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Abstract art

art with a degree of independence from visual references in the world
Claude Monet, 1890-91: 'Wheatstack' (Thaw, Sunset), oil on canvas
Paul Cézanne, 1904-1906: 'Mont Sainte-Victoire', painted in oil on canvas during his very last years
Piet Mondrian, 1909: 'Dune III', painted with oil on a small cardboard; current location: The Hague, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
Wassily Kandinsky, 1911: 'Impression III' (Konzert), painting
Wassily Kandinsky, 1912: 'Landscape With Two Poplars' painted in Murnau, South-Germany - current location: Art Institute of Chicago, U.S.
Robert Delaunay, 1912: 'Simultaneous Windows on the City, 1912, painting in oil on canvas by Robert Delaunay
Theo van Doesburg, 1912:'Composition 2', painting in oil on canvas
Piet Mondrian, 1918: 'Composition with color planes and gray lines'
Piet Mondrian, 1912: 'Blossoming Apple Tree', oil on canvas. Location: The Hague, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
Robert Delaunay, 1912: 'Simultaneous Contrasts Sun and Moon' painting in oil on canvas
w:Natalia Goncharova, 1913: 'Cats' - painting in oil on canvas
Piet Mondrian, 1913/1914: 'Composition nr.9 - Blue Façade'
Giacomo Balla, 1914/15: 'Sculptural Construction of Noise and Speed', reconstructed 1968), at the Hirschhorn Museum
Kazimir Malevich, 1915: 'Lady - Colour Masses in the 4th and 2nd Dimensions', in oil on canvas; location State Russian Museum
Alexej von Jawlensky, 1915: 'Frosty Day', painting in oil on paper on cardboard
Juan Gris, 1915: 'Abstraction', oil and oil with sand on cardboard
Theo van Doesburg, 1920: 'Composition XX',
w:Lyubov Popova, 1921: 'Space-power construction'
Kazimir Malevich, Black Square, 1923, The Russian Museum.
Alexej von Jawlensky, 1923: 'Abstract Head: Autumn and Dying', painting on canvas

Abstract art in sourced quotes. The art approach 'Abstract art' emerged in modern art from the 1870-80's. It uses a visual language of shape, form, color and line to create a composition which may exist with a degree of independence from visual references in the world.

Contents

Abstract Art, in quotesEdit

Sorted chronologically, by date of the quote

1900 - 1925Edit

  • Allow me to repeat what I said when you were here: deal with nature by means of the cylinder, the sphere and the cone, all placed in perspective, so that each side of an object or a plane is directed towards a central point. Lines parallel to the horizon give breadth, a section of nature, or if you prefer, of the spectacle spread before our eyes by the 'Pater Omnipotens Aeterne Deus'. Lines perpendicular to that horizon give depth. But for us men, nature has more depth than surface, hence the need to introduce in our vibrations of light, represented by reds and yellows, enough blue tints to give a feeling of air.
    • Paul Cézanne, (1904) in a letter to w:Émile Bernard, 15 April 1904, as quoted in Letters of the great artists – from Blake to Pollock, Richard Friedenthal, Thames and Hudson, London, 1963, p. 180
  • This is what happens, unquestionably – I am positive: an optical sensation is produced in our visual organ, which leads us classify as light, half-tone or quarter-tone, the planes represented by sensations of color. As long as, inevitably, one proceeds from black to white, the former of these abstractions being a kind of point of rest both for eye and brain, we flounder about, we cannot achieve self-mastery, get possession of ourselves. During this period (I tend to repeat myself, inevitably) we turn to the admirable works (of the five great Venetian painters as Titian and Tintoretto) handed down to us through the ages, in which we find comfort and support..
    • Paul Cézanne, (1904) in a letter to w:Émile Bernard, 23 December 1904, as quoted in Letters of the great artists – from Blake to Pollock, Richard Friedenthal, Thames and Hudson, London, 1963, p. 184
  • It is clear to me that this [ De Stijl art] is art for the future. Futurism, although it has advanced beyond naturalism, occupies itself too much with human sensations. Cubism – which in its content is still too much concerned with earlier aesthetic products, and thus less rooted in its own time than Futurism – Cubism has taken a giant step in the direction of abstraction, and is in this respect of its own time and of the future. Thus in its content it is not modern, but in its effect it is.
    • Piet Mondrian, (1914) in his letter (Paris, 29 January 1914) to the Dutch art critic and buyer of Mondrian's paintings, H. P. Bremmer; as quoted in Mondrian, -The Art of Destruction, Carel Blotkamp, Reaktion Books LTD. London 2001, p. 77
  • By 'Suprematism' I mean the supremacy of pure feeling in creative art. To the Suprematist the visual phenomena of the objective world are, in themselves, meaningless; the significant thing is feeling.
    • Kazimir Malevich, (1915) in 'The Non-Objective World: The Manifesto of Suprematism' (1915), trans. Howard Dearstyne [Dover, 2003, ISBN 0-486-42974-1], part II: Suprematism, p. 67
  • The more horrible this world (as today, for instance) [first year of World War 1.], the more abstract our art, whereas a happy world brings forth an art of the here and now.
    • Paul Klee, quote in his Diary entry (1915), # 951

