Monday, November 29, 2010

19th Century Abstraction?

Did you ever suddenly stop one day and ponder a word that is commonly used/over used in art appreciation texts? I just started thinking about the word “abstraction.” We all know that the term is used to describe art from the twentieth century. The basic definition of abstraction is any art that does not represent observed aspects of nature or transforms visible forms into a stylized image. Well, in my mind, that sort of describes art that is labeled “naïve” or “primitive” (we all know how much I despise that term). In my mind, “abstraction” could pertain to any of the art that is produced by self-taught, so-called “naïve” artists. If that is the case, then we can talk about abstraction existing in art from around the world that does not strictly follow observed reality.

Emily Eastman was most likely one of the early American women artists who learned drawing and painting as a “lady-like” past time. She was born in Louden, New Hampshire, and was active as a watercolorist during the 1820s and 1830s. Her body of work consists primarily of watercolor “portraits” of women’s heads adapted from fashion prints. Consistent with traditional Folk Art, Feathers and Pearls displays an interest in accurate detail in costume and hair, particularly in the feathers, while the face is flattened and stylized. The boldly arched eyebrows; porcelain-like, expressionless face; and corkscrew curls of her hairdo is an accomplished if naïve characterization.

The simplicity of the work of such artists as Eastman influenced women artists during the twentieth century. They were not only seeking to honor the earliest American women artists, but were attracted to the simplicity and stylization which was easily translated into abstraction in the twentieth century. Most of the watercolors attributed to Eastman are of this same pose, head slightly tilted to the side, with elaborate “Grecian” style headdress and hairdo that were part of the Neoclassical movement so popular in the first half of the nineteenth century.

Check out these other examples of nineteenth-century American “abstraction.”

Correlations to Davis Programs: Explorations in Art Grade 1: 2.8; Explorations in Art Grade 2: 2.8, 5.25; Explorations in Art Grade 3: 1.2, 1.3; Explorations in Art Grade 4: 1.2; Explorations in Art Grade 5: 1.1; A Personal Journey: 1.2, 6.1; A Community Connection: 3.1, 6.2; The Visual Experience: 9.3

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