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What is Abstract Art?

Step outside of the natural world and into abstract art.



Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944). Picture with a Circle (Bild mit Kreis), 1911. Oil on canvas. 54 11/16 x 43 11/16 in. (139 x 111 cm). Georgian National Museum, Tbilisi.

© 2009 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris


(noun) - Abstract art can be a painting or sculpture (including assemblage) that does not depict a person, place or thing in the natural world -- even in an extremely distorted or exaggerated way. Therefore, the subject of the work is based on what you see: color, shapes, brushstrokes, size, scale and, in some cases, the process (see action painting). Abstract art began in 1911 with such works as Picture with a Circle (1911) by the Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944).

Kandinsky believed that colors provoke emotions. Red was lively and confident; Green was peaceful with inner strength; Blue was deep and supernatural; Yellow could be warm, exciting, disturbing or totally bonkers; and White seemed silent but full of possibilities. He also assigned instrument tones to go with each color: Red sounded like a trumpet; Green sounded like a middle-position violin; Light Blue sounded like flute; Dark Blue sounded like a cello, Yellow sounded like a fanfare of trumpets; and White sounded like the pause in a harmonious melody.

These analogies to sounds came from Kandinsky's appreciation for music, especially that by the contemporary Viennese composer Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951). Kandinsky's titles often refer to the colors in the composition or to music, for example "improvisation."

The French artist Robert Delaunay (1885-1941) belonged to Kandinsky's Blue Rider (Die Blaue Reiter) group, and with his wife, Russian-born Sonia Delaunay-Turk (1885-1979), they both gravitated toward abstraction in their own movement Orphism or Orphic Cubism.


Nonobjective Art


ab·strackt art


Wassily Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art (Über das Geistige in der Kunst), 1911.


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