Lyrical Abstraction

A term I had not heard of until now. There’s a great definition of it on this website: , where it is defined as:

Lyrical Abstraction is a seemingly self-defining term, and yet for generations its origin and meaning have been debated. The American art collector Larry Aldrich used the term in 1969 to define the nature of various works he had recently collected that he felt signaled a return to personal expression and experimentation following Minimalism. But the French art critic Jean José Marchand used a variation of the term… decades earlier, in 1947, to reference an emerging European trend in painting similar to Abstract Expressionism in the US. Both uses of the term referred to art that was characterized by free, emotive, personal compositions unrelated to objective reality.

I know this has a link to my work.

The website says these ideas can be traced back to the artist Wassily Kandinsky. The website states that there was a group of artists, embodied by Kandinsky, that approached abstract painting differently from the Cubists, Futurists etc. Instead of expressing objects in abstract and sometimes symbolic forms, this group used abstraction without knowing what the meaning of it was. This approach was much more free, with no links to ‘the objective world’. This allowed for paintings such as Kandinsky’s that communicated emotion, imagination, passion, and subjectivity. (‘Kandinsky likened his paintings to musical compositions’).

The Lyrical Abstraction of Kandinsky… was not specifically associated with any religion, but there was something overtly spiritual to it. Other artists associated with styles like De Stijl, Art Concrete and Surrealism were making art that was secular and lent itself to objective, academic interpretation. Kandinsky was seeking something that could never be fully defined or explained. He was expressing his personal connection with the mysteries of the universe in an open way. It was like he invented a kind of spiritual Existentialism.

Lyrical Abstraction became prominent again after WWII because of the existentialism that rose from the war.

Throughout the 1940s and 50s, a great number of abstract art movements emerged that all in one way or another involved subjective personal expression as the foundation for expressing meaning in art. Abstraction Lyrique, Art Informel, Tachisme, Art Brut, Abstract Expressionism, Color Field art… One of the most influential art critics of this time, Harold Rosenberg, understood this when he wrote, “Today, each artist must undertake to invent himself…The meaning of art in our time flows from this function of self-creation.”

This is so interesting to think about because my work deals with the spirituality, holyness, greatness, atmosphere of the woodland and its ties to interior religious buildings. Then my painting is based on the personal, subjective experience of a location i.e. a modern and post WWII way to think about the world and my place in it.

It’s interesting that I am dealing with spaces and ideas connected to those spaces that are old – they tie to the old medieval model I have been reading about, to pre-WWII ideas of a person’s place in the world. And yet my painting is modern in the sense that is individualistic, subjective, and as I saw at the end of last term, verging on the existential!

Artists listed on website that deal with Lyrical Abstraction:

Early 20th c – first embodyment of the (later coined) term:
Wassily Kandinsky, Alberto Giacometti, Jean Fautrier, Paul Klee and Wols

Decades later:
Georges Mathieu, Jean-Paul Riopelle, Pierre Soulages and Joan Mitchell

Late 1960s and 70s ‘revitalized & expanded the relevance of the position’:
Helen Frankenthaler, Jules Olitski, Mark Rothko and many more

Contemporary artists:
Margaret Neill, Ellen Priest, Gina Werfel, Melissa Meyer.

What holds all of these artists together in a common bond is the fundamental quest of Lyrical Abstraction: to express something personal, subjective and emotive, and to do it in a poetic, abstract way.

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