1916 - 1925Edit

  • My work has the abstraction underneath it all now & what I deliberately set out to do down here, for this is the perfect realistic abstraction in landscape.
    • Marsden Hartley (1919), in his letter to w:Alfred Stieglitz, October 9, 1919, Hartley Archive, Yale University; as quoted in Marsden Hartley, by Gail R. Scott, Abbeville Publishers, Cross River Press, 1988, New York p. 68
  • A tendency toward the abstract is inherent in linear expression: graphic imagery being confined to outlines has a fairy-like quality and at the same time can achieve great precision.
    • Paul Klee (1920), his quote in 'Creative Credo' ['Schöpferische Konfession'], (1920); Section I.
  • The concept of Abstract painting is not a passing abstraction, good only for a few initiates, [but] the total expression of a new generation whose necessities it experiences and to all of whose aspirations it constitutes a response. [quote, 1920]
    • Fernand Léger (1920), as quoted in Abstract Painting, Michel Seuphor, Dell Publishing Co., 1964, p. 16
  • Neo-Plasticism has its roots in Cubism. It could just as easy be called the Painting of Real Abstraction. Since the abstract can be expressed by a plastic reality.. .It achieves what all painting has tried to achieve but has been able to express only in a veiled manner. By their position and their dimension as well as by the importance of given to colour, the coloured planes express in a plastic way only relations and not forms. Neo-Plasticism imparts to these relations an aesthetic balance and thereby expresses universal harmony [quote in 1921-23].
    • Piet Mondrian (c. 1923), his quote in Abstract Painting, Michel Seuphor, Dell Publishing Co.,1964, p. 83-85
  • Remember that a picture, before being a battle horse, a nude, an anecdote or whatnot, is essentially a flat surface covered with colours assembled in a certain order.
    • Maurice Denis (1922), in Nouvelles théories sur l'art moderne, sur l'art sacré ('New Theories of Modern and Sacred Art' 1922)
  • Observing sea, sky and stars, I sought to indicate their plastic function through a multiplicity of crossing verticals and horizontals. Impressed by the vastness of Nature, I was trying to express its expansion, rest and unity.
    • Attributed to Piet Mondrian, in: Abstract Art, Anna Moszynska, Thames and Hudson, London 1990, p. 50
  • By the unification of architecture, sculpture and painting a new plastic reality will be created.
    • Attributed to Piet Mondrian, in: Abstract Art, Anna Moszynska, Thames and Hudson, London 1990, p. 117
  • It is interesting to observe how real the object remains, in spite of all abstractions.
    • Paul Klee, statement of mid-1920's; as quoted in Abstract Art (1990) by Anna Moszynska, p. 100

