Realistic art depicts or represents the visual world as closely as possible. Since the Renaissance in Europe until the beginning of the modern era, art has been valued for qualities that create an illusion of reality, such as light and shadow, proportion, and perspective. Many artists during this period were trained according to these ideals. Most people admire the work of a highly skilled artist in the traditional sense: one who faithfully reproduces realistic scenes. This ability was a major source of artistic success in the past, particularly before the invention of photography. Even today, many judge art by its true-to-life quality, which can make appreciating artwork that is nonrepresentational more challenging.
The idea of abstraction, in which artists alter the visual qualities of a subject, was a major development in modern art. There are many degrees of abstraction in art. Some artists made small changes in the look of their subject matter by simplifying or exaggerating colors or shapes. In these works, the subject can often still be recognized. Others created images that do not realistically represent any object. This type of abstract art may be called nonrepresentational or nonobjective art. It may be composed of basic geometric shapes and forms or a complex arrangement of colors, shapes, textures, and lines.
Show the following images to the class and read the background information for each image. Have students work in pairs to place the work’s corresponding number at a specific point along the chart’s “abstraction line.” When each team is finished, ask students to post their charts so the class can compare them.
1. Lyonel Feininger Church of the Minorites II
2. Kazuo Shiraga Untitled
3. Chuck Close Big Self-Portrait
4. Ellsworth Kelly Black Curve
5. Charles Ray Unpainted Sculpture
6. John Currin Park City Grill
7. Alberto Giacometti Bust of Diego
8. Donald Judd Untitled
9. Deborah Butterfield Woodrow
10. Stanton MacDonald-Wright Synchromy in Green
11. Georgia O’Keeffe Lake George Barns
12. John Sloan South Beach Bathers
Did the class agree on where works should be placed on the line? If not, why did groups disagree?
“ All works of art are by their very nature abstract.” Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Why or why not?
Do you think it takes more or less artistic skill to create abstract art? What type of art do you think requires more creative ability?
Key Questions:1. What is art?