From cubism to expressionism to informalism, these abstract art styles will help you discuss art with even the most sophisticated connoisseur.
Though abstraction in form can be found in many periods of art history, abstract art as a distinct visual language came into its own in the 19th and 20th centuries.
With the industrial revolution, and all the technological advancements that came after, the world was seemingly constantly moving and evolving. Conflict also defined abstract art. The early 20th century was a time of great uncertainty, with the first world war, the great depression, and the second world war happening in quick succession. Abstract art was born out of this changing landscape – a new kind of artistic representation for a new kind of world.
Abstract art definition
Abstract art is hard to define, as its production has spanned many countries over the decades. At its core, abstract art is a deliberate moving away from reality or the norm.
Abstract artists rejected perspective, naturalism, and other artistic practices that underpinned artistic production for centuries.
The art movements Romanticism, Impressionism, Expressionism – and the output of dynamic, painterly works by artists associated with the respective styles – are often considered the forerunners for Modern and Abstract art. Abstract artists rejected perspective, naturalism, and other artistic practices that underpinned artistic production for centuries. Abstract art as a genre does not attempt to faithfully depict reality instead aiming to achieve a certain effect, emotion, or even ambiance through the use of shape, color, and form. For the most part, abstract art is non-figurative and non-representational. That is to say, it does not render objects, people, or ideas as they would normally appear rather conveying them.
Types of Abstract Art
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Abstract art is still going strong, with many contemporary artists continuing to play around with their compositions. Here is a general guide to different types of abstract art, how to recognize them, and artists associated with the genres.
Abstract Expressionism is the term used to describe a new form of modern painting that emerged in the mid 20th century, primarily in the US. Much like its 19th-century precursor ‘Expressionism,’ the abstracted forms are expressive of the artist’s ideas or emotions. Artists such as Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock worked in a spontaneous way, far removed from the linear and exacting methods of old masters. Though art history is quick to paint a very masculine picture of the genre, some incredible female artists from this period are now getting more recognition, such as Alma Thomas, Grace Hartigan, and Joan Mitchell. Though sadly often overshadowed by her famed husband, Willem, Elaine de Kooning was also a prolific Abstract Expressionist.
This universality of expression and feeling still resonates with audiences and artists alike. Contemporary artists such as Jane Pryor and Vera Komnig continue to incorporate bold brushstrokes and spontaneity within their work.
Action painting is closely related to Abstract Expressionism, some considering it a tendency within the larger umbrella of ‘AbEx’. Starting with the famous paint-splattered canvases created by Jackson Pollock, the term often refers to works that are created by dripping, pouring, or splashing paint directly onto the surface.
Though perhaps not directly referred to by the same name, the genre is alive and well in spin art. Taking off in the 1960s, spin art could be seen in the work of Alfons Shilling and Annick Gendron. Yet, contemporary artists working today, such as Damien Hirst, have – forgive the pun! – put their own spin on the genre.
Color Field Painting
Similar to Action Painting, Color Field Painting is often considered to be part of the wider umbrella of Abstract Expressionism. Named such as color field paints are characterized by large areas of singular, flat colors. The colors used are important, as the effect can be either happy or somber. Artists such as Mark Rothko, with his large canvases often named after the colors used, are synonymous with this art movement.
The definition of color field painting is broad, as the rainbow-like works of Morris Louis are often considered important to the genre. Contemporary practitioners include artists such as Carrie Moyer, Peter Tollens, and Osamu Kobayashi who are putting their mark on the enduring legacy of the color field.
Cubism has made an indelible mark on the history of both Modern and Abstract art. Abstract art is considered an off-shoot of Cubism, rather than vice versa. This avant-garde movement was spearheaded by Pablo Picasso and George Braque, revolutionizing European painting and sculpture. The name cubism comes from the art critic, Louis Vauxcelles, who remarked on the work of Braque being composed of cubes. He was right of course. In cubism, objects, people, ideas are analyzed and broken down into cube-like forms that reflect the basic composition or notion that defines them.
Cubism influenced many styles, such as Constructivism, Futurism, and Suprematism. In fact, Cubism remains influential to this day, as these infamous cubist forms are seen on anything from digital art to sculpture.
Though already mentioned briefly under the term Abstract Expressionism, the two however have important differences. Fundamental in the development of Abstract art as a whole, expressionist works are a depiction of the individual artist’s subjective viewpoint, distorting form for emotional or dramatic effect. Important modern movements such as Der Blaue Reiter and the Bauhaus, and artists such as Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee, are important within the development and continuation of Expressionism.
Much like Cubism, Expressionism inspired many other art movements – including localized groups such as the Boston and New York expressionists.
Defined simply, geometric abstraction is the use of simple, geometric forms in a non-illusionistic space. That is basically to say – shapes on a flat surface. Informed by cubism, the world rendered in geometric abstraction is composed entirely of geometry. The art movement is within the wider umbrella of ‘post-painterly abstraction’ which is a term coined by art critic Clement Greenberg, with artists such as Fernand Leger and Francois Morellet playing prominent roles in its development. Morellet in particular is an interesting example, as a multi-disciplinary artist, he brought the idea of geometric abstraction (and the idea of the ‘flat surface’) into three-dimensional works, as well as light art.
Geometric Abstraction continues to inspire artists, in the works of Brent Hallard and Vera Molnar to name a few.
Often known as Art Informel, Informalism is an art movement that developed in the 1940s and 50s. Alongside other post-war movements, Informalism abandoned geometric abstraction for something, you guessed it, that was more informal and intuitive. Art Informel is often studied alongside movements such as Lyrical Abstraction, Matter Painting, and Tachisme.
The term derives from the Dutch ‘de nieuwe beelding,’ literally meaning a ‘new’ kind of art. Unlike the rest of these categories within this article, neo-plasticism is not so much a movement as it is an art theory. The theory was published as part of the De Stijl journals and is inextricably linked with that particular circle of artists, particularly Piet Mondrian.
Neo-plasticism was guided by the notion that art should be removed of parts that do not belong there – leaving only the most basic elements behind. I am sure most of us can recall the linearity and primary colors that define the work of Mondrian.
A popular branch of Geometric Abstraction, Op Art (short for optical art) creates or uses – well, you guessed it – optical illusions. A major development in the 60s, with the likes of Bridget Riley playing around with color theory, and psychology, to create mind-bending works. This is an art movement that is perhaps the most grounded in art history. Artists had long been obsessed with the idea of fooling the viewer, especially through the use of trompe-l’œil techniques.
The genre alive and well, with artists like Gilbert Hsiao, Christiane Grimm, and Adriana Dorta redefining how art is viewed. Bridget Riley, too, continues to be active, creating her idiosyncratic works.
Though this was a whistle-stop tour of Abstract art and its development in the century and beyond, hopefully, it gave you a better idea of how to approach viewing, thinking about, and, possibly, collecting different types of abstract art. True to its name, the definition and approaches to producing abstract art are, well, abstract.
Abstract art styles we covered in this article:
Abstract artists to you may like: