abstract art

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abstract art

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Abstract Art


also abstractionism, nonobjective art, nonrepresentational art; a trend in the art of many countries, primarily capitalist ones, which in principle rejects any suggestion of real-object depiction in painting, sculpture, and graphics.

The program of abstract art is to break completely with social or cognitive aims in artistic creation and to replace them with some kind of spiritual essences “cleansed of reality”—purely subjective emotions and subconscious impulses. This is an extreme expression of the individualist and subjectivist tendencies in bourgeois culture, of the idealist conceptions of “art for art’s sake.” In practice, however, abstract art comes down to nothing more than the creation, with the help of abstract elements of artistic form (color, line, size, etc.), of nonpictorial compositions arranged in a rationalistic manner or intended to express the spontaneity of the artist’s feelings and fantasies. Many different things are united under the rubric “abstract art”— antihumanistic concepts of art, illusory aspirations toward “absolute freedom” from reality and from society, attempts to express the world of the artist’s private perceptions, and purely decorative compositions that are essentially alien to the programmatic declarations of abstract art, as well as laboratory experiments with new forms which for the most part are related to architecture and the decorative arts.

Abstract art originated as an anarchic defiance of public taste at a time when several currents in 20th-century art were sorting themselves out—cubism, expressionism, futurism, and so on. In 1910–13 the first examples of abstract painting were produced by the expressionists W. Kandinsky and P. Klee, working in Germany; by the Paris orphists R. De-launay, the Spaniard F. Picabia, and the Czech F. Kupka; by the Italian futurists G. Balla, U. Boccioni, and G. Severini; in Russia by the suprematist K. S. Malevich and the rayonists M. F. Larionov and N. S. Goncharova; in the Netherlands by the neoplasticists P. Mondrian, T. van Doesburg, and B. van der Leck. Soon after, the Ukrainian A. P. Archipenko, the Rumanian C. Brancusi, and others then working in Paris turned to experiments in abstract sculpture. After World War I abstract art was fed by nihilistic moods engendered among the bourgeois intelligentsia by the war (dadaism, represented by the Spaniard J. Miro and the Frenchman J. Arp). At the same time an effort took shape to find ways to apply nonrepresentational forms to architecture and the decorative arts (the experiments of the De Stijl group in the Netherlands and the Bauhaus in Germany) and to design such forms according to the principles of mathematics and engineering (the constructions of V. E. Tatlin and of the brothers A. Pevsner and N. Gabo, who emigrated from Russia; later, the mobiles of the American A. Calder). In the 1920’s a large group of Soviet artists, seeing the incompatibility of the abstract art program and the aims of Soviet culture, moved on to practical work in artistic construction (Tatlin, L. S. Popova). During World War II the abstract expressionist school arose in the United States (the painters J. Pollock and M. Tobey) and after the war spread to other countries under the name tachisme, or “formless” art. Abstract expressionism propounded as its method accidental effects—unconsciousness and automatism in the creative process. In painting and graphics, the refinement of unexpected combinations of color and texture was cultivated (A. Manessier, J. Dubuffet, and P. Soulages in France, K. Appel in the Netherlands, Basaldella Afro in Italy); in sculpture, the creation of whimsical paradoxes in composition and in the working of materials (S. Lipton in the United States and E. Chillida in Spain). During the mid-20th century, abstract art became a privileged and militant tendency in the bourgeois countries, striving for absolute predominance; it even influenced the art of several socialist countries, such as Poland, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia. In the 1960’s abstract art evolved in the direction of ornamental and geometrical design (op art). As a movement, the abstract school is losing ground, being dislodged by tendencies that vary in character and aim but lean toward representation and real objects.


Stoikov, A. Kritika abstraktnogo iskusstva i ego teorii. Moscow, 1964.
Lebedev, A. K. K sporam ob abstraktsionizme v izobrazitel’ nom iskusstve. Moscow, 1967.
Lifshits, M., and L. Reingardt. Krizis bezobraziia. Moscow, 1967. Brion, M. Art abstrait. Paris, 1963.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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