Modern & Contemporary Art for Beginners: #01 — What To Do With This Black Square?

Stephenson Westernlund
2 min readJan 6, 2021
Kazimir Malevich — Black Square (1913). © State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

Look at the illustration above! Imagine you visiting museum and see it hanging in the wall. If you weren’t someone who studied the history and philosophy of art or just an ordinary civilian visiting museums, you’d be wondering “What should I do with this painting?”

What are the main roots of pure abstract? As we all know that abstract is an indication of the release from the reality of life, which in art is characterized by visualization of images that are separate from visible reality.

Shorten art history. Abstract Art is not an art stream that only appeared in the Modern Art period, Abstract Art has existed as far as human culture can be traced. For example, the use of line structures or symbols in Chinese Calligraphy or Islamic Calligraphy, where people who do not understand or cannot read them can still feel and enjoy its beauty.

In its development, from the Chinese imperial period to the 19th century where the development of Abstract art began to be defined until the 20th century where abstract art was mushrooming, abstract art in general had a clear consistency, that is, even though ideologically it is a visualization of forms that are not available in real terms, abstract art remains tied to worldly things such as expressions or descriptions of emotions that cannot be described in real objects through the use of objects such as lines and symbols. If we look at all the abstract works of art in the museum, be it Mark Rothko or Piet Mondrian, many of the goals of these works of art are to isolate emotional visuals with the use of shapes, colors and symbols.

Finally, in 1915, Kazimir Severinovich Malevich gave birth to a new ideology regarding art and it’s philosophy. Where he has succeeded in creating a pure Abstract that really tries to escape from worldly objectivity so that the only thing that is left is the supremacy of pure feelings and spirituality which he later named this art genre as Suprematism Art.

In symbols, we can identify “stickman” as a human figure, even though the symbol is not a real person but can be used as a representation of humans. In Malevich’s painting “Black Square” we are invited to look at symbols that do not exist and let the audience describe the pure emotionality of the flat painting itself.