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The History of Abstract Concepts in Art

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1 The History of Abstract Concepts in Art
How abstract ideas are personified and made visual by art (Renaissance to present)

2 “There is only one great thing in art: the thing you cannot explain.”
–Georges Braque “If I could say it in words, there would be no reason to paint.” –Edward Hopper “I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn't say any other way--things I had no words for.” -Georgia O'Keeffe “Great art picks up where nature ends.” – Marc Chagall (Artquotes.net)

3 There has always existed a gap between the idea and the image
There has always existed a gap between the idea and the image. A concept can be conceived, presented, and perceived. A concept that exists in nature and can be physically located in time and space is a concrete concept. Because they are things that can be seen, touched, and physically experienced, they can easily be expressed and recognized in words or an image (Schumann). Art tries to represent the world and provides some sort of historical record (Haskell 1). However, “images were first made to conjure up the appearances of something that was absent” (Berger 10). Abstract concepts are ideas not physically found in nature. They are intangible realities that art attempts to represent as often as it does the physical world itself (Sayre 43).

4 Throughout the history of art, artists have tried to visualize these abstract ideas and express them with a concrete medium—paint, marble, clay, or something else. They attempt subjectively to make intangible realities tangible through artwork. The concepts, however, are still abstract, and different viewers see and understand the images in different ways (Berger 11). Presented here are various masterpieces from the Renaissance to present that express abstract ideas. They are organized by concept, and are subject to the subjective scrutiny of the individual viewer. What are some examples of concrete concepts? How about abstract concepts?

5 Love Human emotion is probably the most commonly recognized and universal abstract idea. Love cannot be seen, heard, or physically touched, making it harder to express in concrete terms (Brown 44). Artists have created art about different types of love throughout history. Some significant pieces about love between the sexes are Rodin’s The Kiss, Brancusi’s The Kiss, Klimt’s The Kiss, Titian’s Venus and Adonis, and Munch’s Separation. The love between a mother and child is also apparent throughout art history, in works such as Bouts’ Virgin and Child, and Cassatt’s Mother and Child.

6 Auguste Rodin, The Kiss, 1886, Marble, Musee Rodin, Paris

7 Constantin Brancusi, The Kiss, 1907-8, Limestone, Muzeul de Arta, Craiova, Romania

8 Gustav Klimt, The Kiss, 1907-1908, oil on canvas, Austrian Gallery, Vienna

9 Titian, Venus and Adonis, c
Titian, Venus and Adonis, c. 1560, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Widener Collection

10 Edvard Munch, Separation, 1896, oil on canvas, Munch-museet, Oslo, Norway

11 Dieric Bouts, Virgin and Child, c
Dieric Bouts, Virgin and Child, c. 1475, Oil on panel, The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Roscoe and Margaret Oaks Collection

12 Mary Cassatt, Mother and Child, c
Mary Cassatt, Mother and Child, c. 1890, oil on canvas, Wichita Art Museum, Kansas, The Roland P. Murdock Collection

13 Anguish, Horror War and death can be experienced; however, the horror and anguish described by them are abstract emotional situations. Artists have depicted throughout the ages visual images that attempt to explain anguish or horror. A relief sculpture by Preault, Munch’s The Scream, a narrative scene by Gentileschi, Fuseli’s The Nightmare, The Death of Sardanapalus by Delacroix, a café scene by Van Gogh, The Raft of Medusa by Gericault, Goya’s Saturn Devouring One of His Sons, and Picasso’s Guernica each present an artist’s visual representation of an abstract idea.

