From what I gather, abstract art emerged because the modern painters of the early 1900’s were tired of doing what had already been done, and wanted to carve their own path, make their own mark, and break what had already been done for hundreds of years.
As such, the era of modern art (specifically painting for this particular article at least) was born.
And out of that modernist movement, came abstract art – a desire ot try something new, and break the boundaries of convention.
Much of the progression of abstract art seems to come down to three core components:
The first is the idea of abstraction itself – breaking something down to its simplest form, and abstracting the heart of what the piece was about. Many artists wanted to really just simplify their work down to what was absolutely necessary to convey the same conventional ideas, with less. Less colors, lines, figures, etc.
Another reason for the birth of abstract comes artists simply trying new things. New methods of painting, new materials, new subject matters, new ideas in general (such as painting more unconscious or unseen things, as opposed to literal or figurative subjects).
When these new concepts started catching on, and becoming accepted, this only progressed the abstract movement all the more. Even with plenty of naysayers to these new concepts and methods, the oddity and newness of such pieces caused them to grew in popularity over time, which is evident all the more today.
The last component is each individual artist’s goal to stand out from the traditional. If you notice, while there were a few key painters that are remembered for abstract art, each still had their own unique mark or signature style. There’s a reason why you recognize a Pollock or Rothko when you see it.
If you think about this for a moment, this last reason makes the most sense for abstraction to have skyrocketed in cultural appropriation and societal acceptance.
If you (or I) kept doing the same things that everyone before us did, simply because it was already accepted (status quo), how would we differentiate ourselves from our predecessors? If you never broke the boundaries or tested the limits, how would you know what you or I or anyone else would like beyond the the currently accepted, if you never tried it?
The early abstract painters of last century set out to do two things : to upset that status quo, and to blaze their own trails as individuals.
They exceeded at both. If this wasn’t true, abstract would not be held in such high regard, and we would have long forgotten those individuals.
Now, does this mean that all abstract art is good? No. And I don’t think that these earlier artist of yesteryear set out to “lower the bar” or make trash acceptable. I think that they only meant to expand the boundaries and make something that they could claim as their own.
My final statement about why abstract art really emerged is because these artists wanted to show less on the surface and give viewers more of a chance to draw their own conclusions.
Does it mean they were lazy? Maybe. You could definitely argue that. But it’s also why some people love abstract art – because IT IS undefined. (But that’s a topic for another post)
Ultimately, I believe that abstract art emerged due to a group of artists attempting to make their own mark on the world in new, unorthodox ways that led us to where we are today.