Abstract Art and Nature


International Symposium

The Lives of Form: Abstract Art and Nature

organized by Prof. Dr. Isabel Wünsche, Prof. Dr. Paul Crowther, Prof. Dr. Birgit Mersmann

School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Jacobs University, Bremen

13.-15. August 2009

In 1942, Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock met Hans Hofmann. Hofmann asked Pollock “do you work from nature?” Pollock’s famous reply was “I am nature.” Hofmann’s response to this is less well known, but just as interesting. He said “Ah, but if you work by heart, you will repeat yourself.”

This exchange sets out, implicitly, the two extremes between which abstract art has developed, on the one hand, the desire to tap into the formative power of nature itself, and on the other hand, allowing this drive to be regulated by reference to natural form. Our symposium will explore these extremes and the complex space of creative possibilities which exists between them. We will address different ways in which art has been created by consciously abstracting from nature, and the varying ways in which nature’s formative non-objective core—and cognate notions such as the Unconscious—have been addressed through abstract idioms.

As well as considering specific bodies of artistic practice, our symposium will also look at those accompanying theoretical and critical narratives, which seek to justify abstract art on the basis of a special relation to nature, or in the deliberate attempt to transcend it entirely. We will also be interested in the possibility—or otherwise—of their relevance for a general theory of meaning for abstract art.

The time span covered will be from Kandinsky’s, Malevich’s, and Mondrian’s innovations after 1910, down to late Modernism. We welcome contributions from art historians, philosophers, scientists, and other interested parties.


For the conference theme and outline, click here.

For the conference program, click here.