Why does abstract art exist today? Why in fact has abstract art, minimalist art and performance art superseded representational and realistic art as the highest forms of art?
In our Eurocentric art world my observation is that ever since the middle ages man has become capable of mathematically accurate, perspective based, “photorealist” reproductions in 2 dimensional art, i.e., paintings and drawings.
Certainly this mastery took place thousands of years before in three dimensional art, i.e., sculptures and bas reliefs.
Understanding the mathematical models and templates required in order to take a three dimensional object and render it with an accurate vanishing perspective was the key to creating the realist illusion in two dimensional spaces on paper, canvas and walls.
The mastery of the mathematically accurate perspective form of art by the high artists from 1400 A.D. forward has been so complete and the high artists have become so adept at creating a three dimensional reality in two dimensions, that the perceiver could see and feel “magic” in the illustrations and paintings during the prior nearly five centuries.
We can call that moment when the artists’ creation gives the viewer a sense of magic a “wow moment”.
This Wow moment or sense of magic came through due to an appreciation by the viewer of the absolute mastery of and the perfection of the techniques utilized to create these three dimensional illusions within the confines of a two dimensional space.
It is known that the ancient Greeks and later the Chinese had developed room sized imaging “machines” that would capture an image and cast it through a pin hole onto a wall or “canvas”. The disadvantages of this “cast image” technology were; 1.) The image appeared upside down, 2. The image was blurred and 3.) The image had to be traced onto a wall by a skilled artisan. Although this technology appeared thousands of years ago, just as certainly it did not become popular nor did it force an evolution of art and a wholesale rethink on the part of artists due to the fact that the technology required A.) a huge expense and B.) it was time consuming.
Then came the advent of the modern camera imaging technology photographic capturing technologies.
Following the invention of cameras & photographs what happened next? Where did the 500 year magic of representational art go?
It was perfectly clear, especially to the artists of that time, that the magic of these painterly illusions was lost forever! Cameras including still and movie cameras were the instruments of destruction invented so that anyone with the device could render a three dimensional scene onto a two dimensional plate or other surface and the image could be hung and saved on a wall.
The first cameras that included methods of saving the images in photographs appeared in the around 1840 AD.
Virtually overnight a new generation of artists and viewers, including, art critics, were required to contemplated a continuation and rehashing of what had become five centuries of traditional representational art.
Facing a future of irrelevance, they came to the conclusion that for the arts to survive the Fine Art’s World needed a new vocabulary to communicate with.
Development of the still photo culminated in the advent of not only photography but “moving pictures”. Ever since Fine Artists in general have been struggling with the “why” aspects of their creations, i.e., why create art that is realistic when a camera does it so much better? Or why create plays when a movie does it so much better.
The realization that the camera and photography had destroyed the magic of representational art let to its evolution into abstract art. The musings about where to go with their art amongst artists have led to the dissection, specialization and ultimately the ‘minimalization’ of art in a pursuit of answers as to how to find the magic in art and how to effectively communicate with the observers to achieve the same wonder elicited by the artists of old who were the seers and shaman creating images on walls and foretelling the future by the light of ancient flickering fires.