18 Types of Abstract Art
John Spacey, September 29, 2020 updated on April 30, 2023
Abstract art is any art that isn't intended to be an accurate depiction of the physical world. A great range of modern and postmodern art falls into this category. The following are common types of abstract art.
RomanticismRomanticism was a late 18th and early 19th century art movement based on the free expression and imagination of the artist. This was in reaction to attempts to standardize art by high status institutions in France. Romanticism doesn't appear to be abstract by the standards of modern observers but by depicting the unreal realms of the imagination, it is the origin of abstraction in art. It also changed the nature of art. Before Romanticism, great artists were recognized by the art world of their day. After Romanticism, great artists were mostly rebels who disrupted the art world of their day.(William Blake, Europe a Prophecy, 1794)
SymbolismA mid 19th century art movement that communicated meaning using symbols, allegory and metaphor.(Gustav Klimt, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I)
Post-ImpressionismPost-impressionism was a mostly French movement from 1886 to 1905 that extended impressionism into the realm of the abstract with unrealistic colors and scenes. Arguably produced the greatest works of the 19th century from the likes of Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh.(Paul Gauguin, Vision After the Sermon, 1888)
Les NabisA close-knit group of late 19th century young French artists who helped to found post-impressionism with their uniquely unreal light and color.(Paul Sérusier, The Snake Eaters, 1894)
FauvismA brief French movement spanning 1905 to 1908 that emphasized painterly qualities and strong color over realism. (Robert Delaunay, Still Life, 1916)
ExpressionismExpressionism was an early 20th century movement based on subjective reality extending into emotion, angst and psychology. Initially a German movement, Expressionism became global and moved into literature, film, performance art, music and architecture from its beginnings in painting and poetry.(Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1893)
DadaDada was a brief but influential art movement from 1915 to 1920 that rejected reason and seriousness in favor of nihilism and humor. It is viewed as a reaction to the horrors of WWI that seeks to question the assumptions of society and the art world. It is considered the first movement of anti-art known for its bold statements such as the display of a public urinal as a sculpture. This opened the doors to greater and greater experiments with abstraction.(Marcel Duchamp, L.H.O.O.Q, 1919)
FuturismFuturism was an art movement that emphasized speed, mechanization, technology, youth and violence. It is known for its visualization of movement as overlapping forms. The futurist movement began in Italy in 1909 and lasted into the 1930s. It tends towards glorifying war, totalitarianism and mechanization where Dada of the same period is decidedly anti-war.(Joseph Stella, Brooklyn Bridge, 1929)
Proto-CubismA collection of works produced in the period 1906-1910 that experiment with strong geometrization of form. This appears to have emerged spontaneously with many different artists producing these works without a single origin of influence.(Marie Laurencin, Réunion à la campagne, 1909)
CubismCubism was a short but extremely intense artistic movement from 1910 to 1924 in which artists such as Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and Jean Metzinger bravely experimented with geometrization of form. This produced several of the most remarkable and well known works of the 20th century.(Albert Gleizes, La Femme aux Phlox, 1911)
CollageCollage is a medium of art that involves assembling found images to create something new. This almost always results in something abstract. Collage is viewed as having been invented by the Cubist painters Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso. The three dimensional version of collage is known as bricolage. (Hannah Höch, Cut With the Kitchen Knife, 1919)
MinimalismLeading Cubist artist Jean Metzinger darkly predicted in 1911 that future artists would take geometrization of form to its logical conclusion by producing works that are nothing but a single geometrical shape or perhaps a solid color. These stark predictions were quickly realized with Kazimir Malevich producing the work Black Suprematic Square in 1915 (below) and Yves Klein producing multiple works that were a solid blue color in the early 1960s. Western minimalism tends towards mechanistic works that resemble modern design.(Kazimir Malevich, Black Suprematic Square note: patterns and cracking are the result of decay)
ConstructivismA Russian art movement associated with socialist propaganda that was abstract, industrial, austere and minimalistic. Constructivism is quite similar to other forms of minimalism that align to the aesthetics of industrial design whereby everything is standardized and stripped down to its most essential form for mass production and communication.(El Lissitzky, Lenin Tribune, 1920)
De StijlDe Stijl was an early Dutch movement of minimalism spanning 1917 to 1931 that is known for its restriction of color to black, white and primary colors. As with other Western minimalist art movements, this was heavily influenced by modern design and architecture.(Theo van Doesburg, Composition in Gray, 1919)
SurrealismSurrealism is the use of recognizable forms in strange and illogical scenes that are expressions of a dream-like reality. Surrealist artists may also play tricks with perspective to create impossible physics in a scene. As with all artistic movements, surrealism occurred for a limited period of time and was associated with a number of artists who influenced each other. The Italian artist Giorgio de Chirico was producing surrealist masterpieces as early as 1910. Chirico termed his technique Metaphysical painting. This later inspired the surrealist movement that lasted from 1920-1950.
Outsider ArtOutsider art, also known as naive art, is art that is produced by an artist with no formal training. The term also implies the artist isn't immersed in an art scene whereby they might pick up techniques from other artists. Outsider art breaks all the rules as the artist may be fully unaware of the rules. Well known outsider art is often somewhat abstract.(Paul-Gosch, Generalarzt)
Abstract ExpressionismAbstract expressionism is a post World War II art movement known for its use of spontaneous subconscious processes such as throwing paint at a canvas. This was popularly perceived as random but had appeal to critics who were captivated by a new idea -- that art captures the vigorous action of a moment that is then frozen in time. This gave way to new ways of thinking such as art as a performance. Abstract expressionism was centered in New York and is considered the first major American art movement. (Jackson Pollock, 31 at Museum of Modern Art in New York City)
Installation ArtInstallation art is the practice of creating indoor art experiences that are often immersive and interactive. This is associated with postmodern art although it has earlier roots in 20th century movements such as Dada. Installation art can be highly realistic and isn't always abstract. This has incredible creative potential as art has progressed past the 2d medium of paintings and the 3d medium of sculpture into a medium with 4 dimensions namely width, height, depth and time. Abstract installation art can essentially simulate an alternate reality.Next Read: Examples of Art Styles
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