Status: Wait List

Pictures of Nothing

Understanding abstract painting and collage

Fall 2023
Monday Morning
Moderators: Ellen Kosmer, Betsy Siersma



The purpose of this seminar is to understand why some artists rejected representational imagery in favor of abstraction.


Viewers usually have strong reactions to abstract images, ranging from puzzlement to outright hostility. In this seminar we will explore the reasons why some artists chose to abandon the subject, relying only on form, shape, and color to convey their meaning. We will look at artists working in two dimensions, from 1900 to the present. Among the artists considered will be Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian, Kurt Schwitters, Jackson Pollock, Agnes Martin, and Julie Mehertu. Most of the artists on our list began working by depicting subject matter realistically, and ultimately arrived at abstraction through their own processes. Agnes Martin, for example, said that she sits and waits for inspiration to come to her. And it does – fully-formed in her mind’s eye – the size of a postage stamp. Using a complicated set of mathematics, she then scales it up to the predetermined size of her canvas.

ROLE OF PARTICIPANTS: Participant will select an artist from a list provided by the moderators. Each participant will make a 25-minute presentation on their topic and will facilitate a 25-minute discussion of their topic.

Books on individual artists and the internet will be valuable resources. Participants can find useful interviews with or about individual artists on YouTube.

ABOUT THE MODERATOR: Ellen Kosmer is an artist and art historian. Betsy Siersma is an artist and a museum director/curator.

Hilma af Klint, 1862-1944
Kandinsky, 1866-1944
Mondrian, 1872 – 1944
Malevich, 1879-1935
Sonia Delaunay, 1885-1979
Kurt Schwitters, 1887-1948
Josef Albers, 188-1976
Lazlo Moholy-Nagy, 1895-1946
Fahelnissa Zeid, 1901-1991
Mark Rothko, 1903-1930
Barnett Newman, 1905-1930
Jackson Pollock, 1912-1956
Agnes Martin, 1912-2004
Morris Louis, 1912-1962
Motherwell, 1915-1991
Joan Mitchell, 1925-1992
Cy Twombly, 1928-20011
Robert Ryman, 1930-2019
Bridget Riley, b. 1931
Brice Marden, b. 1938
Sam Gilliam, 1933-2022
Julie Mehretu, b. 1970