“To abstract is to draw out the essence of a matter. To abstract in art is to separate certain fundamentals from irrelevant material which surrounds them.” Ben Shahn
Before we talk about how to create an abstract piece of art, I would like to discuss a little about what it is. What exactly is an abstract painting?
Spring Stream (Collage on Canvas)
Abstract indicates a departure from reality, a departure from accurate representation. It can be slight, partial, or complete. It can sometimes be so complete that only the title, gives credence to the term abstract. It is a term that has been applied to a lot of different art movements and styles in the Modern Art period, which ran from the mid 1800’s to the mid 1900’s: It includes, to name a few: Impressionism, Post Impressionism, Cubism, Fauvism, Abstract Expressionism, Futurism, Pop Art, Surrealism. These movements have different characteristics and intentions. Yet, many of them overlap and run together, as artists moved from one style to another. However, they all are abstract because they have a subject at the heart of the painting. The 1970’s saw the beginning of what is now called “Contemporary Art”. Interestingly however, few movements have identified themselves, or Art History just hasn’t caught up. It just means, art that is being created during our life time.
What I do want to do, is make a distinction between Abstract Art and Non-Objective Art. Non-Objective Art is a movement which started in the early 1900’s and ran alongside styles we call Abstract. Non-Objective Art, is art without a subject. The artists in this movement are not concerned with an object or subject, but with the kinesthetic experience, and/or the visual effect he or she can produce. The “Elements of Design”: mark / line, shape / form, color, and texture, become the Subject. The artists emphasis is placed on the visual sensation, rather than the depiction of the object itself. For example: Jackson Pollack enjoyed the activity and sensation of pouring paint onto a canvas. Wassily Kandinsky worked by arranging and rearranging geometric shapes until he found a pleasing composition.
How do you start an abstract painting? The easiest way to start and to get a handle on the idea of abstraction, is to take a landscape, reduce it to it major shapes, and change the color.
Maine Landscape (Acrylic on Paper)
This process can be done with any object: think about what it is, what it is used for, or how it works, or why it exists. Then pick the parts of the object that appeal to you the most, or the part that you find the most interesting. Draw just that part. Exaggerate it, distort it, add texture to it, change its’ color. Now add another part of the object. Keep doing this, until you build a composition. You can also add things to the composition that are related to the object, which you are abstracting. For example: If you are abstracting a tree, you may want to draw the roots somewhere in the composition, but not coming out of the bottom. There is no one size fits all when it comes to abstract art. Find a subject you like and: exaggerate it, flatten it out, rearrange it, simplify it, accentuate an area of it. alter its shape, dissect it, distort it, embellish it.
“What I mean by ‘abstract’ is something which comes to life spontaneously through a gamut of contrasts, plastic at the same time as psychic, and pervades both the picture and the eye of the spectator with conceptions of new and unfamiliar elements…” Marc Chagall
Next week I will discuss the different materials that are available, that lend them selves to the art of abstraction. Try something new this week, and share with me what you tried.