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What is abstract art?

> To: ronhondo@newmex.com
> Subject: What is abstract art?
> My name is Rebecca Morris from Rotherham and I am doing a project in graphics about abstract art and i was
> wondering if you could send me some information about abstract art, the history of it and anything that you think
> might help me.
> Thank you.
> Please e-mail me back,
>                Rebecca Morris

Dear Rebecca,

Thank you for your interest in abstract-art.com, and for your e-mail.

My name is Barbara, and I help my partner Ron Davis answer www.abstract-art.com e-mail messages from folks like yourself.

Ron is not a teacher or professor, he's a working artist and is in the studio right now, so he can't send specific information about the study of abstract art. However, perhaps I can help by suggesting you read the writings that are already on the site, particularly the commentaries by artists themselves which Ron has posted beneath some of the paintings, especially in the Grandfathers and More Artists sections. Also, you might look at the bibliographies and suggested readings at the ends of the articles in the Wordings section. Essays and articles by Clement Greenberg, Barbara Rose, Darby Bannard, Ronnie Landfield, and Michael Freid (Fried?) may help. These are artists, critics, and historians and they all have a lot to say about the genre.

Hint: start with Monet and come forward in time. Ronnie Landfield's article on Monet (on the website) is a passionate interpretation about how the art world viewed Monet's paintings — they were considered very unorthodox and were criticised for being unpleasantly non-representational. Later, they were identified as part of the beginning of abstract expressionism.

I admire you for studying abstract art; it is very like classical or jazz music, and is able to touch the senses and the emotions in ways that can be difficult for some people to understand.

Good luck,


Glossary of Art Words

The following selected definitions were derived from various sources:


ABSTRACT: \Ab"stract'\ a. [L. abstractus, p. p. of abstrahere to draw from, separate; ab, abs + trahere to draw. See Trace.]
1. Withdraw; separate. [Obs.]
The more abstract . . . we are from the body. —Norris.
2. Considered apart from any application to a particular object; separated from matter; existing in the mind only; as, abstract truth, abstract numbers. Hence: ideal; abstruse; difficult.
3. (Logic)
(a) Expressing a particular property of an object viewed apart from the other properties which constitute it; — opposed to concrete; as, honesty is an abstract word. —J. S. Mill.
(b) Resulting from the mental faculty of abstraction; general as opposed to particular; as, "reptile'' is an abstract or general name. —Locke.
A concrete name is a name which stands for a thing; an abstract name which stands for an attribute of a thing. A practice has grown up in more modern times, which, if not introduced by Locke, has gained currency from his example, of applying the expression "abstract name'' to all names which are the result of abstraction and generalization, and consequently to all general names, instead of confining it to the names of attributes. —J. S. Mill.
4. Abstracted; absent in mind. "Abstract, as in a trance.'' —Milton.
An abstract idea (Metaph.), an idea separated from a complex object, or from other ideas which naturally accompany it; as the solidity of marble when contemplated apart from its color or figure.
Abstract terms, those which express abstract ideas, as beauty, whiteness, roundness, without regarding any object in which they exist; or abstract terms are the names of orders, genera or species of things, in which there is a combination of similar qualities.
Abstract numbers (Math.), numbers used without application to things, as 6, 8, 10; but when applied to any thing, as 6 feet, 10 men, they become concrete.
Abstract or Pure mathematics. See Mathematics. Abstract \Ab*stract"\, v. t.
To perform the process of abstraction. [R.]
I own myself able to abstract in one sense. —Berkeley.

