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The Beginnings of Abstract Art

For many, Abstract art is hard to appreciate. Some art is easy to look at and admire because you can see the work put into it by the artist, but that isn’t the case with Abstract art. We can’t see the “behind the scenes” composition planning and it’s hard to fathom how something like splattering paint on a canvas can be viewed as difficult. But in this article and more to come, I will attempt to pull the metaphorical curtain back in hopes that the next time you are at a museum contemplating a piece of Abstract art, you will “get” it and maybe even impress your friend with your understanding.

Impressionism, created in France during the 1870s, was the first step towards abstraction. Artists focused on the lighting of a landscape at that specific moment in time, which was quite novel back then. Soon, across Europe, Impressionism morphed into Expressionism which used colors and paint strokes to help show emotions. One famous Expressionist painting is The Scream by Edvard Munch which portrays a man screaming. The background has intense colors and paint strokes that show the chaos of the scene.

Impressionist and Expressionist ideals were brought into Surrealism, which focused on depicting the artist’s unconscious state. Salvador Dali, a famous Surrealist painter, did this by falling asleep holding his keys and when they dropped to the floor, he would wake up and paint what he remembered from his dream.

But it was Abstract Expressionism, a style brought about by the Impressionist artist Claude Monet, that really cemented the foundation of the Abstract Art movement we know today. Monet was well known for his Water Lily paintings that he would paint everyday in his garden. He focused on the change of lighting which changed the reflection on the water. Despite the cataracts he got in his eyes, Monet continued to paint what he saw. It was the blurriness of the scene combined with the strong focus on lighting that brought about Abstract Expressionism. In the next article, I will talk about how this idea of Abstract Expressionism reached the United States and how it was transformed when it got here.