14 Augustin Preault, Slaughter, c
Augustin Preault, Slaughter, c. 1834, bronze, Musee des Beaux-Arts, Chartres, France

15 Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1893, Tempera and casein on cardboard, Munch-musee, Oslo, Norway

16 Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith Beheading Holofernes, oil on canvas, Museo e Gallerie Nazionali di Capodimonte, Naples

17 Henri Fuseli, The Nightmare, 1781
Henri Fuseli, The Nightmare, oil on canvas, The Detroit Institute of the Arts

18 Eugene Delacroix, The Death of Sardanapalus, 1828, oil on canvas, Musee du Louvre, Paris

19 Vincent van Gogh, The Night Café, 1888, oil on canvas, Yale University Art Collection, New Haven, Conneticut

20 Theodore Gericault, The Raft of the Medusa, 1820, oil on canvas, Louvre, Paris

21 Francisco Goya, Saturn Devouring One of His Sons, , fresco, transferred to canvas, Museo del Prado, Madrid

22 Pablo Picasso, Guernica, 1937, oil on canvas, Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid

23 Awe There are sublime occurrences that inspire awe. Awe is a human reaction that is does not exist physically in nature, but ironically is often evoked by nature. There is much artwork spanning history that both describes awe and is awe-inspiring. Artists, along with movements such as Romanticism, describe sublime experiences in artwork—many employ the sublimity of nature. This includes Martin’s The Great Day of His Wrath, Ruisdael’s The Jewish Cemetery, Aivazovsky’s The Wave, Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels, and Friedrich’s Monk by the Sea.

24 John Martin, The Great Day of His Wrath, , oil on canvas, Tate Gallery, London, purchased 1945

25 Jacob van Ruisdael, The Jewish Cemetery, 1655-60, oil on canvas, The Detroit Institute of Arts

26 Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky, The Wave, 1889, oil on canvas, The State Russian Museum, St Petersburg

27 Nancy Holt, Sun Tunnels, Great Basin Desert, Utah, 1973-1976

28 Caspar David Friedrich, Monk by the Sea, 1809-1810, oil on canvas, Schloss Charlottenburg, Berlin

29 Socioeconomic Status, Class
Another abstract concept is a social one—that of status, how we relate to one another by wealth and lifestyle. Artists present this using indicators of someone’s class, such as clothes, possessions, or the environment they exist in. As with other abstract ideas, we can perceive them, but they cannot be physically located in nature. Considered here are images created throughout the past several centuries dealing with status. They include Ingres’ Napoleon Enthroned, Titian’s Isabella d’Este, Rigaud’s Louis XIV, the Limbourg Brothers’ October, Courbet’s The Stonebreakers, Daumier’s The Third Class Carriage, Degas’ The Glass of Absinthe, and Caillebotte’s Paris.

30 Jean-Auguste-Dominique-Ingres, Napoleon Enthroned, 1806, Musee de l’Armee, Paris

31 Titian, Isabella d’Este, 1534-1536, oil on canvas, unsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

32 Hyacinthe Rigaud, Louis XIV, 1701, oil on canvas, Louvre, Paris

33 Limbourg Brothers, October, from Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, , ink on vellum, Musee Conde, Chantilly

34 Gustave Courbet, The Stone Breakers, 1849, oil on canvas, formerly at Gemalde-galerie, Dresden (destroyed in 1945)

35 Honore Daumier, The Third-Class Carriage, ca
Honore Daumier, The Third-Class Carriage, ca. 1862, oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

36 Edgar Degas, The Glass of Absinthe, 1876, oil on canvas, Musee d’Orsay, Paris

37 Gustave Caillebotte, Paris: A Rainy Day, 1877, oil on canvas, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago

38 Classical Antiquity, Ideal Civilization
Classical Greece (along with Rome) has served as the model civilization for most of western history. Our ideals of civility, reason, and logic stem from the Greeks. They were arguably the first champions of democracy, proportion, and the arts. Because of this, western artists across time have referenced the Classical Age (Aghion 5). Art has referenced the “ideal civilization” by reusing its narratives, mythological figures, and ideas of perfection, rationalism, and proportion. The concept of the “ideal civilization” is conceptual and intangible. These references are dominant forces in the Renaissance, and Neoclassicism. Some significant works with a classical influence or subject include Canova’s Pauline Borghese as Venus, Ingres’ Jupiter and Thetis, Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, Michelangelo’s David, Kauffmann’s Cornelia Pointing to Her Children as Her Treasures, and David’s Oath of the Horatii.