1926 - 1945Edit

  • 'To abstract' something implies one of those mental activities (in contrast to emotional spontaneity) through which certain [aesthetic] values are isolated from the world of reality. However, when such values were realized visually and applied as purely constructive means, they became real. Thus the abstract was transformed into the real, thereby illustrating the relativity of the former term.. .The period of abstraction is at an end. Is not an elementary painting, which is to say a certain composition of plane-linear colours, organic in itself, more concrete?
    • Theo van Doesburg, (1926) in 'Elementarism as real art', in: 'Painting and plastic art' - Rome, July 1926, in 'De Stijl', series XIII, 1 75-6, 1926, pp. 35-43
  • We speak of 'concrete' and not 'abstract painting', because we have finished with the period of research and speculative experience. In their search for purity artists were obliged to abstract from 'natural forms' in which the plastic elements were hidden, in order to eliminate natural forms and to replace them with 'artistic forms'. To-day the idea of 'artistic form' is as obsolete as the idea of 'natural form'. We establish the period of pure painting by constructing 'spiritual form'. Creative spirit becomes concrete.
    • Theo van Doesburg, (1930) in: 'Comments on the basic of concrete painting', Paris, January 1930; 'Art Concret', April 1930, pp. 2-4
  • Abstract art is only painting. What about drama?
    There is no abstract art. You always start with something. Afterward you can remove all traces of reality.
    • Pablo Picasso, in: Conversation avec Picasso, 1935; Translated in: Herschel Browning Chip (1968, p. 270).
    • Other translation:
      Abstract art is only painting. And what's so dramatic about that? There is no abstract art. One must always begin with something. Afterwards one can remove all semblance of reality.
      • Richard Friedenthal (1968, p. 256-7).
  • It is not the subject which matters but the translation of the subject into the abstraction of the surface by means of painting. Therefore I hardly need to abstract things, for each object is unreal enough already, so unreal that I can only make it real by means of painting.
  • My aim is always to get hold of the magic of reality and to transfer this reality in painting – to make the invisible visible through reality.. .What helps me most in this task is the penetration of space. Height, width and depth are the three phenomena which I must transfer into one plane to form the abstract surface of the picture, and thus to protect myself from the infinity of space. My figures come and go, suggested by fortune or misfortune. I try to fix them divested of their apparent accidental quality.
    • Quote of Max Beckmann 1938, on abstraction, in a republished text of his public speech at the exhibition 'Twentieth-Century German Art', London, 21 July 1938; as quoted in On my Painting, Max Beckmann, Tate Publishing London, 2003, pp. 12-13
  • As long as art cannot get free from the object, it will continue to be a description.
    • Robert Delaunay [before his death, 1941] in 'On light'; as quoted in: Susanna Partsch, ‎Paul Klee (2003) Klee. p. 20
  • We are not talking about a new cognition in relation to abstract art, rather a new area of cognition.. .This is where abstract art steps in, in a stronger sense of life, a stronger contact with the growing life, a feeling of the pulsation of life and growth in oneself, an activation of deep-seated powers a staple vitality far deeper than our cognition, not instead of science but inspired by it.

