Art, abstract

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-M001-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 24, 2024, from

3. Schematizing abstraction

The schematic rendering of figures, appearances and space of an appropriate sort, carried to the required degree, allows seemingly endless variations, for which no systematic classification has yet been devised. Analytic Cubism, a prime instance, geometricizes contours, evacuates or etherealizes solids, and expunges much other detail. On the constructive side, it repeats edges at different eye-levels, imports contours from quite different points of view, and fractures objects and regions of empty space into overlapping facets or shards, as if an eccentric crystalline structure were being revealed. Since many of the interpolations and displacements are depictively cryptic or altogether nonfunctional, the perceptible nature of the motif tends to be obscured or confused. In classic cases (for example, Picasso’s Portrait of Kahnweiler, 1911) the central motif (a man dressed in a neat wool suit over a ribbed shirt, embellished by necktie and watch chain, with his hands folded, and a bottle on a table to his right, light coming in from his left, and so on) emerges against the odds from a farrago of translucent angular clutter. Carried to an extreme the process renders the motif unidentifiable. The appeal of this sort of abstraction has been explained in terms of its power to convey the intricacy, instability or illusoriness of perception or of the material world, or alternatively the inner vitality of objects – a power deemed beyond the range of any traditional mode of representation.

Synthetic Cubism revises the schematizing process in two directions. Aspects that are curtailed further include atmosphere and depth. Compositions are dominated by template-like forms, often closely stacked, blocking recession, and with it, atmosphere. Media motifs, printed materials and other inherently flat elements are deployed to similar effect. Suggestions of ambient lighting and perceptual process, typical of Analytic Cubism, are also generally reduced or entirely banished. All this, together with the evident arbitrariness of many of the forms, creates the impression of the composition having been built up (synthesized) from invented components rather than derived by analytic decomposition of a natural motif. Contrarily, descriptive content is in certain respects enhanced compared with the norm in Analytic Cubism. Some forms signify sizeable sections of recognizable objects (a guitar, a table, for instance).

Synthetic Cubist figures may be invested with an uncanny presence, as they are in Picasso’s Three Musicians, 1921 (The Museum of Modern Art version). Having assumed some of the properties of the flattened planes of which they are composed, yet being represented in full view without any optical interference, the figures have become enigmatic new realities inhabiting an equally unnatural space. This contrasts with the effect in Analytic Cubism of normal objects seen through a radically fractured lens.

Another of the many currents of schematic abstraction is generally known as lyrical or expressionist and is represented by various works of Kandinsky, Franz Marc, Paul Klee and others. Objects and space are dematerialized by blurred and calligraphically naive transforms of the Cubist schemata just cited, and by a dispersal of emphasis over the entire picture plane. Colour is typically dramatic or evocative.

Citing this article:
Brown, John H.. Schematizing abstraction. Art, abstract, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-M001-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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