Abstract Art: what is abstract art and which was its origin?

Abstract Art: what is abstract art and which was its origin?

Abstract art is a form of artistic expression that moves away from any figuration and proposes a new reality different from the natural one.

To know what abstract art is, it is first interesting to reflect on what the abstract word means.

Abstraction is the act and the result of immersing oneself in what cannot be perceived directly through the senses, that which excludes the concrete and moves away from the external aspect of a reality.

When the word is applied to the artistic field, it refers to the intention of not representing concrete beings or objects, contemplating only elements of form, color, structure or / and proportion.

This type of artistic expression highlights the deteriorating ideas or concepts of the figurative representations of the world around us and we can perceive.

What abstract art is?

The term abstract art also known as "non-objective art", "non-figurative", "geometric abstraction" is a general term rather vague to define any painting or any sculpture that does not represent recognizable objects or scenes.

We call abstract art, therefore, to a style of the expression of the plastic arts, mainly painting and sculpture, which escapes from representing concrete and recognizable figures arising from the real world since it proposes a different reality through its own and independent language of shapes, colors and lines.

It opposes figurative art, which is quite the opposite: the representation of figures that have their origin in the real world and are therefore recognizable to us.

Therefore, abstract art flees from the copy of reality using forms and perspectives that are born from the mind of its author.

Neither the forms nor the perspectives used are governed by logic and this makes the works that are created to some extent freer as well as subject to the interpretation of the one who contemplates them.

Abstract art does not represent figures, objects or people, but uses its own visual language with varied meanings, performing abstract forms, without imitating or faithfully representing the natural.

This type of artistic expression is not intended to be perfect in its representations, but quite the opposite, it hides the real world.

The main objective of abstract art is to make a proposal to a new perspective of reality that is based on the shapes and colors that compose them, however it is disconnected from the reality in which we find ourselves.

Simply put, any work of art that contains an alteration to reality in terms of shape or color, in some cases in both, can be considered an abstract work of art.

The influence of this concept includes many visual arts such as painting, sculpture, photography.

Abstract art is a way of artistic expression that despises any kind of figuration, moving away from the real world and putting its attention on non-tangible senses, such as feelings, thoughts and ideas.

Abstract Art Picture

When does abstract art arise?

The easy answer is at the beginning of the 20th century and that is an invention of modern western art.

But with a look without prejudice we have to say that it takes us a lot longer than we can imagine.

In prehistory we have examples of art that we can describe as abstract and other cultures have been practicing and admiring abstract visual arts such as calligraphy for centuries, there being an infinity of samples of geometric and stylized forms used since the origin of art.

The relationship between art and abstraction has, at least, an antiquity that goes back to the upper Palaeolithic where we already find the first vestiges of paleoabstraction in certain manifestations of art.

Abstract representations that we also find in the Neolithic, where these types of manifestations undergo an obvious change with a marked tendency to abstraction, schematism and where the third dimension is to be dispensed with.

Abstraction and geo-abstraction are spreading with the different cultural, religious and artistic manifestations, from Mesoamerican petroglyphs, Egyptian art, the Greco-Roman world, Byzantine art, Visigothic art, Asian, Muslim and Hispano-Muslim art, pre-Hispanic art, the avant-garde, cubism, abstract expressionism, constructivism, suprematism, neoplasticism, etc.

Let us highlight that in many works of art such as arabesque, almoárabes, etc., they are non-representative and non-figurative art.

Since the Renaissance, the concern to recreate the illusion of reality dominates visual arts such as painting or sculpture for centuries.

It is not until the arrival of Impressionism that artists invest the priorities in the representation and gave greater importance to the pictorial procedure thus moving away from the external appearances of reality.

Figurative art gradually enters crisis and the reaction is abstract art that is making its way with a new concept with the help of expressionism or cubism, which react against realism exploring different ways of doing works of art regardless of the reality.

We have the first abstract references of the beginning of the 20th century in the work of Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, whose first abstract works date from 1904 and who not only worked the painting but also the sculpture.

The first work that was considered under the foundations of abstract art was Vasily Kandinsky's watercolor in 1910, which today is exhibited at the National Center for Art and Culture, Center Georges Pompidou, located in Paris.

 Kandinsky was the first known artist who chose to paint without leaving any other figuration.

Abstract painting is characterized by having a vibrant language of lines with different colors and that each color represents something in the real world, such as the blue of the sky and the green that symbolizes the earth, also expresses rationality, emotion, spirituality and passion.

First contemporary abstract work - Kandinsky 1910

The other main tendency of this type of artistic expression, is very different from the first, because it is based on the mathematical and is radically simplified in geometric abstraction.

One of the first known representatives of this trend was the Dutch movement De Stijl whose objective was the integration of the arts or the total art and were manifested through a magazine of the same name that was published until 1931

Abstract art has great and well-known exponents, to mention some of the most prominent: Kandiski, Robert Deaunay, Kazmir Mávich, Piet Mondrian, Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Jesús Soto, Carlos Cruz-Diez, Gerhard Richter and / or Joan He looked at covering more than a century of contemporary painting.