1946 - 1955Edit

  • It makes no difference whether a work is naturalistic or abstract; every visual expression follows the same fundamental laws.
    • Hans Hofmann (c. 1950), in Excerpts from the Teaching of Hans Hofmann, p. 61
  • Nature then, is just nature. I admit I am very impressed with it. The attitude that nature is chaotic and that the artist puts order into it is a very absurd point of view, I think. All that we can do for is to put some order in ourselves. When a man ploughs his field at the right time, it means just that.
    • Willem de Kooning, (1950) in De Kooning's lecture 'Trans/formation', at Studio 35, 1950, n.p.
  • The word 'abstract' comes from the light tower of the philosophers.. ..and it seems to be one of their spotlights that they have particularly focused [sic] on 'Art.' So the artist is always lighted up by it. As soon as it — I mean the 'abstract' — comes into painting, it ceases to be what it is as it is written. It changes into a feeling which could be explained by some other words, probably. ..[abstraction was] not so much what you could paint but rather what you could not paint. You could not paint a house or a tree or a mountain. It was then that subject matter came into existence as something you ought not have.
    • Willem de Kooning 1951, in his speech 'What Abstract Art means to me' on the symposium 'What is Abstract Art', at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 5 February, 1951, n.p.
  • But one day, some painter used 'Abstraction' as a title for one of his paintings. It was a still life. And it was a very tricky title. And it wasn’t really a very good one. From then on the idea became something extra. Immediately it gave some people the idea that they could free art from itself. Until then, Art meant everything that was in it – not what you could take off it. There was only one thing you could take out of it sometime when you were in the right mood – that abstract and indefinable sensation, the aesthetic part – and still leave it were it was...
    • Willem de Kooning 1951, in his speech 'What Abstract Art means to me', on the symposium 'What is Abstract Art', at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 5 February, 1951, n.p.
  • The beauty of comfort.. .To compose with curves like that, and angles, and make works of art with them could only make people happy, they maintained, for the only association was one of comfort.. .This pure form of comfort became the comfort of 'pure form.' The 'nothing' part in a painting until then—the part that was not painted but that was there because of the things in the picture which were painted—had a lot of descriptive labels attached to it like 'beauty,' 'lyric,' 'form,' 'profound,' 'space,' 'expression,' 'classic,' 'feeling,' 'epic,' 'romantic,' 'pure,' 'balance,' etc. Anyhow that 'nothing' which was always recognized as a particular something—and as something particular—they generalized, with their book-keeping minds, into circles and squares. They had the innocent idea that the "something" existed 'in spite of' and not 'because of' and that this something was the only thing that truly mattered.
    • Willem de Kooning, in his speech 'What Abstract Art means to me' on the symposium 'What is Abstract Art', at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 5 February, 1951, n.p.
  • Kandinsky understood 'Form' as a form, like an object in the real world; and an object, he said, was a narrative—and so, of course, he disapproved of it. He wanted his 'music without words'. He wanted to be 'simple as a child.' He intended, with his 'inner-self', to rid himself of 'philosophical barricades' (he sat down and wrote something about all this). But in turn his own writing has become a philosophical barricade, even if it is a barricade full of holes. It offers a kind of Middle-European idea of Buddhism or, anyhow, something too theosophic for me.
    • Willem de Kooning, in his speech 'What Abstract Art means to me' on the symposium 'What is Abstract Art' - at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 5 February, 1951, n.p.
  • I think of Abstract Art in the same way I think of all Art, Past and Present. I see it as divided into two Major categories, Objective and Subjective. Objective Art is Absolute Art. Subjective Art is Illustration, or communication by Symbols, Replicas, and Oblique Emotional Passes. They are both Art, but their Content has no Identity. Their difference cannot be defined as a difference of Idiom, because all Paintings have the Laws of Design as a common denominator. Design]exists as an Idiom of Color-Space Logic, and it also exists in an Idiom of Representational Likenesses. Objective Art and Subjective Art exist in both Idioms. Their difference can only be defined in terms of what the artist thinks his Purpose means - its Content as a Design Image.
  • Somehow it doesn't seem long since I trudged in a picket-line; in the street here, and in the rain. A fairly muted demonstration against the Museum, which wasn't always in a mood for showing abstract paintings by Americans. It was fun I suppose-needless to say, the picketing produced no results. Yet a majority of the picketers are visible through their works at the moment, upstairs on the third floor, where it's warm and out of the rain. However, this is no time to celebrate in fact it's better if artists never celebrate. New abstract picket-lines are doubtless assembling, to protest the former picketers.