ABSTRACT: \Ab"stract'\, n. [See Abstract, a.]
1. That which comprises or concentrates in itself the essential qualities of a larger thing or of several things. Specifically: A summary or an epitome, as of a treatise or book, or of a statement; a brief.
An abstract of every treatise he had read. —Watts.
Man, the abstract Of all perfection, which the workmanship Of Heaven hath modeled. —Ford.
2. A state of separation from other things; as, to consider a subject in the abstract, or apart from other associated things.
3. An abstract term.
The concretes "father'' and "son'' have, or might have, the abstracts "paternity'' and "filiety.'' —J. S. Mill.
4. (Med.) A powdered solid extract of a vegetable substance mixed with sugar of milk in such proportion that one part of the abstract represents two parts of the original substance.
Abstract of title (Law), an epitome of the evidences of ownership.
Syn: Abridgment; compendium; epitome; synopsis. See Abridgment.Abstract \Ab*stract"\, v. t. [imp. & p. p. Abstracted; p. pr. & vb. n. Abstracting.] [See Abstract, a.]
1. To withdraw; to separate; to take away.
He was incapable of forming any opinion or resolution abstracted from his own prejudices. —Sir W. Scott.
2. To draw off in respect to interest or attention; as, his was wholly abstracted by other objects.
The young stranger had been abstracted and silent. —Blackw. Mag.
3. To separate, as ideas, by the operation of the mind; to consider by itself; to contemplate separately, as a quality or attribute. —Whately.
4. To epitomize; to abridge. —Franklin.
5. To take secretly or dishonestly; to purloin; as, to abstract goods from a parcel, or money from a till.
Von Rosen had quietly abstracted the bearing-reins from the harness. —W. Black.
6. (Chem.) To separate, as the more volatile or soluble parts of a substance, by distillation or other chemical processes. In this sense extract is now more generally used.

ABSTRACT: adj 1: existing only in the mind; separated from embodiment; "abstract words like 'truth' and 'justice'" [ant: concrete]
2: not representing or imitating external reality or the objects of nature; "a large abstract painting" [syn: abstractionist, nonfigurative, nonobjective]
3: based on specialized theory; "a theoretical analysis" [syn: theoretical]
4: dealing with a subject in the abstract without practical purpose or intention; "abstract reasoning"; "abstract science"
n 1: a concept or idea not associated with any specific instance; "He loved her only in the abstract —not in person." [syn: abstraction]
2: a summary of the main points of an argument or theory [syn: outline, synopsis, precis]
v 1: consider a concept without thinking of a specific example; consider abstractly or theoretically
2: make off with belongings of others [syn: pilfer, cabbage, purloin, pinch, snarf, swipe, hook, sneak, filch, nobble, lift]
3: consider apart from a particular case or instance; "Let's abstract away from this particular example."
4: give an abstract (of)

ABSTRACTION: \Ab*strac"tion\, n. [Cf. F. abstraction. See Abstract, a.]
1. The act of abstracting, separating, or withdrawing, or the state of being withdrawn; withdrawal. A wrongful abstraction of wealth from certain members of the community. —J. S. Mill.
2. (Metaph.) The act process of leaving out of consideration one or more properties of a complex object so as to attend to others; analysis. Thus, when the mind considers the form of a tree by itself, or the color of the leaves as separate from their size or figure, the act is called abstraction. So, also, when it considers whiteness, softness, virtue, existence, as separate from any particular objects.
Note: Abstraction is necessary to classification, by which things are arranged in genera and species. We separate in idea the qualities of certain objects, which are of the same kind, from others which are different, in each, and arrange the objects having the same properties in a class, or collected body. Abstraction is no positive act: it is simply the negative of attention. —Sir W. Hamilton.
3. An idea or notion of an abstract, or theoretical nature; as, to fight for mere abstractions.
4. A separation from worldly objects; a recluse life; as, a hermit's abstraction.
5. Absence or absorption of mind; inattention to present objects.
6. The taking surreptitiously for one's own use part of the property of another; purloining. [Modern]
7. (Chem.) A separation of volatile parts by the act of distillation. —Nicholson.abstraction
n 1: a concept or idea not associated with any specific instance; "he loved her only in the abstract —not in person" [syn: abstract]
2: the act of extracting something [syn: extraction]
3: the process of formulating general concepts by abstracting common properties of instances [syn: generalization]
4: an abstract painting
5: preoccupation with something to the exclusion of all else [syn: abstractedness]
6: a general concept formed by extracting common features from specific examples

1. Generalisation; ignoring or hiding details to capture some kind of commonality between different instances. Examples are abstract data types (the representation details are hidden), abstract syntax (the details of the concrete syntax are
ignored), abstract interpretation (details are ignored to analyse specific properties).
2. <programming> Parameterisation, making something a function of something else. Examples are lambda abstractions (making a term into a function of some variable), higher-order functions (parameters are functions), bracket abstraction (making a term into a function of a variable).
Opposite of concretisation.

