The online editorial and curatorial project for systems, non-
In Search of Meaning
By Nathan Cohen
This essay was originally published in the catalogue produced by Slate Projects for 'From Centre'
Abstraction may be viewed as a transformative process whereby the artist conceives forms that convey ideas, and finds ways to articulate them. For some artists the initial inspiration may be observed forms, experiences or places, and for others the enquiry may begin with exploring formal relationships between artificially conceived spatial and structural elements, which are not intended to be a likeness of other forms, or a combination of these approaches. There may be a desire to express ideas that speak of experience of interaction, and exploration of how our perception enables and challenges us in this endeavour.
'Art, we shall find, is inseparably related to [our] growing faculty to visualize and reason about [ourselves] and [our] environment in an ever more accurate manner.'
Charles Biederman (1)
There is a long legacy of abstract imagery in the pictographs, paintings, pottery, weaving and artefacts to be found globally, which continue to be profound sources of influence for artists today. These include many types of pattern including spiral, maze, grid, linear, diagonal and concentric forms, arranged in varying combinations of complexity.
Three Rivers petroglyphs New Mexico, USA -
'Just as the grammar of music consists of harmony, counterpoint, and form which describes the structure of a composition, so spatial structures, whether crystalline, architectural, or choreographic, have their grammar which consists of such parameters as symmetry, proportion, connectivity, stability, etc. Space is not a passive vacuum; it has properties which constrain as well as enhance the structures which inhabit it.'
Arthur Loeb, chemical physicist (2)
'Mondiale Echo's' Mondriaanhuis, NL 2000 -
And so to the future. That we are capable of inventing -
“Sometimes I dream of a work of really great breadth, ranging through the whole region of element, object, meaning and style.
This I fear, will remain a dream, but is a good thing even now to bear the possibility occasionally in mind.
Nothing can be rushed. It must grow, it should grow of itself, and if the time ever
comes for that work -
1. Art as the Evolution of Visual Knowledge Charles Biederman, Red Wing, USA 1948
2. Connections; The Geometric Bridge between Art and Science Arthur Loeb, Chemical Physicist, quoted by Jay Kappraff, World Scientific 1990
3. Geometry and the Imagination S. Cohn-
4. Digital da Vinci ed. Newton Lee; Chapter 4 Brain, Technology and Creativity. Brain Art. R Folgieri, C Lucchiari, M Granato, D Grechi, Springer 2014
5. DATA, various authors, Ed. Anthony Hill, Faber & Faber 1968
6. On Modern Art Paul Klee, Faber & Faber 1948
The Fourth Dimension and Non-
The Science of Art Martin Kemp, Yale University Press 1990
The Painter's Secret Geometry Charles Bouleau, Harcourt Brace & World 1963
Fractal Geometry in Architecture and Design Carl Bovill, Birkhäuser 1995
©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock All rights reserved.
Observers of developments in art over the past century will note that there is a
breadth of interaction that takes place, with each generation forging connections
and engaging in dialogue and dispute. The -
There is a rich history of artists' engagement with each other and their communities
through publication, exhibitions and events. The period from the 80s to the present
has witnessed a number of these activities, usually artist-
Isaac Newton's observation, relating to seeing further by standing on the shoulders of giants, is relevant to the artist, as we seek to discover new insights made real through the art we make. But we also build upon the work of those who have preceded us in engaging with this challenge, a process that embraces diverse sources of visual inspiration and intellectual enquiry. Consequently, the history of our quest is a rich one; international, and shared by artists across generations.
Artists are constantly pushing the limits of the technologies and materials they work with, often resulting in new and challenging forms. This is an experimental process that can be unpredictable, but which throws up the possibility for invention and the advancement of methods and processes that encourages collaboration between artists, technologists and scientists.
In his edited anthology DATA (1968) Anthony Hill presents 'contributors [who] are
specialists representative of interrelated fields of interest to plasticians: philosophy,
mathematics, physics, engineering, sociology and urbanism' (5) indicating the breadth
of intellectual exchange and enquiry that this art embraces. To this we might add
advances in artificial intelligence and robotics, neuroscience, psychology, optics,
materials and bio-
Our fascination with symmetry and asymmetry is evident in the forms and structures
we create, and informs compositional choices applied to all aspects of manufacture.
We find in natural forms evidence of ordering principles that excite our curiosity,
and we have developed a deeper understanding of structure -
We may discover some of these forms and spatial constructions as we contemplate how to evolve our artwork. In doing so we encounter a rich tapestry of formal elements and ways to articulate them, whereby we can further our invention and better understand the forms and images we wish to create.
As the mathematician David Hilbert observes, intuition plays an important role in this process:
“The abstract tendency has led to the magnificent systematic theories of Algebraic Geometry, or Riemannian Geometry, and of Topology; these theories make extensive use of abstract reasoning and symbolic calculation... Notwithstanding this it is still true today that intuitive understanding plays a major role in geometry” and “With the aid of visual imagination we can illuminate the manifold facts and problems..”(3)
This is an evolving process, and one which can offer insight into how we perceive
space. When Brunelleschi stepped back into the door whose frame outlined the view
of the building he wished to represent, the fixing of the edge of the observable
space defined it as a picture plane onto the three-
We may take this invention for granted today, and are familiar with looking at artworks
that represent to us a likeness of the world we are familiar with in a way that is
spatially convincing, allowing us to engage with the illusion of space as an extension
of our real-
This abstraction can also be extended to construct images that are not seeking to represent a likeness of observed form, but rather a starting point for inventing, pictorially and spatially. If the elements that compose the image define its boundaries, rather than sit within a predetermined frame, they create an alternative dynamic in its relationship to the space within which it exists. Locating the artwork directly within its environment, using the architecture as its support, can render its form architectonic, and utilizing space to construct an artwork in the round produces an architectural form that integrates the observer within it. Kinetic, optical, light and digitally interactive elements are also explored by artists, including art forms that offer an immersive sensory experience.
'An idea can be described in reference to the functions and the actual functioning
of the brain, since it is the representation stored in the brain of the essential
characteristics seen and selected.' Folgieri and co-
Neuroscience, and in particular the new discipline of neuroaesthetics 'whose goal
is to find the neural basis of mental processes precisely related to art', seeks
to explain abstraction as a function of the brain’s structure. As we learn more about
the way in which different parts of the brain process stimuli, so, perhaps, we will
gain a deeper understanding of why we see and invent the forms we create. Folgieri
and his co-
'The premotor cortex enacts complex actions through the connection with the primary
motor cortex, which controls simple actions. When this connection between premotor
cortex and the motor cortex is inhibited, the secondary motor cortex can function
as the ring of a transmission chain, a cog, which can still compute complex configurations
that allow us to carry out inferences and that may change over time. These secondary
configurations... give rise to what we perceive as an artwork. The cogs, which are
embodied at the same time because they are part of the sensory-
It remains to be seen to what extent our ability to envisage the poetics of space, the landscape of the imagination and the creative intellectual processes that generate art can be accounted for by an analysis of our brain structure and its functions, but it is significant that this has in recent years attracted the interest of scientists.
When making choices about how to construct an artwork there are questions we may ask about how to build pictorially and spatially in ways that translate a deeper understanding of how we observe and perceive, and which in turn can be comprehensible to those who view what is created.