, this idea sounds so obvious as to hardly beworth stating. Why else would you look at paintings, ifnot to see the images? However, there are other, morecompelling reasons to look at a painting. Indeed, it ispossible to experience a painting in such a way that yougo beyond what you see, in order to find out what youmight feel. 16. In the early 1870s, a movementarose in France that began tointroduce abstraction into seriousart. This movement, calledImpressionism,produced works of art that, for thefirst time, did not consist wholly ofrealistic images. 17. The original goal of the Impressionists was conceptually simple: they wanted to depictnature as it really existed. In particular, they labored to capture the ever-changing effects of light, as it changed throughout the day and from season to season. For example, the French painter Monet, which was mentioned above, spent a lot oftime creating series of paintings in which hepainted the same subject at different times of the day. His goal was to show how thecolor and form of the subject changed fromone hour to the next. 18. Take a look at this painting of haystacks, created by Monet in 1890-1891. His goal was not to paint a simple image of a stack of hay, but rather to show the color and form of the haystacks at a particular time of day at the end of the summer. From Monets point of view (I imagine), the painting was more of an exercise than a work of art."Wheat-stacks (End of Summer)" 1890-1891] by Claude Monet. 19. Around the same time, another school of art,Neo-Impressionism, arose from the influence ofImpressionism. The Neo-Impressionists used manysmall side-by-side dots to build up variousshapes and colors. You can see this technique which is known as Pointillism in this painting:by Georges Seurat(French, 1859-1891). 20. "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" [1884-1886] by Georges Seurat (French, 1859-1891). 21. Finally, in the 1880s and 1890s, a disparate group ofartists sought to move beyond Impressionism and itsobsession with the changing effects of light. Theseartists, collectively known as the Post-Impressionists,created a wide range of striking and innovative paintings.Among the most important Post-Impressionists were: Paul Czanne (French, 1839-1906) mentioned earlier Paul Gauguin (French, 1848-1903) and Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853-1890). 22. When you look at Impressionist paintings, you will noticethat, although they are generally soothing to the eye andcalming to the spirit, they are, as a whole, quite boring.This is not the case with the Post-Impressionsts, as youcan see by looking at the following two paintings. 23. Here is "Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where AreWe Going?",painted in 1897 by Paul Gauguin (French) . 24. Next, take a look at "Irises", painted in 1889 byVincent van Gogh (Dutch) : 25. The last three decades of the 19th century were a time of two important and distinct transitions. First, there was a gradual change from representational art to abstract art. You can see this in the work of the Impressionists and Neo-Impressionists.The second change was more subtle,but far more important. With the workof the Post- Impressionists, the purposeof art itself had begun to change. 26. For most of history, the primary purpose ofpainting had been to portray images, ratherthan to evoke feelings and emotions.Starting with the Post-Impressionists,however, the emphasis began to shift. Forthe first time, unconscious feelings beganto find their way into mainstream art.What allowed this to happen was that theImpressionists had loosened the bonds,giving permission for painters to stray fromtheir representational roots and becomemore abstract. 27. To be sure, the Post-Impressionists were stillquite literal in their work: when you look atthe work of Czanne or Gauguin or van Gogh,you do know what you are looking at.We have looked at one of Czannes paintings("Apples, Peaches, Pears, and Grapes") as anexample of representational work. Still, thegradual shift to abstraction and the capturingof deep-seated emotion was real and far-reac


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