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Until the early 20th century figurative and abstract art was always present in architecture of substance for didactic, symbolic and semiotic purposes and often drew on complex ideas and cultural inheritances, sometimes with wit or genuine innovation.

Art and architecture in human lives

The above quoted lines of Thomas Merton, the famous art critic speaks volume about the significance which the various forms of art as well as architecture hold in the lives of the people. The various forms of art have formed an important part of the lives of the human beings since the traditional times and it is a reflection of this particular fact that since the traditional times the people have indulged in the creation of various kinds of arts and architecture (Gerger, Pelowski and Leder 2017). It is significant to note that the various kinds or arts as well as architecture serves diverse kinds of purposes in the lives of the individuals, firstly, they help the human beings to channelize the surplus amount of time as well as resources which they have by investing them in art and architecture and secondly they render artistic beauty in the mundane lives of the human beings (Gerger, Pelowski and Leder 2017). It is precisely for these reasons that the human beings since the ancient have shown their inclination towards the various forms of art as well as architecture. Furthermore, many experts are of the viewpoint that the various forms of art as well as architecture not only provide a gateway to the human beings to channelize their surplus energy and resources or merely for aesthetic purposes but at the same time they are also being used a medium through which the artist conveys his or her feelings or thoughts to the audience (Flexas et al. 2013). Thus, various different genres of art as well as architecture have gained prominence in the various ages like the abstract art, figurative art, modern art and others depending on the preferences as well as the demands of the people of the age in which they were living (Flexas et al. 2013). This essay will discuss about the manner in which the figurative as well as abstract art formed an integral part of architecture until the 20th century and also the manner in which they were used for semiotic, didactic and symbolic purposes to convey the feelings of the artist.

The figurative as well as the abstract forms of art and architecture has formed an important part of the entire machinery of art and architecture since the traditional times (Fan, Forlizzi and Dey 2012). In the ancient times it was seen that the prehistoric men used to paint on the walls of the caves and also would construct various kinds of arts and artifacts taking the help of the concepts of abstract and figurative kinds of arts (Fan, Forlizzi and Dey 2012). The earliest reference to this kind of art and architecture perhaps goes back to the 480 B.C Egypt when the people of the Egyptian Civilization used to take the help of the process of figurative art for the creation of various life like art works and architectures which has attracted the attention of the art critics even in the present times (Fan, Forlizzi and Dey 2012). One of the most notable examples of this particular fact is the story behind the origin of the idea of “memento mori”. Herodotus in his “Histories” narrates a particular incident when he took the wooden miniature of a corpse in his pocket and as a matter of fact all the prominent people of the location would do the same just to express the idea that “each of the human beings have at die one day so they might just try to live their lives as best as they can” (Crowther and Wünsche 2012).

Evolution of figurative art and its usage

The concept of figurative art as well as its usage has undergone drastic transformation since that particular point of time however the original idea behind the evolution as well as the use of this particular art form has not changed even in the present times (Arnason and Mansfield 2013). The style of figurative art was initially developed to create life like forms in art and architecture and also to depict the various non-living things just as they were in real life in various kinds of life and architecture (Arnason and Mansfield 2013). Another significant example of the use of this particular style of art finds its representation in the “The Dancing Girl” statue which was excavated at the sites of the Indus Valley Civilization (Barnet and Wu 2012). Barnet and Wu (2012) are of the viewpoint that this particular statue was perhaps the figurative representation of some famous dancer of that particular period and was perhaps created by one of her admirers. The ruins of the Indus Valley Civilization at the same time contains various other art as well as architectural works which refer to the usage of this form of art like the images of Shiva, Shakti and others (Barnet and Wu 2012). Even in the Middle Ages as well it was seen that the various artists used this particular form style of art for the creation of various kinds of art as well as architectural works (Carranza and Lara 2015). Some of the most famous artists who took the help of this particular style of art were Nicolas Poussin, Giorgione and others and some of the most famous art works created with the use of this style of art were the “Sleeping Venus (1510) by Giorgione”, “Johann Anton Eismann’s Ein Meerhafen ("A Seaport")” and others (Gerger, Pelowski and Leder 2017). Furthermore, it is significant to note that this particular style of art was widely used in the 20th century as well and the most important specimen which belongs to this particular genre of art was Jay Meuser’s untitled abstract painting (Gerger, Pelowski and Leder 2017). Moreover, in the recent times it is seen that the art works of the present times have shown that there is a direct correlation between the art forms of abstract and figurative style and it is a reflection of this particular fact that there are many experts who are of the viewpoint that “Since the arrival of abstract art the term figurative has been used to refer to any form of modern art that retains strong references to the real world” (Flexas et al. 2013).  