De Stijl. Inventing a new art

Why did abstract art arise?

From a contemporary point of view abstract art arises among others by:

  • A deep social desire to get away from reality since it is seen as a crisis and social disorder.
  • And on the other hand, this art maintains that reality has already been expressed and its themes have been exhausted in relation to art.

Thus emerging the need for a new way of perceiving reality, now in a particular and abstract way.

Characteristics of abstract art

Abstract art broke with the need to represent concrete objects and perhaps this is its most relevant defining element.

His works do not express the author's feelings.

The intention of abstract art is to express pure states of consciousness or unconsciousness.

The figures have no strength in this field of art. This makes the painting become the only geometric component of the entire work and therefore abstract art is known as simplicity at the end of the forms.

The meaning of the work makes the attempt to be perceived but does not wish to convey the author's feeling. Somehow, the work wants to find itself in a world external to reality, filling the abstract with representations.

Although abstract art has aspects similar to the art of Prehistory, it is considered a type of art that breaks with the pre-established schemes of art conception during its emergence.

What pure abstraction tries is to distance itself as much as possible from the real world until the only thing that is conserved of this world is its meaning and its beauty. In this way, we want to highlight the beauty of the work alone.

The materials used in abstract works have more meaning than their simple composition.

Abstract art encompasses a significant number of trends, proposals and styles, which can be summed up in that they make it very varied, however there are a number of points in common:

  • The importance attached to the shapes and colors that are used at the artist's will to escape concrete reality.
  • The artist proposes his own language of form, color and line whose rules are his individualized characteristics.
  • Abstract works require the viewer to approach them intuitively and not traditional to be able to perceive and feel them fully.
  • Abstract art broke with the need to represent concrete objects, accommodating the most diffuse thoughts and mental notions.
  • The degree of abstraction in a work of this current can be partial, conserving parts of the natural and modifying others, or absolute, where there are no recognizable figurative traces.

Types of abstract art

Within the field of abstract art you can find several types, which are famous for their beauty and representation.

Among the most important are the following:


This type of abstract art is based on excluding any kind of emotion, because it is governed by mathematical rules and the radical simplicity of geometry.

Mondrian prefers to refer to this type of abstract art as geometric abstractionism, because his works did not consider them an abstraction but a metaphor for reality.

It is based on the use of simple geometric shapes combined in subjective compositions on unreal spaces.

They make a two-dimensional painting against the effort of most of the previous movements to try to represent a three-dimensional reality.

An early rudimentary form was Cubism, specifically analytical Cubism, which rejected linear perspective and the illusion of spatial depth in a painting, in order to focus on its 2D aspects.

Among the great artists of this genre we can highlight The Van Deosburg, Mercedes Pardo and Pedro Briceño.

De Stijl - Dutch artistic movement


A stream of abstract art that prefers the non-geometric, which highlights the materiality of the painting and its variety of technical possibilities.

This type of abstract art resists figurative and non-figurative elements and for this reason the color stands out as its subject and subject in the work.

The way it can be used is a direct extension of artistic expression.

Some outstanding artists are Georges Mactchieu, Hans Hartung, Jean Fautrier, Jackson Pallock, Alberto Burri.

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Constructivism was the last and most influential modern art movement to flourish in Russia in the 20th century.

It evolved just as the Bolsheviks came to power in the October Revolution of 1917, and initially it acted as a lightning rod for the hopes and ideas of many of the most advanced Russian artists who supported the revolution's goals.

Constructivists proposed to replace art's traditional concern with composition with a focus on construction. 

Objects were to be created not in order to express beauty, or the artist's outlook, or to represent the world, but to carry out a fundamental analysis of the materials and forms of art, one which might lead to the design of functional objects. 

Russian constructivism Varvara Stepanova 5 figures in white background-

Lyric Abstraction

They refuse to represent reality objectively.

Lyrical abstraction is defined as a trend within the abstract field that emerged in the year 1910, starting as a reference and as the beginning of abstract painting the work of artist Vasili Kandinsky ironically called "First abstract watercolor".

During that year he also made a work entitled "Of the spiritual in art."

Kandinsky sought to give an example of spontaneous abstraction.

In the early 1910s, the representative movements of feeling-based abstraction began, expressed by artists such as the Munich Zikario Der Blaue Reiter, which was a group of German expressionist artists.

Abstract art is nothing more than a way of teaching the world that not only feelings can be shown with figures or with the vision of our reality.

Sometimes we can look beyond our reality to find what true art is.

What artists of this artistic genre seek to express are the pictorial emotions presented by the author.

The representation of the real world is rejected objectively.

The technique most used by lyrical abstract artists is watercolor, in addition to making small sketches and notes. However, large oils are also painted on fabrics.

In this style the color stands out notably on the form.

Kandinsky - Composition IV - 1911

Abstract art is a diverse and fruitful current within the painting and sculpture that has had its greatest boom during the 10th century

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