Abstract art, especially painting, is art with no subject -- or rather, the subject is the art itself. By removing the "picture" from the picture, the artist is free to concentrate their effort on

Commonly called the plastic elements of art. (This list is illustrative not definitive)

It is these elements that determine the quality of a painting -- not the subject. The subject of an Abstract Painting is the painting itself.

In response to Gamaliel -- I disagree with your analysis. Picasso painted representationally. His cubist paintings, often mistaken for abstract art, are simply another way to look at real things. The abstract paintings of Ad Reinhart or Robert Motherwell are a different kettle of fish entirely. Piet Mondrian was a minimalist.
Further response -- I am glad you brought in a different perspective -- my responses are in no way to be construed as attacks.

As a painter, it makes perfect sense to use the term in such a narrow fashion. Using the term Abstract as a catch all for any painting not strictly representational weakens it, removes its power and accuracy. It causes the lumping together of cubism, futurism, dada, abstract expressionism, minimalism, surrealism, etc, under one umbrella. These are distinct schools of art with different motivations, different points to make.

The artists you list are all theoretically quite different -- it's similar to grouping a Harley, a VW Beetle, a Cadillac, and a bicycle together and saying 20th Century transportation is enough to describe them all.

I would like to call your attention to Gamaliel's dissent below -- after careful reading, I believe we both have a valid point, and in the end, the decision, like all art decisions, will be made
in the eye of the beholder.

Sorry, but you’ve defined nonobjective art. Art without a subject, or more precisely, art that does not depict an object is "nonobjective" (no object).

Abstract art is any art that does not attempt to be realistic in the sense of holding a mirror up to the world and copying the physical forms accurately. Abstract art strips forms down to the essentials in an attempt to capture the essence of things or provide a new perspective on them. Nonobjective art is by definition abstract (a "realistic" depiction of nothing?), but then so is plenty of objective art. A Pablo Picasso painting of a woman or a Piet Mondrian painting of a tree are quite abstract while still having a definite subject matter.
Eponymous –Of course Picasso was representing things in his paintings and of course he was looking at real objects in a new way – these things are not in dispute. What is are what terms we use to define what Picasso was doing. It’s not the analysis, but the fact that we are defining the terms differently. Abstract is in some quarters used as a synonym for nonobjective, true, but in others abstract is a broader term encompassing both representational and nonrepresentational art. I prefer the latter definition because it does not make much sense to me to define abstract in such a narrow sense, because how could you not think "abstract" when you see the work of Picasso or Mondrian (his earlier, representational work)? Picasso and Mondrian and Reinhart and Motherwell all come from the same general tradition, the twentieth century exploration of means of representation other than realism and copying the physical world – abstraction.
Of course the term "20th century transportation" is inadequate and overly broad – but it is accurate. If I could change the analogy a bit to remove the bicycle, all the things you cited are alike in important ways: motorized wheeled vehicles, gasoline powered, metal, mass produced. They are all different and each deserves to be considered on their own merits, but they are all similar in essential ways. The same with the cubists, futurists, et al. They all are different in many ways, and opposed to each other in some ways, but we can look at them all and note their similarities, especially when compared to the art of other centuries. And one of the key differences that sets 20th century visual art apart, and makes it one of the most exciting and vital IMO artistic periods, is abstraction.

I see what you are saying, and I agree, that there is a need for a specific term to describe non-representational art, but that term already exists: non-objective. I think that term is more useful and precise for many reasons. I find it helps my students (who are largely ignorant of visual art, especially paintings that don’t "look like stuff") understand that there are some paintings that represent objects and others that do not, and all paintings that look funny are not alike. And without the term abstract as that catch-all, what else is there to describe the 20th century trend away from copying forms as they appear to the eye? What words do we use to describe the links between disparate 20th century art movements and the differences between those and the ones of previous centuries? Picasso, as you said, is most definitely representational, but it seems quite inadequate and silly to use representational as a catch-all to label everything from cubism to photorealism. What makes Picasso or any number of 20th century masters from the Renaissance or Baroque masters? Abstraction. There are some paintings by, for example, Kandinsky which are representational, others which are not, yet both types of paintings are quite similar in style. What word do you use to note those similarities of style? Abstraction.

And don’t worry, nothing you’ve said could be remotely considered an attack. This is fun. :)
At the behest of Gamaliel's cordial and most gracious invitation I present for your reading pleasure, hours of research and my two cents on Abtract Art!

Scholars have long been uncertain as to how to classify art . The practice and theory of abstract art may well have it's beginnings in the symbolism if Neolithic art in Eastern Europe, Siberia and Central Asia. Art of a monumental character was familiar to the tribes who inhabited the coast of the White Sea and the eastern shores of Lake Onega. Findings of a large number of petroglyphs were etched into the rock surface. The petroglyphs are executed in various manners. Realistic and symbolic petroglyphs, and outline drawings but most are silhouettes emphasizing lines, colors, generalized or geometrical forms, especially with reference to their relationship to one another.