1955 - 1970Edit

  • My whole intention in painting is to make a thing poetical; but not poetical in a literary sense. I want something that evokes mood, a background, a stage set for certain characters that are playing certain parts. When I paint I do not consider myself an abstractionist in the sense that I'm trying to create beautiful forms that fit together like a puzzle. The things in my painting are intended to strike something that is an emotional involvement – that has to do with the human personality and all the mysteries of life, not simply colors or abstract balances. To me, it's all reality.
    • William Baziotes, in 'An interview with William Baziotes', eds. P. Franks and M. White, Perspective no. 2, Hunter College New York (1956-57), pp. 27, 29-30
  • Abstractions and references must be totally avoided. In our freedom of invention we must succeed in constructing a world that can be measured only in its own terms. We absolutely cannot consider the picture as a space onto which to project our mental scenography. It is the area of freedom in which we search for the discovery of our first images. Images which are absolute as possible, which cannot be valued for that which they record, explain and express, but only for that which they are to be.
    • Piero Manzoni, in 'For the Discovery of a Zone of Images', Spring 1957, in 'Azimuth'; reprinted in 'Piero Manzoni', Tate Gallery, London, 1974; pp. 18-19
  • You use things; the idea is, of course, to eliminate things [in making a picture]. And just as fifteen or eighteen years ago [when Guston made whole figurative series of children's pictures: 'all sort of props and so on'] I stretched out to get that, - put it in and took it out - to get that look in that's kid's eye and the way his mouth was open or wasn't - I mean a very particular kind of look - I'd do the same now. In other words, I can't find any freedom in abstract painting [but Guston still did 'abstract painting' in 1960, the year of this interview - only after 1967 he moved to figuration]. I'am just as stuck with locations, a few areas of colour in relation to some kind of totality that I want, as I was before. And so the problem of figuration is somehow irrelevant to me. I think some of the best painting done in New York today is figuration, but it's not recognized as such.. .Well I think of my [abstract] pictures as a kind of figuration.. .I think every good painter here in New York really paints a self-portrait..
    • Phillip Guston, in an interview (March 1960) with w:David Sylvester, edited for broadcasting by the BBC, but remained unpublished; as quoted in Interviews with American Artists, by David Sylvester; Chatto & Windus, London 2001, pp. 92-93
  • Before 1940 there was relatively little abstract art in America. Most of it was relatively geometric versions of Cubism, or of Mondrian and De Stijl, or of Arp reliefs, and the like. So that when our painting [of the artists of the New York School: Abstract Expressionism first appeared, the critics at once realized that to describe it as abstract [art] would be misleading.
    • Robert Motherwell, in an interview (March 1960) with w:David Sylvester, edited for broadcasting by the BBC first published in 'Metro', 1962; as quoted in Interviews with American Artists, by David Sylvester; Chatto & Windus, London 2001, p. 80
  • ..[after making 'Onement', in 1948].. from then on I had to give up any relation to nature, as seen [by himself till then]. That doesn't mean that I think my things are mathematical or removed from life. By 'nature' I mean something very specific. I think that some abstractions - for example Kandinsky's - are really nature paintings. The triangles and the spheres or circles could be bottles. They could be trees, or buildings. I think that in 'Euclydean Abyss' and 'Onement' I removed myself from nature. But I did not remove myself from life.
    • Barnett Newman, in an interview, April 1965, edited for broadcasting by the BBC, first published in 'The Listener', Aug. 1972; as quoted in Interviews with American Artists, by David Sylvester; Chatto & Windus, London 2001, p. 37
  • Total abstraction was something intellectual to me. I didn't feel it; I could talk about Mondrian but it didn't occur to me to do it. [around 1950]. I saw a Dubuffet show at w:Pierre Matisse [son of Henri Matisse who run an art-gallery in New York then] in the late forties and came back with a new vocabulary. Also when Baziotes won the Carnegie (1948) there was a reproduction in the Times. I remember bringing it to class. It was source of bewilderment, delineated configurations that seemed to come out of Cubism. It was something new.
    • Helen Frankenthaler in 'Interview with Helen Frankenthaler', Henry Geldzahler; Artforum' 4. no. 2, October 1965, p.36
  • When you first saw a Cubist or Impressionist picture there was a whole way of instructing the eye of the subconscious. Dabs of color had to stand for real things; it was an abstraction of a guitar or of a hillside. The opposite is going on now [in 1960's]. If you have bands of blue, green and pink, the mind doesn't think sky, grass and flesh. These are colors and the question is what are they doing with themselves and with each other. Sentiment and nuance are being squeezed out so that if something is not altogether flatly painted then there might be a hint of edge, chiaroscuro, shadow and if one wants just that pure thing these associations get in the way.
    • Helen Frankenthaler in an 'Interview with Helen Frankenthaler', Henry Geldzahler; Artforum' 4. no. 2, October 1965, p.39
  • The gesture today [c. 1965 in America] is surely more purely abstract than it was. There is a certain moment when one can look so pure that the result is emptiness – many readings of a work of art are eliminated and you are left with one note that may be real and pure but it’s only that, one shaft. For example, the best Mondrian's, Newman's, Noland's, or w:Louis Morris' are deep and beautiful and get better and better. But I think that many of the camp followers are empty.
    • Helen Frankenthaler in an 'Interview with Helen Frankenthaler', Henry Geldzahler; Artforum 4. no. 2, October 1965, p.40
    • in this quote Frankenthaler criticizes the loss of the sense of 'deep' in the paintings of the followers of Color Field painting like Kelly
  • For me, abstraction is real, probably more real than nature. I'll go further and say that abstraction is nearer my heart. I prefer to see with closed eyes.
    • Quote of Josef Albers, in Arts/Canada, Vol. 23 (1966), p. 46
  • We do not wish to copy nature. We do not want to reproduce, we want to produce. We want to produce as a plant produces a fruit and does not itself reproduce. We want to produce directly and without meditation. As there is not the least trace of abstraction in this art, we will call it 'w:Concrete Art'.
    • Quote of Jean Arp in Jours effeuillés: Poèmes, essaies, souvenirs Gallimard, Paris 1966 p. Serge Fauchereau p. 183: (1988) Arp, p. 20 commented: "Even though his work was nonrepresentational, Arp disapproved of the term Abstract Art being applied to it, as he often explained" with the above quote.
  • There is no such thing as abstract art, or else all art is abstract, which amounts to the same thing. Abstract art no more exists than does curved art yellow art or green art.
    • Jean Dubuffet, (1967) in Prospectus et tous écrits suivants, Vol. II, Jean Dubuffet, Gallimard, Paris 1967, p. 206
  • The science is dealing with physical facts; in art we are dealing with psychic effects. With this I come to my first statement: The source of art – that is, where it comes from – is the discrepancy between physical fact and psychic effect. That's what I'm talking about. When I want to speak about why I am doing the same thing now, which is squares, for – how long? – 19 years. Because there is no final solution in any visual formulation.. .I have some assurances that that is not the most stupid thing to do, through Cézanne whom I consider as one of the greatest painters..
    • Quote of Josef Albers, in 'Oral history interview with Josef Albers', conducted by Sevim Fesci, 22 June – 5 July 1968, for the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, n.p.

