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What Is Geometric Abstraction?

By Debra Barnhart
Updated May 23, 2024
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Geometric abstraction is a visual art form that uses simple geometric shapes and does not represent anything in the natural world. Used widely by modern artists in the 20th century, geometric abstraction was part of many art movements, although it is not by any means a Western modern art invention. For example, Islamic artists used abstract geometric shapes in their artwork as far back as the fifth century in paintings, ceramics, architecture and textiles.

Some 20th century modern artists turned away from representational art, or art that depicted objects in the real world, toward purified abstract forms that could not be construed to look like anything in the known world. Based on strict design principles with no attempt to create an illusion of three-dimensional space, geometric abstraction was considered by many modern artists to be the ultimate art movement. Geometric forms are specific shapes formed by straight lines or curved lines that continue along a continuous path.

Kazimir Severinovich Malevich, an artist who painted in the late 1800s and early 1900s was one of the early creators of 20th century geometric abstraction. Malevich founded a group called the Suprematists who embraced the idea of abstract geometric forms. In some ways, this form was also influenced by the Cubist art movement founded by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. These artists broke up the two-dimensional surface of their paintings with geometric forms to signify different perspectives. Cubist artwork, however, was often representational.

Another Russian artist, Wassily Wassilyevich Kandinsky, favored geometric abstraction at times in his career. Between 1922 and 1933 Kandinsky taught at the Bauhaus art school. During this period geometric forms dominated much of Kandinsky’s work, and he espoused the importance of these forms both in his theoretical writings and in the classroom.

Later in the 20th century the painter Piet Mondrian championed geometric abstraction and called his works neo-plasticism. Mondrian used white backgrounds over which he painted horizontal and vertical lines. He restricted the colors in his paintings to three primary colors. Despite his wish to avoid representation, his bright colored paintings were reminiscent of city street grids, and one painting was actually titled Broadway Boogie-Woogie. Mondrian’s work was influential in the Abstract Expressionist art movement, which started in New York in the 1940s.

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