In the late thirteenth and the fourteenth century began a long overture towards the advent of naturalistic representation in European art. Medieval artists had for centuries relied mainly on prototypes as representations of the human figure, with an occasional searching glance at objects in the optical world. It wasn't until the fifteenth century where imitation of nature as an objective gives artists a direction. The proto-Renaissance artist of the sixteenth century proceeded tentatively, seemingly suspicious of an approach that involves fleeting appearances and empty of traditionally authoritative formula. Nonetheless, there is a careful stepping into the threshold of discovery infused in the art of that period of a hopeful spirit and often confident, if somewhat unsystematic.

Artists are not philosophers, however in the Renaissance they come very close to sharing the philosophical enterprise and in many ways the situation is akin to the art of today : so many possibilities and such diverse directions that, though rich conclusions are perhaps looked forward to, the way to them appears confused.

With the disintegration of the Roman Empire and the evolution of the Christian Middle Ages a new way of looking at the world emerged from the dissolution of the medieval style of thought. A new approach was needed to explain the nature and God thus creating the fundamental changes in art. William Ocklam, one of the most ingenious and subtle Scholastics who attacked the rationalism of Aquinas, appears to provide such an approach when on the precipice of a great insight, he emphasized the importance of the role of intuitive knowledge and the individual experience in the process of knowing.

Everything outside the soul is individual....{and} knowledge which is simple and peculiarly individual...is intuitive knowledge....Abstractive individual knowledge presupposes intuitive knowledge...our understanding knows sensible things intuitively.

Interestingly, many of the later thirteenth century and fourteenth century mystical and skeptical thinkers who emphasized personal intuition and experiences in seeking divine and natural knowledge were Franciscans in what might be called Franciscan radicalism stressing the primacy of personal experience, the individuals right to know by experiment, the futility of formed philosophy, and the beauty and value of things in the external world. It was amidst the rich and simulating social and intellectual environment established by the Franciscans that the painters and sculptors of the proto-Renaissance started a new epoch where the carved and painted images took shape from the optical world and applied the principles of the precocious thoughts of the English philosopher Roger Bacon of personal discovery through experience--for the artists case, the experience of seeing--artists began to project in painting and sculpture the shifting optical and the infinitely complex reticulum that humans experience as the world.

For the world the nineteenth century was an age of radical change ......an unparalleled population explosion, revolution followed revolution, a pattern marked by counter-revolution and conservative reaction. Economic and social struggle vied industrial capitalism and the bourgeoisie against the greatly impoverished masses. The quick industrialization created abrupt changes in age-old living patterns creating an acute dislocation for many. The Industrial Revolution began the exodus from rural living to the city in search of jobs and sent thousands overseas and the disparity between the rich and poor widened unprecedentedly.

Enlightenment and a profound sense of history pervaded the century and many in the nineteenth century did not accept the doctrine of progress. The great debate of this era was about authority-- the questions of what should be believed, respected, defended, and conformed to. Revolutionary shake ups about authority calling for the greatest good for the greatest number was advocated and confusion arose over the means to the ends of these ideologies. Maxims and slogans for innumerable movements remain current today--the isms: liberalism, radicalism, socialism, communism, conservatism, nationalism....and there counterparts in the art world: Romaticism, Realism, Impressionism, and the rest.

The artists of the nineteenth century were facing formidable changes...churches and secular nobility were replaced as sources of income by the triumphant middle class, the national state, and national academies. Competition forced crowds of artists, whose number had more than doubled since the end of the previous century, to vie for public attention by flattering its tastes. They became small independent capitalists with their own stocks and stores, taking chances in the market, aiming to please.

Artists who were dissatisfied with public tastes began to protest what they viewed as the degeneration of art into a shallow entertainment. Here began the nonrepresentational art styles of the 20th century. Romantically idealistic of self expression, artists called for a new, highly individualist vision, one of sincerity and originality, free from the hypocrisies of conventional tastes. There artists tended to group or be grouped into parties or movements analogous to those in political life and recognized for their zealous opposition to the status quo. The art world was on the threshold of what would turn out to be modern art, although functionally different from that of the past even though it was constructed out of the tradition of the past to a greater or lesser degree.

A variety of factors contributed to this historical division. Nineteenth century artists were confronted by three innovations that fatefully affected their work: The camera, the mass-produced print and the printed reproduction . Rivaling the unique work made by hand these new products flooded the world with images and in a way the nineteenth century artist was technologically displaced forcing them as individual craftspeople, to analyze their function and to study closer the physical nature of their medium beginning the development of abstract art as thought of today. Towards the end of the century, artists found themselves using the elements of line, shape, and color to represent their private world, the realm of imagination and feeling. The functions of the artist and the artists medium were decisively transformed by the modern world, and the art of that world broke firmly away from the Tradition

Art became a representation of objects in terms of abstract geometrical form rather than of natural appearance for decorativeness or symbolism and also, by extension, the stereotyping of forms by tradition for the same reasons. Formalism emerged and corresponded to stylization but has since been distinguished from the 20th-century notion of abstract art, which today defines it as a free arrangement of nonrepresentational shapes.