ABSTRACTION: Abstraction is characterized by the notion of cloaking the relationship between the observed world and a created image. To abstract means to "withdraw"; to "take away secretly"; to "draw off or apart"; to "disengage from"; to "separate in mental conception"; to "consider apart from the material embodiment, or from particular instances" (Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. "abstract"). These meanings can be documented as far back as the sixteenth century. Taken individually or in combination, they were central to discussions about abstraction in the early years of the century. Descriptions of the process of abstraction have ranged throughout the twentieth century from secret removal to the creation of something visionary.

The association of abstraction in art with meaninglessness is derived in large measure from Wilhelm Worringer's Abstraction and Empathy: A Contribution to the Psychology of Style, originally published in Munich in 1908. Worringer equated abstract with angular and antinaturalistic. Guillaume Apollinaire further divorced the abstract from reality when he devised the concepts of "pure painting" and "pure art": an art that would be to painting "what music is to poetry." In a 1913 or early 1914 sketchbook annotation Piet Mondrian elaborated: "One passes through a world of forms ascending from reality to abstraction. In this manner one approaches Spirit, or purity itself" (quoted in Robert P. Welsh and J.M. Joosten, Two Mondrian Sketchbooks 1912-1914 [Amsterdam: Meulenhoff, 1969]). Wassily Kandinsky similarly distinguished the abstract, a style of painting with few references to representational motifs, from the gegenstandlos, literally "without object or objectless."

Art criticism from the 1940s through the early 1970s has encouraged the association of abstraction with nonrepresentation. Recent scholarship, however, has reasserted the subject in abstraction and has begun to rediscover meanings that were neglected by these previous generations of scholars and critics. In this new work scholars are echoing Worringer's thoughts of nearly seventy years earlier: "Now what are the psychic presuppositions for the urge to abstraction? We must seek them in these peoples' [artists, writers, philosophers] feeling about the world, in their psychic attitude toward the cosmos . . . the urge to abstraction is the outcome of a great inner unrest inspired in man by the phenomena of the outside world; in a religious respect it corresponds to a strongly transcendental tinge to all notions" (Wilhelm Worringer, Abstraction and Empathy [Cleveland: Meridian, 1967], 15).

(From "A Glossary of Spiritual and Related Terms," by Robert Galbreath and Judi Freeman, in The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting 1890-1985, LA County Museum of Art Exhibition Catalogue, November 1986. Abbeville Press, Inc., New York, NY.)

ABSTRACTION: Often used interchangeably with non-objective; more precisely, imagery which departs from representational accuracy (often to an extreme degree) for some affective or other purpose unrelated to verisimilitude. Abstraction has been treated to a good deal of revision by critics who practice a type of semiotics: Peter Wollen, for instance, sees the move to abstraction as a gradual separation of signifier and signified, until the signified is suppressed altogether in favour of an art of pure signifiers (Semiotic Counter-Strategies: Readings and Writings [1982]). See also Craig Owens' "The Discourse of Others" in Hal Foster's The Anti-Aesthetic (1983). [http://www.arts.ouc.bc.ca/fina/glossary/a_list.html]

AFFECT: In an essay in Social Text (Fall 1982), Frederic Jameson characterized the move from modernism to postmodernism as a move from affect to effect, from emotional engagement to slick superficiality. Jeff Koons' works could be so described. [http://www.arts.ouc.bc.ca/fina/glossary/a_list.html]

ART: Any simple definition would be profoundly pretentious and tendentious, but we can say that all the definitions offered over the centuries include some notion of human agency, whether through manual skills (as in the art of sailing or painting or photography), intellectual manipulation (as in the art of politics), or public or personal expression (as in the art of conversation). As such, the word is etymologically related to artificial – i.e., produced by human beings. Since this embraces many types of production that are not conventionally deemed to be art, perhaps a better term would be culture. This would explain why certain preindustrial cultures produce objects which Eurocentric interests characterize as art, even though the producing culture has no linguistic term to differentiate these objects from utilitarian artifacts.
DEFINITIONS OF ART: Ellen Dissanayake's What is Art For? (a shorter version of which appeared in Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism [Summer 1980]), tries to avoid partisanship by simply listing the various ways art has been understood through history: (in no particular order) the product of conscious intention, self rewarding activity, a tendency to unite dissimilar things, a concern with change and variety, aesthetic exploitation of familiarity and surprise or tension and release, the imposition of order on disorder, the creation of illusions, indulgence in sensuousness, the exhibition of skill, a desire to convey meanings, indulgence in fantasy (cf day-dreaming), aggrandizement of self or others, illustration, the heightening of existence, revelation, personal adornment or embellishment, and so on. In a brief review of new cave paintings discovered in France in 1995, critic Robert Hughes wrote: "art – communication by visual images – ... is, at its root, association – the power to make one thing stand for and symbolize another, and to create the agreements by which some marks on a surface denote, say, an animal, not just to the markmaker but to others" ("Behold the Stone Age," Time [February 1995]: 42). Cf craft, high art, low art.

