If you’re like many people, you may have a hard time pinning down what, exactly, is abstract. The idea of defining abstract – of pinning down something so, well, abstract into a concrete box of definition – seems almost counterintuitive. Yet, as with many things, in order to fully appreciate abstractness in design, we should seek to understand what abstract is. What makes something abstract? What is its purpose? How are we to respond? We’ll take a look at these questions, and others, as we examine several components of what makes up abstract design.
First, what does abstract mean? Abstract is: “thought of apart from concrete realities, specific objects, or actual instances” (from Dictionary.reference). Other definitions include, “theoretical; not applied or practical,” and “difficult to understand; abstruse.” Each, and all, of these definitions of abstract play a role in abstract design.
The word “abstract” is actually derived from a Latin word that means, “pulled away, detached” (from Vocabulary). This correlation is apropos in examining abstract design, which we now see has the basis of something detached from physical reality. This Stefanski pendant light, for example, perhaps appears to resemble a nest of sorts, but it has been detached from that physical reality by nature of its variations and positioning in the design.
Abstract art uses a visual language of shape, form, color, and line to create a composition which may exist with a degree of independence from visual references in the world. Paired with as classic a pattern as there is – stripes – this oversized, abstract-like painting holds its own as the only artwork needed in this ultra-minimalist (yet richly colorful) bathroom space.
Abstract design devotes itself purely and completely to adorning whatever object, surface, or piece it is on. It is meant to be wholly disconnected from any exterior, “real-world” reference. Abstract purists believe that design such as this – aimed at the present object and nothing else – has no other purpose but to adorn that piece.
Abstract design needn’t be disheveled or utterly confusing, however, to still look and feel abstract. The “legs” of this glass table, for example, incorporate a gorgeous wavy, abstract design. The effect is fluid yet structured, unexpected yet predictable as one’s eye follows the wavy lines around the table’s base.
Abstract design stemmed off of abstract art, which in and of itself was a radical departure from traditional art. Since its inception, the feeling evoked by abstract design is one of modern individualism – what one person feels and perceives through the abstract design may be entirely different from what another interprets. This Adelman branching bubble chandelier is a gorgeous, unobtrusive take on abstract design…and balanced nicely with a solid, structured dining set below.
Sometimes (often?) abstract design seems to be merely an embodiment of abstract art, as is the case with this hanging sculpture positioned above a non-traditional Friedman Benda chaise lounge. The pairing is both stimulating and challenging, in an abstract sense, allowing viewers to discover something new internally.
The use of geometry is a wonderful medium for abstract design. The inherent structure and pattern of geometric shapes can be transferred into designs in an abstract way so that the combination is both structured and unexpected. These lights in the Design Heure collection are an excellent exhibition of abstract design succeeding due largely to the fundamentals of geometry.
The energy of a never-ending twisting, turning “line” that appears to magically become something unexpected is unbeatable abstract design. These Gallery ALL twist stools, for example, are simultaneously intriguing and inviting, and they emit positive vibes from any part of the room. They are the epitome of abstract design.
That being said, abstract design can be found in ordinary pieces paired together in an unexpected, abstract way. Such as this Nanoleaf gem glass lamp, a plant, an old-timey camera. This is an example of very mild abstract design.