Prep for My Research Paper Discussion

David Somers bio photo By David Somers Comment

Here are some notes for my research discussion which is scheduled to happen during todays group tutorial. As myself and Leonie will be the first to present, we’ve no idea how its going to go.

May Contain Nuts Art-Speak

I think everybody is aware that I make abstract art and this is built on the underlying critical theory of “hybridity”, “mimicry”, and “third space”, but with a twist.

Research Proposal

My Research Proposal revolved around trying to find an answer to this self-posed question:

Hybridity, Mimicry, Third space — What results if we take concepts from contemporary post-colonial theory (viz. “hybridity”, “mimicry”, and “third space”, as espoused by Homi K Bhabha), and instead of applying these to community structures and dynamics (i.e. cultural interactions in a society) they are applied to a visual world (i.e. figure/ground interactions in a pictorial space).

My Research Paper

My research paper was titled Motivation in Abstract Art, and is abstracted thusly:

The beginning of the 20th century was one where visual art underwent a major change in practice with the creation of abstract art. The canon of abstract art subsequently progressed vis-à-vis the Zeitgeist, the underlying philosophical foundations, and modernist theory. Modernist theory, tending towards reductionism per Hegelianism, has gone from an epistemological model to one of ontological reduction. As the underlying philosophical foundations changed this affected a progression in the motivation but with consistency in the visual language across the canon. To understand abstract art, it is necessary to look beyond the visual language and aesthetic and examine the motivation as this is the key variable occurring across the canon bringing new perspectives and providing an instrument though which new possibilities can be discovered. Motivation is the subject of this research paper.

What, How, Why? or Question, Answer, Motivation?

There is a trifecta between my proposal, my practice, and the research paper:

  • I see the proposal as the what (or the question that I am posing).

  • My practice is the how (my answer to my question).

  • And the research paper is the why (the motivation behind posing and answering the question in the first place).

The Why of Abstract Art

When looking at abstract art I noticed some things:

A break from what had gone before

As an art movement, abstract art is nothing like that which came before. What was happening in the Zeitgeist to cause this?

The advent of modernism. Society was changing… less religious… spirituality (e.g. “Theosophy”)… more scientific (e.g. technology such as x-rays) and rigorous (e.g.artist applying color theory).

As modernism progressed there was a gradual and subtle shift from an epistemological model to ontological reduction.

Epistemological model — a belief-based rather than a knowledge-based approach.

Ontological reduction — a belief that the whole of reality consists of a minimal number of parts. The explanation of entire systems in terms of their individual, constituent parts and their interactions.

Bois (1990) posited that the 1920s were a cusp… Up to this point, artists wrote their own theoretical corpus and they followed an epistemological model. After this point, the theoretical corpus was now the product of critics such as Greenberg who positioned it as not an epistemological model but a specific answer to a formal problem and one of ontological reduction and of motivation based on the strategies of essentialism and historicism.

This is consistent with Georg Hegel’s concept — Hegelianism — of the tendency towards expression of reality by rational categorization and absolute idealism, and the dictum “What is rational is real; And what is real is rational”.

“Abstract Art All Looks The Same”

Kandinsky, W. (1913) Farbstudie: Quadrate mit konzentrischen Ringen [Color Study: Squares With Concentric Circles]. Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich, German. Available at: wikiart
Klint, H. (1914–5) Group IX/SUW, No. 17. [The Swan, No. 17]. © Courtesy Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk. Foto: Albin Dahlström/Moderna Museet. Available at:
Noland, K. (1958) Song. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Purchase, with funds from the Friends of the Whitney Museum of American Art. Accession number: 63.31. © Kenneth Noland/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Available at:

Series and Repetition

On one hand, different artists make visually similar works; for an example, c.f. all the images of circles above.

On the other hand, some artists take a motif and repeat it as a series. This was only briefly, if at all, mentioned in my research paper (thanks word count restriction); for an example, Gerhard Richter:

Gerhard Richer, 4900 Colors. 196 panels of 25 colored squares.


Its all about the motivation!

So my research paper was all about the motivation of artists executing abstract art. Why did they do it? What was the purpose.


To understand abstract art, it is necessary to look beyond the visual language and aesthetic and examine the motivation as this is the key variable occurring across the canon bringing new perspectives and providing an instrument though which new possibilities can be discovered.

And a quote or two

If you think abstract art is hard to understand, consider:

Matthew Collings [Writer and Artist]:

Even renaissance art isn’t accessible to anybody. Its a pretty difficult thing to know what all these symbols are.

Simon Wilson [Tate Education Officer, 1976]:

Somehow people think that art is different from other complex areas of our culture. Art is like football: if you go to a football match, and you don’t know the rules, and you’re stuck up in the stands, there’s just a bunch of men running around the pitch — its meaningless. Art is like that. You need to know the rules. You need to understand the context. You need to know a bit about art, and you can’t get away from that

How has the Research Paper impacted my Practice?

I’m more confident in the abstract art that I am creating.

I am expanding the number of artworks that I am making; instead of one or three, think batches of 30 or 60. Series. Repetition. Reductionism.

Pursue my practice-based research further: PhD?

More Research

After writing the research paper, I continue to stumble on relevant things, such as:

The artist Clifford Still — American abstract expressionist — repetition and series — made a series of closely related works. See Banezra, Neal Clyfford Still’s Replicas, reproduced in 1.

Wjm Kok’s PhD research project and subsequent PhD thesis2 deals with the specific relation between the use of series in his own artistic practice over a longer period of time and Gilles Deleuze’s book Difference and Repetition.

  1. Clyfford Still Museum (2015) Repeat/Recreate: Clyfford Still’s “Replicas”. Denver, CO: Clyfford Still Museum Research Center.

  2. Kok, W. (2013) Thirty Sixth Series of the Next Kind of Series. Academy of Creative and Performing Arts, Faculty of Humanities, Leiden University.

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