Artworks that do not attempt to represent a recognizable reality but instead use shapes, colours, forms and textures to achieve their effect
The word abstract strictly speaking means to separate or withdraw something from something else. In that sense, it is applied to art in which the artist has started with some visible object and abstracted elements from it to arrive at a more or less simplified or schematised form. The term is also applied to art that uses forms which have no source at all in external reality such as geometric shapes or gestural marks. Some artists of this tendency have preferred terms such as concrete art or non-objective art, but in practice the word abstract is used across the board and the distinction between the two is anyway not always obvious.
There are many theoretical ideas behind abstract art. Art for art’s sake – that art should be purely about the creation of beautiful effects, is one of the main theories. That art can or should be like music is another theory – in that just as music is patterns of sound, art’s effects should be created by pure patterns of form, colour and line. The idea, derived from the ancient Greek philosopher Plato, that the highest form of beauty lies not in the forms of the real world but in geometry, is also used in discussion of abstract art as is the idea that abstract art, to the extent that it does not represent the material world, can be seen to represent the spiritual.
In general abstract art is often seen as carrying a moral dimension, in that it can be seen to stand for virtues such as order, purity, simplicity and spirituality.
Pioneers of abstract painting were Kazimir Malevich and Piet Mondrian from about 1910–20. A pioneer of abstract sculpture was the Russian constructivist Naum Gabo. Since then abstract art has formed a central stream of modern art.