Lesson 34: Abstract Art and Abstract Expressionist Art

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What You Will Learn:

  • Explore All Art Movements and Periods

    You will learn about all the leading art movements and periods, such as primitive art, ancient Greek art, the Renaissance, Romanticism, Impressionism, Modernism, and contemporary art. There is also a lot of attention to non-Western art, such as Islamic Art, Hindu Art, Chinese Art, Oceanic Art and African Art, and the globalization of the art world.

  • All Famous Artists and Their Masterpieces

    The course covers important artists like Sultan Muhammad, Fan Kuan, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Utagawa Hiroshige, Vincent van Gogh, Ilya Repin, Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Frida Kahlo, Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Banksy and many more, and discusses their most influential works.

  • Cultural and Historical Context

    Our courses also focus on the study of the cultural, social, political, and economic contexts in which artworks are created.

  • Various Media and Techniques

    You will explore different art forms and techniques, such as painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, and digital art.

Introduction to this course:


Towards the end of the 19th century, a new generation of artists had grown tired of depicting figures on canvas and sculpting statues and portraits. According to them, the artist’s purpose was to paint or sculpt compositions that captured the essence of the object rather than the figure, which they regarded as nothing more than a copy that could also be created through photography. They wanted to use only rhythm, colors, lines, and shapes in their artworks, disconnecting the art objects from what people actually saw. An abstract representation, in which reality as people perceived it became blurred and simplified, was the direct result of this new art movement. A form of art had emerged that lacked representations, a phenomenon we had not seen before in the art world.
This was likely a logical progression from Impressionist art. The Impressionists had also cast aside the rules and traditions of painting to work freely in a style characterized by loose and quickly applied brushstrokes. These painters had already started to loosen their representations. However, abstract artists went much further and abandoned figurative painting, a form of art where there was always a visible story in the composition.
During the extended period when abstract art dominated the long list of modern art movements, we can observe two subcurrents: geometrically oriented abstract art and abstract expressionism.

Geometrically Oriented Abstract Art

Geometrically oriented abstract art is abstract art dominated by the use of geometric shapes such as triangles, rectangles, and squares. These are closed forms, meaning that there are no lines with open ends on the canvas; everything is connected.

Kop (Portret van Toon Verhoef), een abstract schilderij uit 1925 van Lou Loeber.Image: Head (Portrait of Toon Verhoef), a gouache on panel from 1925, by the artist Lou Loeber (1894-1983). This painting by Lou Loeber is a fine example of a partially abstract, partially figurative canvas where all lines are connected. It is a portrait of Toon Verhoef, a painter and writer who introduced her to the Cubists and the work of Mondrian. Toon Verhoef had a significant influence on Loeber’s development, as did her neighbor in the Dutch village of Blaricum, Bart van der Leck.
Location: The painting is part of the collection of the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands. Photo: Ronnie Rokebrand.

Kazimir Malevich and Suprematism

During the period from 1915 to around 1930, an abstract art movement known as Suprematism developed. At the forefront of this new art movement was the Ukrainian painter Kazimir Malevich (1878/1879-1935). He believed that as an artist, one should not depict reality but should instead create reality through art. Malevich simplified his forms more and more, eventually producing a series of paintings with compositions consisting of only a black, a white, and a red square. These works are considered icons, the starting points of geometric abstract art, to this day.

Zwart vierkant, van Kazimir Malevitsj uit 1915Image: A well-known artwork is the ‘Black Square’ created by the Ukrainian painter Kazimir Malevich (1879-1935) in 1915. The original version from 1913 was titled ‘Black on White.’ Malevich, a Ukrainian artist with Polish roots, believed that the highest form of art arose in the complete absence of intellect. This was why he engaged solely in creating paintings that had no relation to nature or reality. Malevich continued to work on simplifying the forms he painted on the canvas until nothing remained but a black square. The painting ‘Black Square’ is now known as the most iconic suprematist artwork ever created. Observers from the early 20th century were deeply shocked when they first saw this artwork. It was referred to as the embodiment of absolute zero. In 2015, researchers discovered, using X-rays, some colored letters as geometric figures beneath the black surface of the painting. They formed the words ‘negergevecht’ which likely referred to a painting by Alphonse Allais from 1887 upon which Malevich based this painting.
Location: The painting ‘Black Square’ by Kazimir Malevich is housed in the Russian Museum (State Russian Museum), located at Inzhenernaya Street 4 in St. Petersburg, Russia. The main building of this museum is the Mikhailovsky Palace from the early 19th century.

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