The effect of abstract art on history versus the effects of more traditional styles

Sylvia Lambert

Abstract art is heavily considered the most controversial form of art. Consisting of general shapes, forms, colors and textures, its purpose is not to achieve a reflection of reality. Instead, many abstract artists strive to explore beyond reality and produce something less tangible and more explorative. Many famous abstract art pieces do not even have a subject. One of the most famous examples of this is Kazimir Malevich’s “Black Square.” It is an accurate depiction of its name; a black square with thin, barely visible cracks running across it set on a white canvas. That is all. Regardless of its simplicity, it is widely regarded as very influential and iconic.

As someone who appreciates and finds interest in understanding the historical significance of art, I genuinely do not comprehend the value of abstract art like the “Black Square.” There is no story, no subject and little creativity in my opinion. These uncomplicated pieces never draw me in. While I can understand the value in looking at something and deciding for myself what it means, the basic content of many abstract pieces leaves so much room for interpretation. This results in viewers often feeling like they are reaching for significance. Walking through an art museum, I cannot help but look at the incredibly realistic and detailed masterpieces of art nouveau and impressionistic art and wonder why an abstract painting of a few shapes deserves a spot next to them. It is evident to me that I am not alone in my view of abstract art. I think people around the world have asked themselves the question, “Why is this piece of art in a museum when it looks so simple, I could have created it myself?” This confused sentiment is common among many people in my generation. While many art experts may argue my view is one of a closed, uninspired mind, I cannot fake my appreciation for an art style that, no matter my dedication and effort to understanding it, always leaves me wanting more and wondering why others regard it in high esteem.

As for the historical influence of certain art styles and specific pieces, I believe it is unlikely  abstract arts effect on society is as significant as other styles. For example, art nouveau, a style that gained popularity in the beginning of the 19 century, helped change society’s view on sexuality and social norms through its representation of women in their most feminine and stunning form. It also changed how marketers and artists saw advertising and design. The understanding that advertisement like posters, papers and billboards could be more eye catching as beautiful, quality art has affected current, modern versions of product promotion. Art nouveau, with its sweeping natural forms and flowing lines, has made an impact on people around the world and changed the course of history in at least some small way. To me, these impacts are essential to the way we look at art and even society today.

Surrealism in another art movement that had a significance relating to its historic context. It was part of an even bigger social movement that challenged philosophical ideals. It was often a product of the studies of Freud and Marxism. Many artists of this style claimed their art was part of a revolutionary movement. The actual content of the visual art during this time was composed of illogical scenes of juxtaposed images. The artists strived to challenge the unconscious mind and rules of reality. This art style is strange, but often captivating as viewers might have to take time looking at the piece to put together their own version of what it is. It allowed art to go beyond reality into a realm of deep imagination. This out of the box style encouraged the society it existed in to challenge their own traditional beliefs.

When viewing pieces from these two styles of art, as well as various others, I sense their history and appreciate how they were made. There is a curiosity that keeps me entertained and interested in certain art pieces that I have seen in museums, books or online. The context of many art pieces is almost as interesting as the content. Abstract art has never made me interested in its artists or the pieces background. The simplicity and randomness will always miss its mark for me. Abstract art cannot evoke the same thought-provoking, emotional response in viewers as other art pieces done in different styles do. I firmly believe it should be valued lesser than more traditional and historic art styles. There will always be something to be said for intricacy, style and detail. Abstract art will lose its popularity and go out of style. While art styles like naturalism, art nouveau, surrealism and impressionism tell the stories of our world’s history making them everlasting and timeless.

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