Abstract Space

Abstraction and meaning

CHAPTER 2: Abstract space

Representing space is a particular challenge for artists because human perception of space is so varied and complicated: much more so, for example, than our perception of a single object. This is especially true when painters use a two dimensional surface to represent three dimensions. Much representational painting uses some form of perspective to mimic how we actually see the world, and thus exploits the perceptual condition that things appear to be smaller and more indistinct the further away they are from us. But like anything produced by the imagination, artist-created space is wonderfully malleable. By stretching out, flattening, exaggerating, simplifying and otherwise toying with spatial representation, artists can mold space to suite their own expressive purposes. They can even create a fully imagined type of space with its own set of rules; artists who work in abstraction are often especially adept at this.

Image credit:
Joan Mitchell
Rock Bottom, 1960-1961 (detail)
Oil on canvas
The Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin
Gift of Mari and James A. Michener, 1991