Levels of Abstraction

Levels of Abstraction

All art is abstract. It is a matter of degree, not a question of either or. Whether one is looking at Cave Painting, Early Italian Painting, the paintings of small children, the paintings of a developed Realist or a hard edged Minimalist; abstraction is the common chord that runs through all paintings, as well as music, film, poetry, the novel, the short story and life itself. Constructs such as realism, new realism, painterly realism, cubism, futurism, and minimalism are all attempts by humans to categorize and contain that which resists categorization and containment. When a caveman went into the back of a cave to draw on a craggy and broken surface the image of a bison that he might meet later that day, his concern was to render that image with as much feeling and simplicity and accuracy as he could muster. Working from memory, the image that he painted on the cave wall would invariably have been a reduction, a simplification, an abstraction of the more complicated visual dynamics that are involved with replicating the image of a bison in a pre-photographic age. The caveman, like the child, is working abstractly without realizing that he is doing so. When Vermeer painted a maiden pouring milk into a bowl amidst sunlight pouring through a dutch window, he is of necessity simplifying and abstracting forms in order to both tell his story and to reduce and simplify forms in space in a very complicated visual world.  If you hold a Vermeer painting upside down and concentrate on the space between things or the space between objects — under tables, for...