Samia Halaby on Abstraction and Illusion – crisp and brilliant

I am posting a short text by Samia Halaby – an artist I enormously admire, which gives a crisp and clear explanation of abstract art in comparison with illusionist  (or representative) art. The visuals have been inserted by me.

Abstraction And Illusion

by Samia A. Halaby, April 1995

Abstraction is just as connected to nature and reality as is illusionism. It too relies on reality as its only source. I disagree with historians and critics who claim that it is based solely on mental formulations.

Even though the representation of nature may seem more direct in an illusionist painting, its role as the basis of the work is not more significant than in abstraction. While illusionist painters view nature in order to capture a reflection of it from a single point of view, abstractionists seek to extract and depict general principles of motion. They cohere visual knowledge of things from multiple encounters, and contemplate similarities to other formations and patterns in nature.

Samia Halaby, TheSwimmer

To paint the morning, Monet painted a cathedral bathed in light from one point of view. He captured the morning colors of a specific season and place.

Monet, Rouen Cathedral

To paint the morning an abstract painter, on the other hand, may select any one of numerous palettes which would describe morning, use the shapes more likely to be seen early in the day, and as much variation of rhythm and detail of texture as would communicate flavors of things.

Samia Halaby – Lemon Blossoms

Thus while the illusionist captures particulars, the abstractionist captures the general essence of things. Impressionist painting is, of course, itself a great advance in painting, a first step in escaping particulars and ascending to the general — really one of the first steps towards abstraction.

Monet, Water Lilies (detail) This is a fragment of Monet’s triptych Water Lilies, which can be seen n MoMA, sharing space with the Abstract Expressionists. It is a painting, where impressionism verges on the abstract.

Because abstract representations deal with general principles, their content excludes the imaging of particular objects and specific people. This frees the artists from the burden of illustrating any one nation’s mythological and propagandistic agenda. As a consequence, they transcend national boundaries more readily. It makes sense, then, that in the history of the early twentieth century, abstraction began with the international spread of Cubism and Constrctivism and the revolutionary fervor which gave them their ambiance.

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