Abstract Art and Nature Themes

Conference Outline

Session 1: Abstracting from Nature
The origins of abstract art are found in artists who transform the appearance of nature and artifacts, either by emphasizing their more basic geometric structures, or by altering familiar relations between contour and colour (or both). This session will discuss the variety and scope of these transformations, and the different meanings assigned to them in different historical contexts of creation and reception.

Session 2: The Other Side of Abstraction: Nature and Formative Processes
A recurrent vindication of abstract art has been the claim that it offers a more direct visual expression of those forces which shape the structure and evolution of nature. The forces in question have been understood in many different terms—metaphysical, religious, and scientific. This session will analyze the relation between abstraction and the forces which shape nature, describing the different historical contexts in which this relation has been posited, the critical questions it has raised, and its more general intellectual viability.

Session 3: Abstraction and the Unconscious
One of the most important justifications of abstraction has been its possible link with the ultimate “natural” element in human cognition—namely that “unconscious” dimension which manages to shape conscious thought processes, but which is, fundamentally, not shaped by them. The session will investigate possible linkages between this and those processes of “automatic” creation which have been so important for the making of some abstract works, most notably “action painting.”

Session 4: Beyond Nature? Abstraction in Late Modernism
From the late 1940’s onwards, new forms of radical abstract painting and sculpture have emerged. These range from colour-field works, through (later on) post-painterly abstraction, minimalism, and land art. Does the large physical scale of some of these works, or the lack of autographic emphasis or suppressions of artifactual identity in others, mean that we are meant to regard them as if they were on a par with natural objects and formations? Or is a more radical antithesis between abstraction and nature also involved?