Terms with wide-ranging meaning, but always descriptive of artwork in which the realistic depiction of objects ranges from secondary to non-existent. Although it could be argued that the dramatic landscapes of many of the Hudson River painters were exaggerated (abstracted) to emphasize emotion rather than visual reality, Impressionism was the first major step into Abstraction and a critical break with Realism that shocked many viewers and stirred widespread critical commentary in Europe and America.
Of the tension created among many Americans when they first encountered abstraction, Ruth Appledoorn Mead, founder of the Martha’s Vineyard Art Association, said contemporary and realistic art belong together. “Learning to appreciate distortion is like learning to appreciate olives and clams.” (Old Sculplin Gallery) Fauvism, Cubism, Futurism, Constructivism, Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism continued the march of Abstraction into the 20th Century.
Synonymns of Abstraction include Non Objective and Non Representational. Pure Abstraction or Non Objective is any art in which the depiction of real objects has been entirely discarded and whose aesthetic content is expressed in a formal pattern or structure of shapes, lines, and colors. In other words, most Non-Objective artwork is based upon the assumption that a work of art, a painting for example, is worth looking at primarily because it presents a composition or organization of color, line, light, and shade.
The first purely abstract painting in the modern tradition is usually held to be a watercolor produced by Wassilj Kandinsky in about 1910. A major division has existed between between Non-Objective artists and sculptors who attempt to reduce natural objects to their essential forms, such as Brancusi and the Cubists, and those who maintain that shape, line, and color have an aesthetic and emotional value independent of any reference to the natural world.