1970 and laterEdit

  • In my search for these values I like to work both realistically and abstractly. In my drawing and painting I turn from one to the other as a necessity or impulse and not because of a preconceived design of action. When drawing what I see I am usually most conscious of the underlying principle of abstract form in human beings and their relationship one to the other. In making my abstract drawings I am most often aware of those human values which dominate the structure and meaning of abstract forms. Sculpture is the fusion of these two attitudes and I like to be free as to the degree of abstraction and realism in carving. The dominant feeling will always be the love of humanity and nature; and the love of sculpture for itself.
    • Barbara Hepworth, (1970) in Barbara Hepworth, A Pictorial autobiography, New York, Praeger Publishers, 1970, p. 285
  • Working in the abstract way seems to release one's personality and sharpen the perceptions so that in the observation of humanity or landscape it is the wholeness of inner intention which moves one so profoundly. The components fall into place and one is no longer aware of the detail except as the necessary significance of wholeness and unity.. ..a rhythm of form which has its roots in earth but reaches outwards towards the unknown experiences of the future. The thought underlying this form is, for me, the delicate balance the spirit of man maintains between his knowledge and the laws of the universe.
    • Barbara Hepworth in Barbara Hepworth, A Pictorial autobiography, New York, Praeger Publishers, 1970, p. 286
  • Abstract art as it is conceived at present is a game bequeathed to painting and sculpture by art history. One who accepts its premises must consent to limit his imagination to a depressing casuistry regarding the formal requirements of modernism.
    • Harold Rosenberg Art on the Edge, (1975) p. 71, "Lester Johnson's Abstract Men"
  • Annie Besant's book where she put forward the idea that theosophical mystical energies could be portrayed as colours or abstract shapes was practically the invention of abstract art. A lot of artists rushed out and read it and suddenly thought, 'oh God you could, you could portray love as a colour, or depression as a colour'. All of a sudden abstract art happens, a flowering out of occultism.

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