39 Antonio Canova, Pauline Borghese as Venus,1808, Marble, Galleria Borghese, Rome

40 Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Apotheosis of Homer, 1827, oil on canvas, Louvre, Paris

41 Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus, c
Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus, c. 1482, tempera on canvas, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

42 Michelangelo, David, 1501-1504, marble, Galleria dell’ Accademia, Florence

43 Angelica Kauffmann, Cornelia Pointing to Her Children as Her Treasures, ca. 1785, oil on canvas, Virginia Museum of Fine Art, Richmond, Virginia

44 Jacques-Louis David, The Oath of the Horatii, 1784, oil on canvas, Musee du Louvre, Paris

45 Religion, Spirituality, God
Humans have long experienced spirituality and religion. This is a very universal abstract idea. Its various types and forms appear in historically significant artwork. Many artists have dealt with the spiritual visually. There is a wide variety of ways this has been done. The frescoes of Roman Catholic Italy illustrate religious concepts in a way very different from that of the inner–spiritual wanderings of Wassily Kandinsky, for example. Here are some noteworthy works of art with religious subjects or overtones. Correggio’s Assumption of the Virgin illustrates a biblical theme, Blake’s Ancient of Days gives a view of God, and Gauguin deals with the separation between the spiritual and physical realm in Vision After the Sermon. Jan van Eyck gives his view of God in an altarpiece, Titian presents the assumption, Bernini shows The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa, and Giotto and his pupils painted human passion for the spiritual in St. Francis Renouncing His Earthly Possessions. Wassily Kandinsky was influenced by the subconscious and the inner spirit in work such as Black Lines.

46 Antonio Allegri da Correggio, Assumption of the Virgin, , dome fresco of Parma Cathedral, Parma, Italy

47 William Blake, Ancient of Days, frontispiece of Europe: A Prophecy, 1794, metal relief etching, hand colored, The Whitworth Art Gallery, University of Manchester

48 Paul Gauguin, The Vision After the Sermon, 1888, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh

49 Jan van Eyck, God, panel from the Ghent Altarpiece, c 1432, St
Jan van Eyck, God, panel from the Ghent Altarpiece, c 1432, St. Bavo’s, Ghent

50 Titian, Assumption and Consecration of the Virgin, c
Titian, Assumption and Consecration of the Virgin, c , oil on wood, Santa Maria Gloriosa del Frari, Venice

51 Gianlorenzo Bernini, The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa, , marble, Cornaro Chapel, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome

52 Giotto and his pupils, St Francis Renouncing His Earthly Possessions, c. 1295-1330, fresco

53 Wassily Kandinsky, Black Lines, December 1913, oil on canvas, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

54 Velocity, Speed Another abstract concept presented in art may seem physical, but cannot be physically located in time and space: speed. Artists have touched on this idea in a great deal of art.

55 Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase, No
Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2, 1912, oil on canvas, Philadelphia Museum of Art

56 Eadweard Muybridge, Annie G
Eadweard Muybridge, Annie G. Cantered, Saddled, 1887, collotype print, Philadelphia Museum of Art

57 J.M.W. Turner, Rain, Steam, and Speed, 1844, oil on canvas, Tate Gallery, London

58 Jackson Pollock, No. 29, 1950, oil, expanded steel, glass and pebbles on glass, private collection

59 Giacomo Balla, Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash, 1912, oil on canvas, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York

60 Giacomo Balla, Street Lamp, 1909, oil on canvas, Museum of Modern Art, New York

61 Abstract concepts are abundant in art
Abstract concepts are abundant in art. They are conceptualized, presented, and perceived subjectively by human eyes in artwork. Abstract ideas exist in art—this is true for artwork dating from the Renaissance to present.