From early times examples of formalism in both senses are to be found in Neolithic statuettes and wooden sculpture and masks from Africa and Oceania, in the decoration of primitive pottery and Chinese bronze and jade, and in the object-symbols that make up the pattern of Oriental carpets; religious art has produced the hieratic figures of Byzantine mosaics and Russian icons and the Buddhist statuary of the Far East, all recognizable at once from pose and habiliments.

In modern times formalism is exemplified in the paintings of the Cubist, Futurist, and Vorticist movements.

Abstract art did not flourish between World Wars I and II. Beset by totalitarian politics and by art movements placing renewed emphasis on imagery, such as Surrealism and socially critical Realism, it received little notice. But after World War II an energetic American school of abstract painting called Abstract Expressionism emerged and had wide influence along with Abstract Figuration and Abstract Symbolism. Since the 1950s abstract art has been an accepted and widely practiced approach within European and American painting and sculpture. Abstract art has puzzled and indeed confused many people, but for those who have accepted its non-referential language there is no doubt as to its value and achievements.


Art Through the Ages. University of Michigan: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.


State Hermitage Museum:

An important thing to remember about abstract art is that abstraction is something that happens in degrees and/or stages. There are also many different types of abstraction: formal, ideological, data abstraction, ... In fact, there are degrees of abstraction for anything we call a concept. To equate Abstract Art with nonobjective art is a strangely narrow view for a painter.

eponymous - the qualities that you enjoy in non-objective paintings are the results of creative approaches which seek to eliminate abstraction entirely. Even the most photorealistic painting is an abstraction of the real, and further degrees of abstraction follow from that initial step. Nonobjective artists employ archetypal shapes (if only the shape of the canvas itself) in an effort to make the works devoid of any real world analogue, and may regard representational works as mere shadows on the wall of Plato's cave. Of course, they never really escape Jungian associations, or concepts such as "psychology of color".

To really appreciate Abstract Art (or any art for that matter), it's important understand the techniques of abstraction, and the degree to which they're employed. Once you start to deconstruct a painting in this manner, the question that stares you in the face is...
"What's this painting about?"

P.S. I get my jollies from nonrepresentational pornography.

black cream green violet red the purple is just the grapes you smell no violet on the board red with silver spokes gleaming like the piles of sawdust dancing with the wind pushing sunshine over the porch. all boxed now       the doors take one     two tries stained like bare feet running bases wind with scent of purple blowing the taste of rain is in the air around the corner. red shift tells us how far away and how fast galaxies are moving by counting the seconds between lightning and thunder you can find out how far from the storm you are.

what I really want to do is take you home where my home really is and sit on my porch during a horrible storm the kind where you get wet from the knees down even though you're standing in the middle of the porch       lightning flashes blue-bright-beautiful like you-eyes-shining that night when you told me I was trouble but danced with me for ever anyway and we rocked back and forth on the dance floor sweating and pulsating with the crowd     close hips and rolling words     not caring because I'm lying in the fresh cut grass breathing in quick because my back is itchy and my face is growing red but the sun is holding me down like a playful lover and hell it smells like summer       the back door opens and the air tastes like rain and I get up and for that one perfect moment you are the barefoot child in your own backyard with a homemade papertowel-roll kaleidoscope squinting one eyed with your sun viewer. Somehow, through the grace and glory of your chaotic run-around, you twist and jump and fly - just right - for one moment the kaleidoscope bursts into a perfection of angles and wavesong of colors before you forget how you got there and lose that moment; then it's gone. the hardest storm is the best to listen to with the chaos of percussion and the rhythm of the waterdrops. you can hear the change from pavement to pond if you run through the waterfalls and find the trail leading back to the tracks. the water rushes violetly-nonoviolently I cant smell the grapes anymore I'm breathing hard where did the lawn go? everything smells like cows the sky is burning but I dont hear any flames

There are two dart boards at the dive bar two blocks uptown. There are never enough darts for two games at the same time. Four darts in the whole house means you've gone on a good night. They (experts on the sport of dart throwing) suggest to focus intently on the cork (or other target) and then relax your stare as you throw. Look at the target, but see the whole board for that split second and release.

This is sniping. This is drawing in a breath, letting half of it out, and squezzing (never pull) the trigger.

For that one moment (I say moment because a second is far too long) you are aware of every physical aspect in the room; you can sketch the gravity riptides that will pull the dart off course as it flies home. The moment of clarity (for the unobservant) as you let your gating mechanism loose to shut out the voice of our taunting friend while the wind rushes in the open door fifty feet away. You aim, throw, and hit your mark in the space of a moment, and for that one perfect moment you feel fresh cut grass purple grapes; bleeding violetgreen between toes theres no Coppertone in this part of the world. skinned knees and dust stained fingers from hurling catches from right field and peeling red noses and wet orange skin and wearing sunlight like it's the new style smiling before it's gone the sky is white with floating little patches of blue      I see the sun. Remember, even if the moment is gone you will always have the memory, and this is what you can see whenever you need to smile because I smell the grapes and it's summertime

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