Before the 1900s, very few artists would ever think about trying something new. It was no wonder then that the arrival of abstract art in the early 1900s shocked the world when new artists were straying far from the normal conventions.

What followed in the next century was a series of movements that changed art as we know it today and gave a new meaning to what we understood as art. From the Russian Modernism movement to Pop Art and modern forms today, abstract canvas art is now a free-flowing art form in every sense of the word. But what is abstract art history?

Wassily Kandinsky, "Untitled (First Abstract Watercolor)

Source: Hyperallergic

Breaking The Mould With Abstract Prints

Abstract art history has to be looked at in conjunction with the academic art of the time. Up until the late 1900s, romanticism and impressionism dominated the art world. Many of the leading painters would present beautiful portraits of subjects or landscapes leading many to wonder if the pinnacle of art had been reached.

However, the commencement of the 20th century changed everything. With the world rapidly changing in every facet of daily life thanks in part to the industrial revolution, artists were having to find ways to stay relevant. It would be Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky that would shake the art world up. Straying away from the traditional mould, Kandinsky was inspired by Modernist ideas to experiment more in his artwork. His works no longer took ideal shapes – instead, they would take unconventional forms yet still retain striking colours. This unique approach took the art world by storm and quickly outshone traditional works in terms of popularity. Kandinsky focused on teaching his methods to others in the region, seeing many artists from Russia and beyond emerge in the field.

M.C. Escher

Source: Artland

Enhancing Rival Fields

Science and maths also started to shine in artwork. With art no longer estranged to new ideas, more and more artists were starting to use mathematic principles and shapes as the pinnacle of their work.

It would be the works of artists such as M.C Escher and Piet Mondrian that showcased just how effective this would be. Many of these works would have a precise pattern to them and focused just as much on precision as it did colour. For example, Piet Mondrian was extremely particular with his shapes as each block would be of proportionate side and all lines would intersect at the same angle. This more minimalist approach proved to be a hit with audiences worldwide and would be a source of inspiration for later movements to take over pop culture and go down in abstract art history.

Jackson Pollock

Source: Hero Magazine

The American Revolution

The craze around abstract art subsided somewhat as the world dealt with the horrors of World War I and World War II. However, the emergence of America as a cultural powerhouse saw a new form of abstract artwork take over the global cultural sphere. With many artists having fled Europe for America to escape persecution, there was now new excitement and influence inspiring many up-and-coming artists. Many chose a more experimental approach to their work abandoning all forms of shapes to focus on colour.

The “action painting” movement saw the likes of Jackson Pollock and Willem De Kooning become top artists of their time with their busy paintings catching eyes even if their lack of precise strokes left some corners of the art world talking. It was also a contradiction to what many of the major players in Europe were trying to do. Abstract artists were more focused on experimenting with shapes and form in many of their primary works. The cubist movement led by the likes of Pablo Picasso saw traditional shapes chopped up and intersected throughout the page to get their message across to their audience.

Willem de Kooning

Source: The New York Review

The Pop Art Takeover

The history of abstract art saw the Abstract Expressionism movement dominating America with vibrant colours across the landscape. As the Expressionism movement started to subside, some of its last stalwarts decided to take things in a new direction – inject it directly with modern pop culture art. By embracing the world around them, it made art one of the biggest talking points of its time. As films and music thrived in “The Golden Age” of the 1950s and 1960s, artists tried to encapsulate the celebrity aura that the world was obsessed with.

Artists such as Roy Lichtenstein were inspired by drawings from comic books to create paintings that leapt off the canvas with bright colours and objects filling galleries and billboards wherever you looked. Other artists such as Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns took on iconic items of daily life and transformed them into pieces that gave them a “larger than life” character. By harnessing all the aspects seen at home and in pop culture, it saw these artists become household names and made the art industry one of the trendiest industries on the planet.

Salvador Dali

Source: Artsy

3D Visions

With the improvement of technology and the rise of globalization, artists started to shift away from the canvas for their inspiration. Artists were relying less on colour and more on shapes to inspire the masses. By having more tools at their disposal, more abstract pieces would take shape in 3D forms and sculptures to get that larger-than-life feeling.

Even traditional abstract artists like De Kooning switched to sculpting and the success of artists such as Salvador Dali and Henry Moore meant that audiences were taken aback by bizarre and novel creations. It has led to many modern and 21st century artists using this as a platform to explore their world. Leading artists such as Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst use multiple forms to tell one story and bring conceptual art and abstract together in a style that has seen art transform tremendously over the past two centuries.