Abstract art and Nature

Here is another way to look at abstract or non-representational art. . . .Most of us appreciate the beauty of nature. Most of us appreciate art that makes us aware. perhaps in a heightened way, the beauty of nature, as the best realistic landscape art does. But why is NATURE beautiful? Well, among other things, it has to do with the colors and textures and forms and details and all the little details coming together into a majestic whole. Look at a tree, even a bare tree in winter. Look at the tracery of the limbs, like lacework.

Non-representational artists are trying to achieve a similar effect, working with fields of color, shapes, and designs. They don’t represent anything, anymore than tree branches represent anything. But the result, if done well, can still be beautiful and even sometimes awe-inspiring.

God, if we may say so, is an abstract artist. He created pure aesthetic forms when He designed the universe. He wasn’t representing anything other than His creative will.

This, however, is also the reason representational art is beautiful. In that book I did, Painters of Faith on the Hudson River school artists, I show how those highly-realistic and mostly devoutly Christian landscape painters justified their own approach by saying that they wanted to imitate God’s art.

So there is a sense in which abstract art, in the sense of pure design, is prior to representational art, and the same aesthetic principle justifies them both.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Dan Kempin

    I fear that by this time I am far beyond my artistic depth. Still, I have been thinking about this whole, “God as artist/Creation as art/God revealed in His creation/God revealed in art “. . . thing. I am thinking it might be helpful to distinguish the concepts of “artist” and “creator.”

    God does not create “art,” he creates reality. The reality he creates is filled with beauty and order and subtlety, as in the aforesaid tree branches. (Tree branches do not represent something–they ARE something.) Art is an exploration of the beauty and subtlety and order that already exists in creation. Creation is the masterpiece from which every artist draws, whether their expression is a form of worship or an outright rebellion against the creator.

    To join the previous thread and make an analogy, the Creator has buried/woven/engineered the aesthetic principles of design into his creation so that they might be “discovered” by the artist in the same way that a masterful teacher leads the student to “discover” the truth on their own. (It is science fair week here.)

    Btw, have you ever noticed the abstract beauty of those “way too close” nature photos they put in science books as a puzzle?

  • Dan Kempin

    I fear that by this time I am far beyond my artistic depth. Still, I have been thinking about this whole, “God as artist/Creation as art/God revealed in His creation/God revealed in art “. . . thing. I am thinking it might be helpful to distinguish the concepts of “artist” and “creator.”

    God does not create “art,” he creates reality. The reality he creates is filled with beauty and order and subtlety, as in the aforesaid tree branches. (Tree branches do not represent something–they ARE something.) Art is an exploration of the beauty and subtlety and order that already exists in creation. Creation is the masterpiece from which every artist draws, whether their expression is a form of worship or an outright rebellion against the creator.

    To join the previous thread and make an analogy, the Creator has buried/woven/engineered the aesthetic principles of design into his creation so that they might be “discovered” by the artist in the same way that a masterful teacher leads the student to “discover” the truth on their own. (It is science fair week here.)

    Btw, have you ever noticed the abstract beauty of those “way too close” nature photos they put in science books as a puzzle?

  • ptl

    It’s interesting and fun to listen to people at museums or galleries talk about a work of art and discuss what they think the artist was trying to say. Very rarely does one ever get to meet the artist and ask the artist what it all means. Maybe that would clear things up? Maybe not? It sure would be a different kind of experience, that’s for sure!

    Same thing is true for books. What we read is just a snapshot of all the ideas and thoughts an author has on a subject, and there is always so much more to the rest of the story and so many questions, some big and some small, that we are left to ponder. Seems like in art, everyone has a different opinion but no one really knows except the author. How wonderful it would be to have an opportunity to meet the author and ask all our questions? If any one could, surely the author would enlighten us and then we’d really understand…and can tell all our friends!

    Well, to me the Earth and the Uniververse is like a work of art or a book, except so much more! We see the infinite variety of works of this great master and we wonder at the story and purpose behind them all. Seems everyone has questions and different opinions about it. And we spend a great deal of time discussing it all among our selves and that’s great. Won’t it be wonderful to meet the artist and author and find out everything once and for all?

  • ptl

    It’s interesting and fun to listen to people at museums or galleries talk about a work of art and discuss what they think the artist was trying to say. Very rarely does one ever get to meet the artist and ask the artist what it all means. Maybe that would clear things up? Maybe not? It sure would be a different kind of experience, that’s for sure!

    Same thing is true for books. What we read is just a snapshot of all the ideas and thoughts an author has on a subject, and there is always so much more to the rest of the story and so many questions, some big and some small, that we are left to ponder. Seems like in art, everyone has a different opinion but no one really knows except the author. How wonderful it would be to have an opportunity to meet the author and ask all our questions? If any one could, surely the author would enlighten us and then we’d really understand…and can tell all our friends!

    Well, to me the Earth and the Uniververse is like a work of art or a book, except so much more! We see the infinite variety of works of this great master and we wonder at the story and purpose behind them all. Seems everyone has questions and different opinions about it. And we spend a great deal of time discussing it all among our selves and that’s great. Won’t it be wonderful to meet the artist and author and find out everything once and for all?

  • erik g

    Concerning the beauty of God’s creation, fractal geometry has shown the order, a real mathematical order that exists in nature. No randomness whatsoever, only design. Such facts affirm what we have always believed about this created world. Some artists–even without studying geometry–understand this and include fractal design in their representations of nature. The “abstract” art described seems to fit into this approach.

    If you want to see a fairly good video on fractal geometry, go to the PBS website below. The episode aired on their NOVA show, and has some parts that are pro-evolution, but overall gives good basic information on the field of fractal geometry. Fascinating stuff, as is all of God’s creation.

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/fractals/program.html

  • erik g

    Concerning the beauty of God’s creation, fractal geometry has shown the order, a real mathematical order that exists in nature. No randomness whatsoever, only design. Such facts affirm what we have always believed about this created world. Some artists–even without studying geometry–understand this and include fractal design in their representations of nature. The “abstract” art described seems to fit into this approach.

    If you want to see a fairly good video on fractal geometry, go to the PBS website below. The episode aired on their NOVA show, and has some parts that are pro-evolution, but overall gives good basic information on the field of fractal geometry. Fascinating stuff, as is all of God’s creation.

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/fractals/program.html


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