Retreat from Likeness in the Theory of Painting

Retreat from Likeness in the Theory of Painting

Retreat from Likeness in the Theory of Painting

Retreat from Likeness in the Theory of Painting

Excerpt

Abstract painting has now reached a respectable middle age, having come into existence in 1910. That was the year when the Russian painter, Wassily Kandinsky, exhibited his first Improvisation in Munich. He chose a title from music, implying what he said many times later, that his design of colors and shapes without recognizable objects was like music in making its effect by immediate impact on the senses. Painting of this sort has been variously called "pure," "non-objective," or, most commonly, "abstract."

Before the first World War, artists were painting abstractly in many countries of Europe and in the United States. Some of them started "schools," each with its distinctive name, style, theory, and defender. From 1913 until 1921, Moscow was one exciting center of experiment in abstraction. The new painting showed two strains. One was intellectual, using geometrical forms, stemming from Cézanne and the Cubists, and appearing in Suprematism and Constructivism. The other, emotional, used soft organic shapes, and owed much to the German Expressionists and to Russian primitive art. Here the famous innovator was Kandinsky. The founder of Suprematism, Kasimir Malevich, defined it as "the supremacy of pure feeling or perception in the pictorial arts." This definition hardly prepares us for the austerity of his first Suprematist painting . . .

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