Usage of figurative art in the Middle Ages and modern times

The abstract form of art, on the other hand, is a recent development in the genre of art and the earliest recorded instance of the usage of the usage of this particular style of art belong to the 12th century China in the works of the various Buddhist artists like Liang Kai, Sesshu Toyo and the other artists patronized by the Sang Dynasty of China (Cattaneo et al. 2014). The abstract style of art is mainly concerned with the usage of various kinds of visual language which in turn is achieved by the effective usage of diverse kinds of shapes, color effects, forms and other with the objective to “create a composition which may exist with a degree of independence from visual references in the world” (Cattaneo et al. 2014). It is significant to note that this style of art work gained popularity in the Western world particularly during the Renaissance Period when the different monks would take the help of this particular style of art work to create paintings and other forms of art work (Brinkmann et al. 2014). Many experts are of the viewpoint that this is perhaps one of the best styles of art because of the fact that the use of this particular style of art allows the artist to give free vein to his or her feelings or emotions without having to fear that they would be divulged to the world since is generally seen that the meaning of the art works created using this particular style of art usually varies from person to person (Brinkmann et al. 2014). This particular thing happens because of the fact that the visual shapes, forms or images that the artist uses for the creation of the art work holds one kind of meaning for him or her but the same shapes, forms or images might not have the same kind of meaning for the audience of the art work.

It is significant to note that many experts are of the viewpoint that the figurative style of art and the abstract art are mutually exclusive to each other and there are various instances wherein it is seen that the diverse forms of figurative arts contain partial abstractions (Song et al. 2013). The form of abstract art gained a significant amount of significance in the 19th and the 20th centuries with the emergence of various new genres of thinking as well as expression like expressionism, impressionism and others (Song et al. 2013). Scholars are of the view point that the three most important art movements that contributed in a significant manner towards the broadening of the genre of the abstract art were the “Romanticism, Impressionism and Expressionism” in the 20th century (Van Paasschen et al. 2014). Some of the most famous artists of the 20th century who actively take the help of this particular style of art are Georges Braque, Pablo Picasso, André Derain, Raoul Dufy Fernand Léger, Juan Gris, Marcel Duchamp, Albert Gleizes, Maurice de Vlaminck and others (Van Paasschen et al. 2014). Furthermore, the basic fact that has motivated some of the best artists of the 20th century take the help of this particular art form is the fact they could use this particular art form as a vehicle to not only convey their feelings as well as thoughts to the people but at the same time escape the responsibility for the articulation of revolutionary or sensitive information behind the fact that the feelings expressed by them through their art work could easily be interpreted in diverse manners since the art works just used abstractions to convey their feelings and ideas (Van Paasschen et al. 2014).

