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The History and Characteristics of Geometric Abstraction in Art

Geometric Abstraction in Art: History and Characteristics
If photography could capture any life form, what's the point of painting any picture from scratch? Geometric abstraction changed the landscape by creating art that evoked from the emotions of the artist, instead of a painted reproduction. This post will illuminate readers on geometric abstraction, its history, and its types.
Vijith Menon
Last Updated: Nov 28, 2017
In 1929, Alfred H. Barr, Jr. was the first American art historian to use the term 'geometric abstraction' in relation to the works of Wassily Kandinsky.
Out of all art forms that define the beauty of the world, abstract art is considered the most intellectual. The first look at any abstract form of art always leaves us with more questions than answers. Although not as popular as representational art, the form of reproducing art from life, it still attracts a genuine following among art lovers and the general public alike.
Abstract art was formed in the early 20th century by artists frustrated by following the same style of old painters. Geometric art already had a cult following in the early Greek period of 900 BC, as evident by concentric circles and other shapes on their vases and paintings.
Different types of abstract art encompass curvilinear, color-related or light-related, geometric, emotional or intuition, gestural, and minimalist. Geometric art is the only art form that tries to showcase balance and structure through the brush strokes of its artist. In the following sections, we tell you the reason for its popularity.
Geometric Abstraction: Definition
Mosaic of colors
  • Geometric abstraction is an art form that uses basic geometric shapes. Without depending on three-dimensional space, it was drawn using two-dimensional shapes suspended in space.
  • A distinct characteristic of geometric art is the shapes formed by curved or straight lines along a continuous path. It is sometimes judged to be devoid of emotion, but the grand gesture of the art convinces even the most stoic individuals.
Colorful abstract painting
  • Only the primary colors of red, green, and blue were used originally, which later on evolved to include more colors to give it more depth and emotion.
Picasso stamp
  •  Around 1908, artists like Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque started the movement of cubism, to branch out from the traditional style of painting.
  • There were 2 types of cubism. Analytical cubism depicted paintings in small, tilted planes. Synthetic cubism camouflaged paintings with wood and other foreign objects to depict cuboidal forms.
  • In fact, Georges Braque's painting, Houses at l'Estaque, prompted art critic Louis Vauxcelles to mockingly call it a house of cubes, which in turn gave the name to the movement.
  • Cubism convinced artist Piet Mondrian to include it in his paintings. Mondrian experimented and created his own art form - neo-plasticism.
  • Cubism even gave sculptors like Constantin Brâncuși the inspiration to create his world-famous sculpture The Kiss.
  • Although cubism was dying out, its influence had spread to other parts of the Western world. In Russia, due to the rise of communism, Kazimir Malevich invented suprematism as a way to rebel against the government and their propaganda. It further influenced Theo Van Doesburg to create a movement called De Stijl.
Types of Geometric Abstraction
  • This was an art form created in response to the economy and cultural change occurring in Russia.
  • The designs of constructivism were used in propaganda and advertising posters. The most famous poster was by El Lissitzky - 'Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge'.
  • Constructivism had a lasting impact in architecture (Tatlin's Tower), and in movies such as Aelita and Storm over Asia.
  • The artists associated with constructivism included Lyubov Popova, Vasiliy Yermilov, Vladimir Tatlin, and El Lissitzky, to name a few.
De Stijl
De Stijl Frame
  • The movement was started in 1917 by Theo van Doesburg, and meant 'The Style' in Dutch.
  • Primary members included Piet Mondrian, Vilmos Huszár, and Bart van der Leck, and the architects Gerrit Rietveld, Robert van 't Hoff, and J. J. P. Oud.
  • Paintings were depicted in rectangular grids, and used the primary colors of red, blue, and yellow, along with black and white.
  • Mondrian's last painting, BroadwayBoogie-Woogie, introduced the abstractionist movement to the United States of America in 1940.
Op Art
Op Art
  • Op art is a visual style of art that uses geometric shapes only in black and white. This art form was started by Victor Vasarely, in his painting Zebra.
  • This gives the viewer the impression of movement or optical illusions.
  • From 1965, artists like Bridget Riley started producing color-based op art.
  • Although the art died out, it branched into pop art; the kind of snazzy art form used to popularize famous icons, and used by Andy Warhol in his creations.
  • Artists primarily influenced by op art include Richard Allen, John McHale, Heinz Mack, Michael Kidner, and Jeffrey Steele.
Minimalism abstraction
  • Minimalism started in 1960 in New York as a new wave of art form.
  • The aim was to express clarity by reducing the content to its primal form, without using any references.
  • One of the most important art pieces influenced by this art form is Die by Tony Smith.
  • Other famous artists influenced by minimalism include Donald Judd, Frank Stella, Brice Marden, and Sol Lewitt, to name a few.
Suprematism painting
  • Kazimir Malevich started the movement in 1913 known as suprematism, due to the colors in his paintings giving a different sensation, also known as synaesthesia.
  • It primarily used squares and trapezoids on a white background to depict emotions.
  • The group started by Malevich included artists like Lyubov Popova, Aleksandra Ekster, Olga Rozanova, Nadezhda Udaltsova, Ivan Kliun, Nikolai Suetin, Ilya Chashnik, Nina Genke-Meller, Ivan Puni, and Ksenia Boguslavskaya.
Concrete Art
Concrete Art
  •  Concrete art is considered an art form which has no symbolic reference to the world, and was coined by Theo Van Doesburg in 1930.
  • The art form was recognized by its hard edges and frequent use of geometric shapes.
  • One of the pioneers who spread concrete art was Wassily Kandinsky, whose painting On White II represented a piece of machinery.
  • The artists who practiced this art form include Max Bill, Josef Albers, Robert Delaunay, Tony Smith, and Sol LeWitt, among others.