CATEGORIES OF ARTS
WHAT IS ART?
First coined by the Dutch artist and designer Theo Van Doesburg (1883-1931), the term "concrete art" refers to any type of abstract art which has no figurative or symbolic references. Thus an abstract painting whose motifs or shapes are evidently derived from any natural elements, would not be considered concrete art: the picture must be wholly devoid of any naturalistic associations. As a result, most concrete art is based on geometric imagery and patterns, and is often called geometric abstraction. To use a dietary analogy: concrete art is to abstraction, as veganism is to vegetarianism - it is the purest form. The basic idea behind this sort of pure abstraction, is to create a self-contained type of art: a sort of visual form of music.
HOW TO EVALUATE
Also, geometric abstraction is in line with classical aesthetics: Plato for example maintained that the highest form of beauty lies in the 'ideal' concept or geometry of a thing, rather than its actual appearance in the natural world. Finally, by having nothing to do with the material world, concrete art may be viewed as possessing a spiritual dimension. It is this spiritual dimension, for example, that underlies the "infinite pattern" designs of Islamic art. It is all a far cry from the figurative humanism of the High Renaissance. Another synonym for concretism is "non-objective art". Early pioneers of this form of avant-garde art include Kandinsky (1866-1944), Piet Mondrian (1872-1944), and Kasimir Malevich (1878-1935).
Opposed To Abstract Expressionism
In contrast to the unemotional, geometrical iconography of concrete art, abstract expressionism is a much more emotional, sentimental and derivative form of abstraction. It may not be representational, per se, but its shapes, colours and overall design is typically based on natural world associations. Thus neither Jackson Pollock's "action-painting", nor Willem de Kooning's gesturalism, nor Mark Rothko's or Barnett Newman's "colour field painting", is classified as concretism.
Geometric forms of abstract painting had appeared long before the term concrete art. Islamic art, for example, is famous for its geometrical designs such as the "infinite pattern", as are common Celtic designs such as spirals, mazes, knots. Later, 20th century movements like Cubism (1908-14), Futurism (1909-14), and De Stijl (1917-31) all used the genre, as did Kandinsky as well as schools like the Bauhaus Design School. It was also prevalent in the international section of the famous Armory Show. But the genre was given extra attention when the term first appeared in Van Doesburg's Manifesto of Concrete Art, which was issued in Paris in 1930. Van Doesburg argued in favour of a type of abstract art that would be entirely free of any basis in observed reality - a form also devoid of any symbolic implications. He stated that: "The work of art should obtain nothing from nature's formal properties or from sensuality or sentimentality... Technique should be mechanistic, that is to say exact and anti-impressionistic." In effect, Doesburg wanted to create a totally independent and self-contained form of art, which focused exclusively on itself. He saw no need for any imitation of nature, or linear perspective to create a false 'depth' to the painting, because he thought that nothing was more concrete (or more real) than a line, a colour, or a plane (a flat area) of colour.
Sadly, Van Doesburg passed away a year after issuing his manifesto, but his ideas were continued and developed by the Abstraction-Creation group - led by the Belgian artist Georges Vantongerloo (1886-1965) and the French painters Jean Helion (1904-87) and Auguste Herbin (1882-1960) - whose members included the cream of European abstract sculptors, such as Jean Arp (1886-1966), Naum Gabo (1890-1977), El Lissitzky (1890-1941), Antoine Pevsner (1886-1962), Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975) and Ben Nicholson (1894-1982). (Note: several of these artists later moved to non-geometric art forms, such as lyrical or biomorphic/organic abstraction).
Concrete art was later exemplified by the spiralling abstract sculpture of the Swiss ex-Bauhaus architect, sculptor and designer Max Bill (1908-94), who publicized and popularized the genre in his own country - notably, by organising the first international exhibition of concrete art in Basel in 1944 - and also introduced it to Italy, Argentina and Brazil. In keeping with the Swiss talent for minimalist graphic design and poster art, Bill's works have been seen as precursors of minimalism in sculpture. There is a museum of Concrete art in Zurich, Switzerland.
Other abstract art movements include: (in Russia) Rayonism (Larionov), Suprematism (Malevich) and Constructivism (Rodchenko); (in Germany) the Bauhaus Design School; (in Holland) Neo-Plasticism and Elementarism; (in Italy) Movimento d'arte concreta (MAC); (in France) Espace; (in America) Hard Edge Painting (Ellsworth Kelly, Kenneth Noland and others); and Clement Greenberg's Post-Painterly Abstraction, including Shaped Canvas (Frank Stella).
Here is a short list of famous abstract painters listed by country.
Georges Vantongerloo (1866-1965)
Tony Smith (1912-81)
David Bomberg (1890-1957)
REST OF THE WORLD
Examples of concrete art can be seen in many of the best art museums around the world. Here is a small selection of such works, listed in chronological order of artist. For a larger list see: Abstract Paintings: Top 100.
Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944)
Piet Mondrian (1872-1944)
Bart Van Der Leck (1876-1958)
Kasimir Malevich (1878-1935)
Paul Klee (1879-1940)
Mikhail Larionov (1881-1964)
Fernand Leger (1881-1955)
Theo Van Doesburg (1883-1931)
Robert Delaunay (1885-1941)
Josef Albers (1888-1976)
Johannes Itten (1888-1967)
Alexander Rodchenko (1891-1956)
David Bomberg (1890-1957)
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)
Jiro Yoshihara (1905-72)
Victor Vasarely (1908-97)
Ad Reinhardt (1913-67)
Ellsworth Kelly (b.1923)
Kenneth Noland (b.1924)
Bridget Riley (b.1931)
Frank Stella (b.1936)
For more about the meaning of art terms, see: Art Encyclopedia.