Abstract art: a recent development

Art and the various art works since the traditional times have been used by the human beings for various kinds of purposes. As already mentioned that art and various kinds of art works enabled the human beings not only to invest their resources as well as time into something substantial but at the same time contributed in a significant manner to aesthetic beauty. Furthermore, it is seen that the various kinds of art forms since the ancient times have been used by the human beings as a means or a vessel through which they can not only convey their emotions or feelings but at the same time diverse kinds of revolutionary information well as which would have been suppressed by the state authorities had they been said in public in a loud voice (Fan, Forlizzi and Dey 2012). It would be apt to say that the vehicle of art provided the human beings with a suitable vessel that they can use to articulate the things that they feel the world needs to know without getting reprimanded for the articulation of them (Fan, Forlizzi and Dey 2012). It is a reflection of this fact that the machinery of art and the various art forms since the ancient times have been used for various kinds of didactic purposes and also for conveying various kinds of ideas taking the help of the process of symbolism and also semiotics (Crowley and Zisserman 2013). A pertinent example of this particular fact is the art piece “City Square” (1948) of Alberto Giacometti (Umland 2001). It is significant to note that this piece of sculpture is often considered to be one of the masterpieces of the 20th and the artists for the creation of this particular sculpture has not only used the abstract art form but at the same time takes the help of the concept of symbolism as well (Umland 2001). It is a reflection of this particular fact different people has different opinion about this particular art work. For some people the art work under discussion here represents the desolation as well as the loneliness of the modern day life whereas there are others who are of the viewpoint that the art work represents the horrors of the Great War and tries to show the fate which awaits the human beings if they do not give up wars that are directed to attain their selfish goals (Umland 2001). Umland (2001) is of the viewpoint that Giacometti takes the help of the concept of existentialism as well as abstract art to depict the present day condition of the human beings and also the loneliness that they feel in their hearts.  

Expansion of abstract art in the 19th and 20th centuries

   Nora Heysen’s art work “Motherhood” (1941) is another example of a art work which not only uses the concept of abstract art but at the same time utilises the vessel of art to convey deeper meanings as well as the feelings of the artist (Speck 2011). A first glance at the art work would make the viewer feel that it a just a normal painting in which a mother is holding her child but a deeper analysis of the world would reveal the fact that the work has been set in the backdrop of the Great War in which Heysen herself and saw millions of people and thus the work can be said to represent the protective feelings of a mother to save perhaps her only surviving child from the destructive as well as cruel machinery of war (Speck 2011). It is not that the use of art forms for the expression of feelings gained prominence in the 20th century however it needs to be said at this particular point of time that this practice has been in place since the traditional times (Speck 2011). For example, the above given example of Herodotus and the miniature of the corpse that he used to carry in with him can be seen as the use of art for didactic purposes wherein he was trying to teach the people the concept of Carpe diem, that it, “gather your rose buds while you can” and that each man is going to die so it is better to enjoy while they can (Crowley and Zisserman 2013). In addition to this, the various pyramids of Egypt can also be seen as the art forms that were created to serve various kinds of symbolic functions (Brinkmann et al. 2014). Many experts are of the viewpoint that there are various kinds of symbolic functions that the pyramids served in the lives of the Egyptian people however the most important one was the fact that represented the end of the earthly journey of the human beings and the start of a new journey (Brinkmann et al. 2014). It is significant to note in this particular context that the Egyptians believed in the concept of life after death and also in the concept of afterlife (Brinkmann et al. 2014). Thus, it can be said that the various pyramids represent the fact to the Egyptians that the end of life on this earth was not the ultimate end because the human beings needed to go through the cycles of afterlife and rebirth as well.     

Usage of abstract art by famous artists in the 20th century

The 20th century not only saw a revival of the art forms of figurativism and abstract but at the same time it was seen that the emergence of new ideas as well as ways of thinking significantly transformed the manner in which these traditional forms of art were being used by the various artists (Gerger, Pelowski and Leder 2017). Thus, it was seen that the various artists who used the figurative as well as the abstract art for the composition of their art works took the help of the concept of innovation. The artists not only used the concept of innovation for the creation of their art works but at the same time for conveying the meaning or the things that they wanted to convey to the audience of their intended work (Gerger, Pelowski and Leder 2017). Furthermore, the use of the concept of innovation at the same time has enriched the work of these artists in a significant manner as becomes apparent from the art works of Pablo Picasso (Gerger, Pelowski and Leder 2017). Thus, it is generally seen that the artists of the 20th used the vessel of art to represent the cultural inheritances that they had inherited from their past generations and also various kinds of complex ideas sometimes utilizing the concept of innovation and at other times the vessel of wit for the achievement of the same purpose.

