From Primitive To Abstract

Although much of traditional art favors highly representational styles, the earliest art that we know of shows that humans also like to stylize things. Of course, during primitive times supplies were limited, and the surfaces that were used rough. Ancient cave paintings show things such as a tribe engaged in a large hunting party, done with simple paints on the surface of cave walls.


Photo of a cave painting

In this photo of a cave painting, the general shapes of the figures are discernable: buffalo, horses of various sizes, deer, and of course the human hunters. Even so, the way the outlines of the shapes stretch out, they convey the energy of running animals.

“Simple” lines can convey a great deal. Our eyes follow the shape of their curves and associate them with the silhouettes of the actual animal the artist meant us to think of. It is not that primitive men saw things only in outlines, but rather, given the limits of their art supplies, they made choices to imply the rush of animals in motion with hunters.

When modern artists turn to producing abstract works of art, some of the similar choices affect the artist. But instead of trying to capture and imply the representational shape of the subject of the work, the artist works to capture less easily defined aspects. It could be a sense of motion, or a feeling, or the atmosphere of a situation, all without being explicitly representational.

It is the individualistic aspect of abstract art that intrigues the viewer. Whereas the outline of a buffalo will generally be the same regardless of who the artist is, the “outline” of an emotion will vary from one artist to another. Each artist will choose colors and shapes that speak to and for him or her. Viewers may have similar reactions to the final composition, or may find themselves thinking “I never looked at it that way.”

When the artist gives the viewer clues about what they are doing, either in color choice or in titling a work, we can follow along behind them.

In the case of Diana Hobson’s “Whistling in the Dark,” she’s given us a title to work with.


“Whistling in the Dark” by Diana Hobson

You can find more of Diana’s work at her gallery/studio 1316 Abbot Kinney in Venice Beach.


Photo of Cave Painting from

Reproduction of “Whistling in the Dark” by Diana Hobson, copyright Diana Hobson, used with permission.


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