Colour and communication in twentieth century abstract art

Pearce, Mary (2001) Colour and communication in twentieth century abstract art. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


The core of this research has been to undertake both an analytical study of the role of colour in early twentieth century abstract art and to produce a CD-Rom as an interdisciplinary design tool, to convey the material in a manner through which complex ideas can be easily assimilated. Multimedia has the advantage of possibilities for interactivity, a graphic interface, sound, animation and of organising information in a matrix of cross-references. This adds new dimensions to the study of visual arts and facilitates an analytical approach to the subject. There are also innovative possibilities for the didactic function of the presentation as an educational tool, especially as the information has been organised in levels to appeal to different kinds of audiences, where original theories, essays, notes and internet links to related material, are accessible if the user wishes to investigate more deeply. With regard to the art historical content, although colour contains some inherent qualities which affect human perception, it still relies heavily on its cultural context in order to acquire meaning within works of art, the proposal in this research is therefore, to discuss the perception of colour within one specific tradition, that of Western modernism. It begins with the influence of nineteenth century colour theory on the early twentieth century European painters and focuses on how the change in the role of colour progressed in parallel with the development of abstract art. Using selected painters as examples, I have introduced French and German development of the role of colour, and then show how this technical and expressive understanding of colour also permeated the United States and influenced the American Abstract Expressionist painters. Thus demonstrating that the way that colour is used in their work relies on the same understanding of colour that was developed in the early twentieth century in Europe. Unlike previous research in colour, the analogies with music, calligraphy and poetry are explored as being strongly associated with the role of colour in Western abstract painting, especially their roots in 'simultaneity', as evident in the work of Robert Delaunay, which involved issues of time and space in painting. Individual compositions are therefore analysed from various angles within their cultural context, which is made possible through the multifaceted qualities of new multimedia, mentioned above.

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