Arthur Dove and Abstract Art’s Beginnings

One of the first American abstract painters was Arthur Dove, and his impact was such that current Los Angeles abstract artist Diana Hobson has called him “one of my favorites.” Born in 1880, Dove became part of the modernist trend in art, moving away from representational works toward more abstract compositions.

"Sails" by Arthur Dove

“Sails” by Arthur Dove


The Rhythms of Natural Life


As the early decades of the 20th century became cluttered with growing cities and spreading industrialization, Arthur Dove in his work turned more and more toward abstracting aspects of nature. He would focus on color, shape, and line in his works, gradually drawing away from highly representational intentions.

Like many other painters, Dove was a musician, and felt inspired by the similarities between music and the visual arts. Additionally, the outlooks of the 19th century Transcendentalists lingered in his own approach to the world. The sensations of the natural world as it worked through its annual cycle affected his visual and spiritual approach to his artwork.

Modernism Leading To Abstraction


As one of the initial American artists to move toward abstraction, Dove became one of the central members of the group of creatives who collected around Alfred Stieglitz. These modernists turned their vision from narrative and representational art, and sought to create innovative works that became more abstract in composition, color, and style. Yet, even in the move toward abstraction, Dove’s work continued to be connected to a reverence for the land, and the richness of nature in America.

Underlying Influence on Abstract Art


Dove’s approach to his work emphasized the attention to an artist’s personal experience of the world, to his or her subjective awareness of what they see. Also, his insights highlighted the aspect that color and line of themselves could carry inherent emotive power. These key elements helped feed the abstract artists’ choices to eliminate recognizable representation in favor of dwelling on the elements in themselves.

Energy, Color and Shape


Where Dove’s  “Sails” still evokes the shapes of the title object, the placement and colors challenge our expectations of the association. The challenge to expectation that exemplifies  abstract art is something that Diana Hobson thrives on in her work.

"Das de Deux Aux Verts" by Diana Hobson

“Das de Deux Aux Verts” by Diana Hobson


The color of the lines in “Das de Deux Aux Verts” that sweep upward from the lower left to the upper right blends with much of the background, but the lighter colored shape that parallels that motion adds energy to that movement. Then, from the upper range of the canvas, there is the returning blue line plunging down the left. These two elements keep the viewer circling around the space of the canvas. This is what abstract art does, bringing energy that affects the viewer.



“Sails” by Arthur Dove, 1911-1912. From the Terra Foundation for the Arts Collection, the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois. Image included here under Fair Use Practices for the purposes of instruction and information.

“Das de Deux Aux Verts “ by Diana Hobson, 1980. Copyright Diana Hobson. Used by permission.


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