The term “abstractionism” is a fairly broad concept used for any painting or sculpture that displays unreal objects or scenes. There is no clear definition of the essence and main features of abstract art. Abstractionism in painting received the greatest popularity in the USA.


drawings on the walls

Abstract art appeared about 70,000 years ago – the first prehistoric drawings on the walls of caves in the form of geometric patterns were found in South Africa. Art from the Late Paleolithic period presents a wide range of abstract drawings associated with primitive religious beliefs. Ornaments and symbols are found in all cultures of the world.


Until the end of the 19th century, famous painters follow the traditional principles of classical realism and academicism. The main principle is the desire to convey the object as realistically as possible. In the last quarter of the 19th century, the situation changed. Impressionism demonstrated that the strict academic style was no longer mainstream. In the period 1900-1930, directions were formed that became currents of abstract painting, artists developed new methods and techniques of work.

The beginning of the development of the style in Europe is associated with the emergence of futurism and suprematism, an extreme direction of abstractionism, with the activities of Kandinsky and Malevich.


Abstract art in painting was founded by Russian artists Kazimir Malevich and Wassily Kandinskiy, Dutchman Piet Mondrian, Czech František Kupka.

The emphasis on color and form, rather than on the realism of the image, is of paramount importance in the development of abstract art. German Expressionism made this the cornerstone of painting. The famous abstractionist Wassily Kandinsky in 1911 published a book entitled “Concerning the Spiritual in Art“, which became the ideological basis of the style. Kandinsky believed that a picture cannot be analyzed intellectually – an emotional perception, a sense of color is necessary. The artist was characterized by hypersensitivity to color – synesthesia, therefore he attached the greatest importance to shades and their transfer. The painter noted that the sensory perception of abstract painting should not turn the picture into a simple decoration of the room. The philosophy of abstraction, according to Kandinsky, is contained in the works of E. Blavatsky and R. Steiner.

Before World War II, Paris was the center for the development of new trends in contemporary art. After the war, the center moved to New York. Development in new directions

In the course of the development of abstractionism, new directions appear:


The direction was founded at the beginning of the 20th century. The characteristic features are the play with the color spectrum, specific light transmission. The artists took as a basis for their creativity the idea that objects that a person sees are the product of the eye’s perception of rays coming from a light source.

Luchism directions painting
Mikhail Larionov, Red Rayonism, 1913


The Dutch direction of abstractionism, founded in 1917 – 1925. The main details of the image are squares and rectangles of various colors and sizes. Piet Mondrian is considered the largest representative of the style.

Neoplasticism directions painting
Piet Mondrian, Composition with Yellow, Blue and Red, 1937-42


French version of abstract painting from the early 20th century. Orphist artists strove to connect painting and music, used the patterns of musical rhythms to convey shades and colors. Curvilinearity, asymmetry, use of contrasting shades are characteristic.

Orphism directions painting
Robert Delaunay, Circular Forms, 1930


The direction developed in Western Europe and the United States in the middle of the 20th century. Representatives refused to recreate the images of reality, when painting pictures they used bright color spots, lines, shapeless strokes. Tachism embodies spontaneity, work without a clear plan.

Tachisme directions painting
Georges Mathieu, Utan titel. (d)

Abstract expressionism

The movement is represented in many countries. The artists worked with spots, dots, curves and straight lines, strokes, abandoning clear geometry. Expressionism is designed to convey emotions and fleeting feelings, therefore, only bright colors are used to paint pictures.

expressionism directions painting
Valentine King, The Game of Black and White, 2021

Op art

One of the directions of the avant-garde and abstraction is considered the movement of op-art or “optical art”. A distinctive feature is the desire to create complex optical illusions using color, shape, monochrome, repeating geometric patterns. Leading artists, representatives of the direction Victor Vasarely, B. Riley. The movement did not become popular and was transformed into other directions in the early 70s of the 20th century.

British Pop art

With the development of postmodernism in the mid 60s of the 20th century, contemporary art tends to disintegrate into local schools.

Op art directions painting
Richard Allen


The main idea of abstraction is that the formal qualities of painting are as important as the shape, color and visual qualities of the object.

Several types of abstract painting are conventionally distinguished:


Associated with Celtic art, which used a number of abstract motives: patterns, lines, spirals, symbols with a certain semantic load. Many early cultures used Celtic ornament for centuries. Motives have been noted in the cultures of Western Europe. In the 19th and 20th centuries, a movement arose for the revival of Celtic culture within the framework of the Art Nouveau style. Abstract patterns of a curvilinear type are characteristic of Islamic traditional art.


Found in the works of Turner and Monet, who use color to separate art from the real world. Vivid colors play a greater role than the realism of the depicted object. An example of color abstraction is the patchwork style. Some paintings by A. Matisse, K. Monet, F. Kupka, V. Kandinsky are representative samples of color abstraction. The direction was formed in the 40-50s of the 20th century, thanks to Mark Rothko.

color abstraction
Mark Rothko, 1968


A type of intelligent abstract art emerged around 1908. An early form is considered to be an analytical type of cubism, which rejected linear perspective and the illusion of spatial depth in painting, focused on the flat depiction of objects. Geometric abstraction is known as non-objective art – it is this type that is associated with abstract art.

Geometric abstract
Valentine King, Beyond Two Worlds, 2021


Emotional or intuitive abstraction is a mixture of styles with a general bias towards naturalism. The desire for natural, realistic rendering is expressed in the colors and play of light displayed on the canvases. Unlike geometric abstraction, which is against naturalness and academism, the intuitive direction often turns to naturalism. Sources of direction are surrealism and organic abstraction. Artists: M. Rothko, I. Tangi, some paintings by V. Kandinsky.

Emotional abstraction
Pedro Álvarez Castelló, Tango Argentino


A form of abstract expressionism. Representatives of the direction attached importance not to the essence of the image, but to the process of painting the picture. The works are characterized by a specific way of using paint – application with quick, intermittent strokes. Representative paintings by Jackson Pollock, W. De Kooning, K. Appel, Robert Motherwell.

Gesturing abstraction
Robert Motherwell, Perpetual Summer, 1985


A type of abstraction that has become an attempt to return to the foundations of avant-garde art. The basis of creativity is the transfer of color and form, without trying to display the inner content.

Minimalist abstraction
Kurt Schwitters, Lockere Vierecke, 1928

Modern development

At the present stage, the direction continues to develop in new forms and movements. In contemporary art, shapes and colors have a special meaning, a specific philosophical meaning. The foundations of the style laid down by Kandinsky are being developed by new representatives of the trend.

Art galleries in Tribeca, NYC.

Abstract art of the 20th century marked the end of the dominance of realism, naturalism and academism in painting. Thanks to the emergence of a new movement in art, experiments with color, shape, perspective became possible.