ILLUSION: n. 1. something that deceives by producing a false impression. 2. act of deceiving; deception; delusion; mockery. 3. state of being deceived, or an instance of this; a false impression or belief. 4. Psychol. a perception of a thing which misrepresents it, or gives it qualities not present in realtiy. 5. a very thin, delicate kind of tulle.
–Syn. 1. ILLUSION, DELUSION, HALLUCINATION, refer to mental deceptions which arise from various causes. An ILLUSION is a false mental image or conception which may be a misinterpretation of a real appearance or may be something imagined. It may be pleasing, harmless, or even useful: a mirage is an illusion; he had an illusion that the doorman was a general. A DELUSION is a fixed mistaken conception of something which really exists, and is not capable of correction or removal by examination or reasoning. Delusions are often mischievous or harmful, as those of a fanatic or lunatic; the delusion that all food is poisoned. A HALLUCINATION is a completely groundless, false conception, belief, or opinion, caused by a disordered imagination; it is particularly frequent today in the pathological sense, according to which it denotes hearing or seeing something that does not exist; hallucinations caused by nervous disorders. —Ant. 1. Reality

ILLUSION \Il*lu"sion\, n. [F. illusion, L. illusio, fr. illudere, illusum, to illude. See {Illude}.]
1. An unreal image presented to the bodily or mental vision; a deceptive appearance; a false show; mockery; hallucination.
To cheat the eye with blear illusions. —Milton.
2. Hence: Anything agreeably fascinating and charning; enchantment; witchery; glamour.
Ye soft illusions, dear deceits, arise! —Pope.
3. (Physiol.) A sensation originated by some external object, but so modified as in any way to lead to an erroneous perception; as when the rolling of a wagon is mistaken for thunder.
Note: Some modern writers distinguish between an illusion and hallucination, regarding the former as originating with some external object, and the latter as having no objective occasion whatever.
4. A plain, delicate lace, usually of silk, used for veils, scarfs, dresses, etc.
Syn: Delusion; mockery; deception; chimera; fallacy. See {Delusion}. {Illusion}, {Delusion}.
Illusion refers particularly to errors of the sense; delusion to false hopes or deceptions of the mind. An optical deception is an illusion; a false opinion is a delusion. E. Edwards.

ILLUSIONISM: n. a theory or doctrine that the material world is an illusion.

ILLUSIONIST: n. One subject to illusions. 2. a conjurer; 3. an adherent of illusionism.

ILLUSORY: adj. Causing illusion; deceptive; of the nature of an illusion; unreal.

LYRICAL: adj. 1. (of poetry) having the form and musical quality of a song, and esp. the character of a songlike outpouring of the poet's own thoughts and feelings (as distinguished rom the epic and dramatic poetry with their more extended and set forms and their presentation of external subjects). 2. Pertaining to the writing of such poetry; a lyric poet; 3. characterized by or indulging in a spontaneous, ardent, expression of feeling; 4. pertaining to, rendered by, or employing singing; 5. pertaining, adapted, or sung to the lyre; or composing poems to be sung to the lyre; ancient Greek lyric odes; 6. (of a voice) relatively light of volume and modest in range (most suited for graceful cantible melody). — n. 7. A lyric poem. 8. Colloq. The words of a song.

LYRISM: n. 1. lyricism, especially of expression; 2. lyric enthusiasm.

ORPHIC \Or"phic\, a. [L. Orphicus, Gr. ?.]
Pertaining to Orpheus; Orphean; as, Orphic hymns.

VOXEL <jargon> (By analogy with "{pixel}")
Volume element. The smallest distinguishable box-shaped part of a three-dimensional space. A particular voxel will be identified by the x, y and z coordinates of one of its eight corners, or perhaps its centre. The term is used in three dimensional modelling. "

" A voxel is a point in space." –Ron Davis, upon being asked "What's a voxel??"

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