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Abstraction and meaning

CHAPTER 4: Parts of a whole: pattern, ornamentation, decoration, detail

Artists of almost every culture have created systems of ornament, pattern and decoration, often ones which enhance the beauty and visual appeal of everyday objects such as storage containers, furniture, clothing, and textiles. The natural world is an especially common source for such decoration, though the reference points to it are often obscured through a high degree of abstract stylization. Similarly, certain subjects and conditions in representational art are especially well-suited to explorations of abstract qualities. We see this particularly well in the history of painting, in which it is common for artists to explore how light creates atmospheric space or falls on texture and fabric, creating abstract shapes and forms, above all when viewed as details dissociated from the larger image.

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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

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