Abstraction, Figuration & Influence

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Emyr Williams explores influence and homage in works by Helen Frankenthaler, Kenneth Noland, and Jules Olitski. Williams argues that abstract paintings are less convincing and original when they reference past figurative art.

Williams concludes: "I want to believe that abstract painting can be as great as figuration, but this is a battle that must be fought on abstract art’s terms and not figuration’s. Paying homage feels like a white flag has already been raised, with content being delivered through context rather than visual functionality… Can figuration really teach abstract art? Artists have always worked from those that inspired them in previous generations… We need to find better ways to challenge figurative painting. Compared to figuration, abstract painting is a relative pup, a toddler finding its feet, and as such is want to fall on its face from time to time. I am optimistic for its future though. Yet for it to truly move forward, I can’t help feeling that we have to stop trying to hang on to figuration, even in oblique ways."

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