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Abstraction

ABSTRACT art uses SHAPE, COLOR, and LINE to create an image or a sculpture that may not look like anything in our daily life. Abstract art can symbolize or represent different ideas and feelings.

Designing with Shapes

There are many different types of abstract art. Take a look at the examples below. How are they the same or different?

This artist, Louis Lozowick, moved to the United States from present-day Ukraine in 1906. He was interested in exploring new technology, such as the telephone, in his art. Do you recognize any parts of this abstract work of art? What shapes or forms help us to know that this artwork is about technology and telephone lines?

Tel & Tel, 1952. Louis Lozowick. The Cleveland Museum of Art, 2018.1080

Try This! Notice how the shapes in Louis Lozowick’s artwork overlap and connect. See if you can create an abstract drawing using just one line. Try placing your pen or pencil on a piece of paper. Don’t lift it until your drawing is complete. Share your creation using #CMAatHome.

This painting is called Power Plant II. Why do you think the artist chose this title?

Power Plant II, 1949. Charmion von Wiegand. 1982.178

Try This! Create an abstract work of art with friends or family. Set a timer for two minutes and take turns drawing lines or shapes on a piece of paper. When your timer goes off, your abstract work of art is complete! Experiment with different lengths of drawing time to see how they change the look of your page. You can add new rules for each round. For example, try a drawing using only squares and rectangles. When your drawings are complete, don’t forget to come up with a title for each one.

This artist, Robert Motherwell, liked to let chance play a role in how shapes were arranged in his artworks. He practiced a type of art called automatic drawing, or automatism. In automatic drawing, an artist lets their hand move randomly across the page to create unplanned and unexpected shapes. Robert Motherwell thought this technique might help to show his innermost thoughts and feelings.

Automatism B, 1965–66. Robert Motherwell. The Cleveland Museum of Art, 1970.355. © Dedalus Foundation, Inc. / Licensed by VAGA, NY

Try This! Create an abstract work of art with a partner using chance, like Robert Motherwell did. Grab two pieces of paper, a drawing tool (pen, pencil, marker, crayon, etc.), and a piece of fabric that can be used as a blindfold. Each person takes turns drawing. When it’s your turn, have your partner help you tie your blindfold and set up your drawing materials. When everyone’s ready, have your partner call out a series of five or six shapes for you to draw on your page without looking! When you have finished drawing, take off your blindfold to see your creation. After your shapes are in place, you can go back and add to your design.

Abstract Sculptures

Abstract art can be two-dimensional (2-D), like the artworks above, or three-dimensional (3-D) sculptures created using found objects or other materials, such as wood.

Look at this sculpture by Louise Nevelson. Make sure to zoom in on the image. Do you recognize any of the objects she used to build her artwork? Louise Nevelson liked to use wood for her sculptures and often painted them completely black, creating a sense of mystery.

Sky Cathedral-Moon Garden Wall, 1956–60. Louise Nevelson. The Cleveland Museum of Art, 1974.76. © Estate of Louise Nevelson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

Try building your own abstract sculpture inspired by Louise Nevelson. You can use wood or any other materials you might have lying around your home, such as corks, plastic utensils, or natural elements from outside. After you’ve assembled all your objects, you can recycle a cardboard box to house your items. Ask an adult to help cut out one side of your box so you can place your objects inside.

Experiment with different arrangements. When you find a design you like, glue the items in place so they won’t move around. If you have paint at home, choose one color to paint your finished sculpture. You can use all black, like Louise Nevelson did, or whatever color you like!

Snap a picture of your creation and share it using #CMAatHome.


Tel & Tel, 1952. Louis Lozowick (American, 1892–1973). Lithograph; 40.6 x 30.3 cm. Gift of James and Hanna Bartlett, 2018.1080

Power Plant II, 1949. Charmion von Wiegand (American, 1896–1983). Oil on canvas; 50.9 x 61 cm. Dorothea Wright Hamilton Fund, 1982.178

Automatism B, 1965–66. Robert Motherwell (American, 1915–1991). Lithograph; 65.8 x 52.7 cm. Gift of Harvey and Penelope D. Buchanan in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the Print Club of Cleveland, 1970.355. © Dedalus Foundation, Inc. / Licensed by VAGA, NY

Sky Cathedral-Moon Garden Wall, 1956–60. Louise Nevelson (American, 1900–1988). Painted wood; 217.5 x 191.1 x 31.8 cm. Gift of the Mildred Andrews Fund, 1974.76. © Estate of Louise Nevelson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY