How Artistic Deception Created Modern Art

Picasso said abstraction starts with an object, and then reality is removed.  Deception is at the heart of art, morphing reality into artistic lies representing the truth.

How does an artist learn to perform this sleight of hand, showing the audience one thing in order to present something else?

Alexander Calder’s artistic path gives us a hint.

Drawing With Wire

Alexander Calder was the scion of sculptors, but studied mechanical engineering. He arrived on the Parisian art scene with his Cirque Calder featuring miniature mechanical circus performers.

He was also creating stationary sculptures out of wire. While based on real people or objects, line, form or color, not the image, predominated. It was as if he was drawing with wire.

Calder's "Helen Wills II" uses deception by drawing a figure in wire that is about line and form, not representation.
Calder “Helen Wills II”

The wire sculpture captures the grace and movement of the tennis player Helen Wills. At the same time you could ignore (with difficulty) the figure, and just focus on the line and form.

Sculpting With Motion

A 1930 visit to Mondrian’s studio, inspired him to put abstract shapes into motion. First, the works were anchored in a base, then powered by electricity. 1 There was no precedent for this in sculpture. Calder had to work his way from drawing with wire to sculpting with moving form, line, and color.

Soon they were suspended, moving independently, randomly.  Sometimes they created sound. “Snow Flurry”, inspired by a snow flurry does not move as a snow flurry when activated.

Calder's "Snow Flurry" uses deception to get you to look at a moving sculpture when you think you are going to look at a snow flurry.
Calder “Snow Flurry”

Calder started, as Picasso noted, with reality, but we do not see snow, we see something else — the  various-sized white disks elevate, rotate, translate – an abstract work of art with no relationship to snow.

Sculpture is in motion, but all we see is line, form, color in motion. What we thought of as solid sculpture has vanished before our eyes.

Virtual Deception is the Contemporary Reality

Abstract art evolved from representational art as questions about color, line and form modified the representation. Abstraction arose when the answers dominated over the representation.

As with all real deceptions, the deceiver, whether they be shaman or artist, winds up deceiving themselves. The artistic trick becomes for them reality. The artist or shaman becomes even more powerful because by convincing themselves they betray no hint of artfulness or deception. They are then all the more powerful in convincing others.

We, the observers, become part of the deception, and we lose track of reality, as we are pulled into the deception.  The best software programs do this, look at Pokémon Go, where the deception becomes so powerful it becomes the reality.

To understand modern or contemporary art you have to comprehend the altered or virtual reality of the artist.

  1. You can vary the speed of the video to vary the effect.

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