Lewis Sykes – Thinking Abstraction

In an as yet unpublished essay I wrote before my Ph.D. thesis, I critiqued Michael Betancourt’s 2006 paper, ‘Visual Music and the Birth of Abstract Art’. It raised interesting perspectives for me about an alternate, continuing tradition for abstract art forms such as non-representational film and visual music that can’t be satisfactorily theorised by the Modernist yet still dominant Greenbergian theory of painterly abstraction – as an essentially “pure” form of art where the canvas maintains its nature as a flat surface, and the paint maintains its nature by not representing anything other than paint. As a visual musician I support Betancourt’s argument for a reassessment of Visual Music’s pivotal yet unacknowledged role in the development of twentieth century abstract art while taking issue with his assertion that the “synaesthetic abstraction” embraced by the Romantics can be understood as an alternate, continuing tradition for abstraction. I’d like to raise some of these issues and invite feedback from the MIRIAD community – with the longer term intent of establishing an ‘Abstraction & Materialism Group’ to create a shared context where these arguments can be explored and developed by small gathering of interested researcher practitioners.