Abstract Art

The meaning of ‘abstract’ in art has been much debated.   In its general use, it can be taken to mean art that does not represent the visible, tangible world, in a mimetic or descriptive way.   While it is generally identified as a Modernist phenomenon, with earlier forms of abstraction tending to be relegated as pattern making, an argument can be made for ritualistic forms that carry meaning, and whose function, therefore, is more than simply decorative.

Abstract Art in Pre-history

The very earliest art to survive in Ireland dating to approximately 3,500BC could be described as abstract. Standard designs include spirals and zig-zags but other more unusual forms, such as flower-like motifs and even abstracted faces are sometimes found. This art is found mainly carved and picked into the structural stones of megalithic tombs and the pottery and other objects deposited within them. It is probable that similar designs would also have been found in paint, woodcarving and other materials which do not survive. Art of this type is also found in Iberia and Brittany , but the largest concentration is in the Boyne valley at prestigious sites such as Knowth, Newgrange and slightly further north at Loughcrew (all in Co. Meath). The location of this art, often concentrated in specific parts of tombs, suggests a ritualistic function, but the meaning of specific motifs remains open to speculation.


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