To conclude, the genre of art is a very broad one and since the traditional times have been used by the human beings for diverse kind of reasons. On the one hand, there were people who turned towards the machinery of art to invest the surplus time as well as resources that they had in an effective manner and at the same time there are others who turned towards art for aesthetic pleasure. However, one of the most important functions that the vessel of art served for the various artists was the fact that it provided them with a vehicle through which they can easily portray their feelings as well as the things that they want the others to know in a subtle manner. Furthermore, it is seen that the various artists take the help of the cannon of art to convey their cultural inheritances as well as various kinds of complexes to the audiences. Moreover, in the present times it is also seen that these artists also take the help of the concepts of wit as well as innovation not only for the creation of their art work but at the same time for conveying the complex ideas that they had in a much better manner. In addition to these, the contributions of abstract as well as figurative style on the various forms of art as well as architecture are indispensible in the particular genre of the world of art. The use of these styles of art has not only influenced the quality of the art work of the artists but at the same time has significant affected the nature of the ideas that their artistic work represents.

References

Arnason, H.H. and Mansfield, E., 2013. History of modern art: painting, sculpture, architecture, photography. Pearson.

Barasch, M., 2013. Theories of art: 3. From impressionism to Kandinsky. Routledge.

Barnet, P. and Wu, N.Y., 2012. The cloisters: medieval art and architecture. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Brinkmann, H., Commare, L., Leder, H. and Rosenberg, R., 2014. Abstract art as a universal language?. Leonardo, 47(3), pp.256-257.

Carranza, L.E. and Lara, F.L., 2015. Modern Architecture in Latin America: Art, Technology, and Utopia. University of Texas Press.

Cattaneo, Z., Lega, C., Gardelli, C., Merabet, L.B., Cela-Conde, C.J. and Nadal, M., 2014. The role of prefrontal and parietal cortices in esthetic appreciation of representational and abstract art: a TMS study. Neuroimage, 99, pp.443-450.

Crowley, E.J. and Zisserman, A., 2013. Of gods and goats: Weakly supervised learning of figurative art. learning, 8, p.14.

Crowther, P. and Wünsche, I. eds., 2012. Meanings of abstract art: Between nature and theory (Vol. 2). Routledge.

Fan, C., Forlizzi, J. and Dey, A.K., 2012, September. A spark of activity: exploring informative art as visualization for physical activity. In Proceedings of the 2012 ACM Conference on Ubiquitous Computing (pp. 81-84). ACM.

Flexas, A., Rosselló, J., Christensen, J.F., Nadal, M., La Rosa, A.O. and Munar, E., 2013. Affective priming using facial expressions modulates liking for abstract art. PloS one, 8(11), p.e80154.

Foster, H., 2013. The art-architecture complex. Verso Books.

Gerger, G., Pelowski, M. and Leder, H., 2017. Erratum to: Empathy, Einfühlung, and aesthetic experience: The effect of emotion contagion on appreciation of representational and abstract art using fEMG and SCR. Cognitive Processing, pp.1-1.

Hackett, P.M., 2016. Psychology and philosophy of abstract art: neuro-aesthetics, perception and comprehension. Springer.

Homan, R., 2017. The art of the sublime: principles of Christian art and architecture. Routledge.

Padilla, S., Robb, D., Halley, F. and Chantler, M.J., 2012. Browsing Abstract Art by Appearance. In Proceedings of the 3rd International Conference on Appearance: Predicting Perceptions (pp. 100-103).

Song, Y.Z., Pickup, D., Li, C., Rosin, P. and Hall, P., 2013. Abstract art by shape classification. IEEE transactions on visualization and computer graphics, 19(8), pp.1252-1263.

Speck, C. ed., 2011. Heysen to Heysen: Selected Letters of Hans Heysen and Nora Heysen. National Library Australia.

Umland, A., 2001. Capturing Giacometti's Gaze. MoMA, pp.2-7.

Van Paasschen, J., Zamboni, E., Bacci, F. and Melcher, D., 2014. Consistent emotions elicited by low-level visual features in abstract art. Art & Perception, 2(1-2), pp.99-118.  

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