Reading: Read the section Describing the World (pages 21 - 35), which describes different works of art with different styles of representation.
Premise: To change an original photograph from a representational image to a nonobjective image in several steps.
In a representation, things from the real world are "re-presented" in a different form, but, some represented things seem more naturally real than others. Art that resembles things in the real world "realistically" is Representational. If we take Representational art or subject matter and reduce it or distort it to heighten its expressive impact it becomes Abstract. When a work of art makes no reference to things or objects in the real world, we say that it is Nonobjectivean art in which shape or form serves as the actual subject matter itself.
Time required to do this project: Allow two hours, not including developing or processing time. If you have a digital camera, the project can be done, start to finish, in less than an hour!
*Materials: A color slide or photograph or a digital photograph; a scanner appropriate to your image format (slide or flatbed); a program that allows you to work with PICT or other image files (I used Appleworks 5.0) but you can use almost any program that has a graphics application.
How to start: Begin with an original photograph. The subject can be anything, friends, houses, etc. The less objects that are depicted, and the larger the scale of the objects, the easier your job of abstraction will be. You will need to scan it (most colleges or universities have a computer graphics lab, or Kinkos® can scan it for you) and then place it into the drawing application of your computer program. After it has appeared on the drawing template, use your "line tool" to outline the basic forms over the image. Depending upon the complexity of the image, you will undoubtedly do some degree of simplifying. I used the most basic shapes: ellipses and triangles for trees, trapezoids for areas of grass and sky, and the same for the building shape. The few cars I included were drawn with the "trapezoid tool."
Because the various tools have a "fill" attribute, you'll find that they may cover information you still need in the photograph. Make sure that they are filling with white, or, preferably, no fill at all. If they do fill solid, once you have completed several of the forms, select them and "send to back," which should hide them behind the photo image.
After you have blocked in the basic forms, select just the photo image, and hit the "cut" command. What you should see is a grouping of shapes that resemble the original image (see above). If you've forgotten to outline shapes that were essential, hit the "paste" command, and redraw them over the image. Select the photo image again, hit the "cut" command, and you should see your completed diagram. It will possess an amazing similarity to the original, but, it is clearly an abstraction.
Select your colors to fill from the color palette. Your abstracted artwork can become even more so, depending upon the colors you choose. My suggestion is that you use local colors in this first abstraction (pages 137-139). After you have filled the shapes or objects with their colors, select the entire composition and hit "save as"when you get the prompt, save it to your hard drive as "abstraction 1."
Now for a further abstraction. Come back to the drawing table (now labeled "abstraction 1") and reduce the imagery again. This time, remove some of the detail elements, and change the shape and position of those that remain. However, the trick in this case is to maintain an orientation to the original work. Remember, this abstraction is not totally "nonobjective" yet!
Repeat this process. Each time you abstract the last previous abstraction, you'll find that you get closer and closer to a totally nonobjective work of art. If you look at the examples of works by Joel Shapiro and Carl Andre (page 31) you'll see that while the bottom image seems clearly nonobjective, the top image still retains elements of the human form. In effect, it is abstraction that has been done through the same types of steps you've done; removal of detail and simplification of shape. Although the two works are unrelated, it should be easy to see how Andre's work could be a further abstraction of Shapiro's.
This is the final abstraction from my photograph. While it is totally nonobjective, you can still trace the basic forms back to the photograph.
I am always looking for work to add to this site. If you develop a series of abstractions that you think are exceptional, I would like to see them. Send them to John Maul as GIF file attachments. Dr. Sayre and I will review them, and select one or two for inclusion in this site. Permissions to publish are requested for one year, and there is no monetary or other compensation offered to student artists who submit.