2021 Book Prize Finalist - Andrea Meyertholen

Andrea Meyertholen.The Myth of Abstraction: The Hidden Origins of Abstract Art in German Literature. (Camden House).

The Myth of Abstraction book cover

An alternative genealogy of abstract art, featuring the crucial role of 19th-century German literature in shaping it aesthetically, culturally, and socially.

Once upon a time (or more specifically, in 1911!) there was an artist named Wassily Kandinsky who created the world's first abstract artwork and forever altered the course of art history - or so the traditional story goes. A good story, but not the full story. The Myth of Abstraction reveals that abstract art was envisioned long before Kandinsky, in the pages of nineteenth-century German literature. It originated from the written word, described by German writers who portrayed in language what did not yet exist as art. Yet if writers were already writing about abstract art, why were painters not painting it? To solve the riddle, this book features the work of three canonical nineteenth-century authors - Heinrich von Kleist, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and Gottfried Keller - who imagine, theorize, and describe abstract art in their literary writing, sometimes warning about the revolution it will cause not just in art, but in all aspects of social life. Through close readings of their textual images and visual analyses of actual paintings, Andrea Meyertholen shows how these writers anticipated the twentieth-century birth of abstract art by establishing the necessary conditions for its production, reception, and consumption. The first study to bring these early descriptions of abstraction together and investigate their significance, The Myth of Abstraction writes an alternative genealogy featuring the crucial role of literature in shaping abstract art in aesthetic, cultural, and social terms. Description from Camden House.

2021 Book Prize Finalist