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Abstraction(s) Explores Art through Multiple Lenses

By Jessica Tabak

When the abstraction movement hit the western art scene in the early twentieth century, it could not have come at a better time. “There was a long standing feeling that art had reached a dead end—that the centuries of the Renaissance model dominating art academies through the nineteenth century had become stale,” says Kim Butler, art history professor.

With its theory-driven focus on pure form, the abstract art movement breathed new life into the art world. “Abstraction was the first movement that theorized a break with academic dependence on studying the old masters and with representational art as a whole,” says Butler.

Eighty years later, a significant number of contemporary painters continue to work within—and in response to—the abstract art movement. “An artist’s role is to reflect his or her culture,” says Tim Doud, studio art professor. “There are so many artists that are still drawn to abstraction, and they are reflecting something about us.”


Guest Artists Spur Discussion

This semester, the abstract art movement will be examined in Abstraction(s), the spring 2009 installment of the Department of Art’s Critical Inquiries Colloquium Series. Guest speakers will include art historian Joshua Shannon and contemporary abstract artists Michelle Grabner, Jo Smail, and Cary Moyer, whose work will also be appearing at the American University Museum this semester. The series will also feature a panel discussion in which Grabner and Moyer will be joined by fellow artists Charles Spurrier, James Hyde, Gary Stephan, and Viebke Sorenson.

Through discussions with visiting artists and art historians, the series seeks to foster dialog between studio art and art history students. “Within the Department of Art, we’re striving to teach our students to think critically, and this is a platform dedicated to doing this,” says Butler, who coordinates the series with Doud. “Art historians tend to feel divorced from the object and the artistic process. This series encourages artists to think historically to some degree and encourages art historians to think more about process and meaningful engagement with the object.”