Abstraction provided a paradigm leap for art in the twentieth century. Although a number of artists, notably Cezanne, had begun the process of abstracting from visual reality, it was the Russian painter, Kandinsky, who is often credited with making the first abstract paintings. The story goes that Kandinsky was dissatisfied with one of his brightly coloured semi figurative paintings and turned it upside down. The resulting composition of colour, shape and space pleased him. Although it was impossible to 'read' the painting in a literal way it still presented a powerful expressive and aesthetic content. Whether or not the that story is true, abstraction or the rejection of it, became the dominant feature in painting over the past 80 years.
Abstraction can be a very a powerful and liberating factor in helping young children with painting. Drawing and painting what can be seen from observation requires skill. This can be taught and all children can be helped to improve their representational abilities. However, the inability to draw or paint what something really looks like can be a powerful inhibiting factor that destroys confidence and prevents many children from enjoying and taking part in art. Here is just one example of an abstract painting project for the classroom:
Use some line and mark exercises as a way of warming children up. For example, look at the units 'drawing lines', 'making marks' and 'marks and textures' for more detailed ideas.
Revise a method for mixing colours with paint. For example look at the units 'colour mixing with paint' and 'colour mixing project'. Ask the children to experiment with a colour concept. For example, mixing contrasting or clashing colours side by side, mixing warm and cool colours, mixing pastel colours and mixing colours that blend and harmonise well together.
When the children are happy with their experiments ask them to cover a sheet of good quality paper in with different colours. Use one of the colour concepts explored above and combine this with many different lines and marks. It might be an idea for children to paint a simply coloured ground first. Let that dry before adding painting 'riot' of line and mark on top.
Encourage children to paint over areas they dislike to improve them. Talk about the importance of filling all the paper. Perhaps their paintings could have a theme. Try moods and emotions. For example, link ideas to personalities and character traits: 'moody', 'party time', 'wistful', 'over exited', 'confused', 'organised', 'careful and deliberate', 'happy and carefree'.
More experienced pupils may want some time to practice and plan how the marks and lines will be organised. Others will want to work more spontaneously. But at all times remind children that this must be thoughtful and deliberate in idea.
Finish the project by displaying the work, talking about the results and showing the children reproductions of abstract paintings.