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Abstraction as Representation

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Abstraction as Representation

Abstraction as Representation


Xu Wei (1521-1593), Flowers and Plants, handscroll in ink on paper

William De Kooning(1904-1997), Lilly Pond, Oil on Canvas 1959

The shift of art culture towards abstraction is a clear change that exists cross-culturally and through different historical moments showing the move of society to reflect the artist’s skill and process. In these two landscapes, we see a move toward expression of artists instead of the illusionistic representations of the actual landscape itself. Xu Wei’s Flowers and Plants and De Kooning’s Lily Pond represent two historical moments where societies began to accept abstraction as skillful and ingenious works of art. Xu Wei’s painting represents the transition of the Chinese society to accepting this abstract painting and how they even gave their artist ingenious like qualities because of their skill. The De Kooning painting reflects a Modernist movement of art and it’s move toward abstraction even in mainstream cultures. The artists have different roles in society, but can be compared to similar movement in both cultures to the public’s acceptance of abstraction and how class structure determined how they were viewed. The artists also see their culture sociological or psychological understanding of the process and the inspiration of the paintings. In comparing these artists we can understand the art historical influence abstraction in the two societies as a means of self expression and the creations type of representation in painting.

Xu Wei’s painting is a reflection of a consistent intellectual movement of the Chinese society to give praise to abstract artists. The 16th c. painting, Flowers and Plants, shows how the scholars began to hold self expression at times even higher than those from painstakingly produced representation and that they have distinct scales of value or evaluation. Cahill suggests that this scale of value for abstraction came during the 8th century with artist Ink Wang and Wu Tao-tzu1. When their work was said to be outside of the established scale of evaluation and therefore needed its own rubric for critics. Xu Wei’s painting itself was a work that exhibits this transition to self-expression. When looking at the scroll, the brush strokes stand out as much as the figures in the painting allowing for the artist to be seen as much or even more that the flower or the plant. His expression on the canvas or scroll is what captures the eye instead of the flowers or plants shown. At times one cannot determine what parts of the flower or plant are represented and it’s important to note that this is not important. Xu Wei’s brush strokes and style of painting is just as important, which can be attributed to Xu We’s creativity and personality. This agrees with Fry and Bell’s assertion that abstraction is the direct transmission of emotion2. Xu Wei was not given much acclaim until his death but was honored as a genius because of his style of expression exhibited in his brush strokes.. In showing his personality through his painting, he omits some of the object’s details agreeing with Holmes assertion that abstraction implies omission2. With Xu Wei’s personality and creativity analyzed through his paintings scholars after his death have given him praise similar to that of a genius or higher being saying that “he stands alone in all time”3. These things show the state of society at the time and how abstraction was accepted from an intellectually in the Chinese society at the time and given it’s own scale of evaluation.

William De Kooning’s painting, Lily Pond, is an excellent representation of the modernist movement of the time showing the transition to abstraction. Kooning is a contemporary of Jackson Pollock and has some of the same critics. The modernist movement goes towards abstraction and towards the act of painting. Kooning’s style, personality and creativity are exhibited throughout the painting

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