62 Bibliography Artquotes.net: Art Quotes and Famous Artists. <http://www.artquotes.net> April Berger, John. Ways of Seeing. London: British Broadcasting Corporation, 1972. Brown, J. Carter. Rings: Five Passions in World Art. Edited by Michael E. Shapiro. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1996. Haskell, Francis. History and Its Images. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993. Aghion, Irene, Claire Barbillon, and Francois Lissarrague. God and Heroes of Classical Antiquity. Paris: Flammarion, 1996. Sayre, Henry M. A World of Art. Upper Saddle River: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 2000. Schuman, Bruce. “Universal Hierarchy of Abstraction”. Origin Research. March

63 Image Sources "Olga's Gallery - Online Art Museum." leonardo3.html (Source for Virgin and Child with St. Anne image) “Artchive: the Art Encyclopedia.” rodin/kiss.jpg (Source for Rodin’s The Kiss image) “Artchive: the Art Encyclopedia.” kiss_1912.jpg (Source for Brancusi’s The Kiss image) "Olga's Gallery - Online Art Museum." (Source for Virgin and Child image) “Modern Art.” (Source for Mother and Child image) “Artchive: the Art Encyclopedia.” titian_venus_adonis.jpg (Source for Venus and Adonis image) “Nikki’s Archives.” (Source for The Separation image) “Klimt Gallery.”http://www-users.cs.umn.edu/~shkim/Gallery/klimt.html (Source for Klimt’s The Kiss image) “All Posters.com”http://www.allposters.com/-sp/Tuerie-1834-Posters_i _.htm (Source for Slaughter image)

64 “Artchive: the Art Encyclopedia.” http://www.artchive.com/artchive/
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65 “Artchive: the Art Encyclopedia.” http://www.artchive.com/artchive/r/
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66 “Sunsite. ” http://sunsite. dk/cgfa/degas/p-degas24
“Sunsite.” (Source for The Glass of Absinthe image) “Neoclassical Art.” image.jpeg (Source for Pauline Borghese as Venus image) “USC: Art Images”http://www.usc.edu/schools/annenberg/asc/projects/comm544/ library/images/087.jpg (Source for Apotheosis of Homer image) “USC Library: Art”http://www.usc.edu/schools/annenberg/asc/projects/comm544/ library/images/087.html (Source for The Birth of Venus image) "Olga's Gallery - Online Art Museum." raphael30.JPG (Source for The School of Athens image) “Michelangelo.” (Source for David image) “Neoclassicism and Romanticism.” (Source for Cornelia Pointing image) "Olga's Gallery - Online Art Museum." (Source for The Oath of the Horatii image) “Renaissance Art.” jpg (Source for Assumption of the Virgin image) “Artcyclopedia.” (Source for Ancient of Days image) "Olga's Gallery - Online Art Museum." gauguin17.html (Source for The Vision After the Sermon image)

67 “Euroweb. ” http://gallery. euroweb
“Euroweb.” (Source for God image) "Olga's Gallery - Online Art Museum." (Source for Assumption and Consecration of the Virgin image) “Euroweb.” ( Source for St. Francis image) “Guggenheim Collection.” (Source for Black Lines image) “Artchive: the Art Encyclopedia.” (Source for Ecstasy of St. Theresa image) "Olga's Gallery - Online Art Museum." (Source for Nude Descending a Staircase image) “Photography and Art.”http://www.wesleyan.edu/dac/jpgs/coll/annieg.jpg (Source for Annie G. image) “Carpenter Art Collection.” (Source for Rain, Steam, and Speed image) “Deutsche Bank: Art.” (Source for No. 29 image) “Artchive: the Art Encyclopedia.” (Source for Dynamism image) “Artchive: the Art Encyclopedia.” (Source for Street Lamp image)

68 “Euroweb. ” http://gallery. euroweb
“Euroweb.” ( Source for St. Francis image) “Guggenheim Collection.” (Source for Black Lines image) “Artchive: the Art Encyclopedia.” (Source for Ecstasy of St. Theresa image) "Olga's Gallery - Online Art Museum." (Source for Nude Descending a Staircase image) “Photography and Art.”http://www.wesleyan.edu/dac/jpgs/coll/annieg.jpg (Source for Annie G. image) “Carpenter Art Collection.” (Source for Rain, Steam, and Speed image) “Deutsche Bank: Art.” (Source for No. 29 image) “Artchive: the Art Encyclopedia.” (Source for Dynamism image) “Artchive: the Art Encyclopedia.” (Source for Street Lamp image)


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