The Case for Abstraction | The Art Assignment | PBS Digital Studios | Summary and Q&A

July 28, 2016
The Art Assignment
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The Case for Abstraction | The Art Assignment | PBS Digital Studios


Abstraction in art emerged as a response to the changing world and artistic experimentation, allowing artists to represent the intangible and challenge traditional artistic norms.

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Key Insights

  • 🌍 Abstraction in art emerged in response to the changing world and artistic experimentation.
  • 🧑‍🎨 Artists in the 19th century began to abstract familiar objects through stylization, simplification, and unconventional perspectives.
  • 🥰 Abstraction was influenced by diverse sources such as music, spirituality, cultural art, and scientific discoveries.
  • 🥰 The evolution of abstraction continued through different art movements in the 20th century, each with its own unique approach and objectives.
  • 🫵 Abstraction can be a mirror or a window, offering different interpretations and experiences for each viewer.
  • 💦 Artists continue to push the boundaries of abstraction, recycling and reinterpreting prior approaches to create new and compelling works.
  • 🌍 Abstraction in art is market-friendly and international, but its flexibility can also be both rewarding and frustrating.


[THEME MUSIC] NARRATOR: For much of human history, when people set out to make art they did so by trying to represent things as they appeared in the world around them. And then about 100 years ago, a bunch of artists stopped trying to do that. It was shocking. This is not what art was supposed to be or do. And no one was given a compass really for ... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: Why did artists start moving away from representing things realistically?

Artists began exploring abstraction in response to the changing world brought on by the Industrial Revolution and photography. They sought to depict the world in non-naturalistic ways and experiment with new artistic styles.

Q: How did artists in the 19th century abstract familiar objects?

Artists like Matisse and Derain used intense colors and broad brush strokes, while Cubist artists like Picasso and Braque fragmented and stylized still life subjects to create abstract representations.

Q: How did spirituality and music influence abstract art?

Kandinsky and other artists were influenced by Theosophist beliefs, viewing abstraction as a way to commune with the spiritual. They also saw parallels between music and art, considering both as forms that could convey emotions and thoughts.

Q: How did abstraction continue to evolve in the 20th century?

Abstract art movements like Suprematism, De Stijl, Op art, Minimalism, and Neo-expressionism emerged, each exploring new ways to manipulate form, color, and materials to evoke different emotions and perceptions.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Abstraction in art began to emerge in the 19th century as artists sought to depict non-naturalistic representations of the changing world.

  • Artists like Matisse, Picasso, and Kandinsky experimented with intense colors, geometric shapes, and multiple perspectives to abstract familiar subjects.

  • Abstraction continued to evolve through the 20th century with movements like Cubism, Futurism, and German Expressionism, influenced by various sources including music, cultural art, and spirituality.

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