Sartre's Philosophy Impact on Abstract Art
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 6 min read


  1. Sartre's philosophical tenets
  2. How abstract art relates to Sartre's philosophy
  3. Sartre's influence on abstract artists
  4. Case studies of abstract art influenced by Sartre
  5. Reflection on Sartre's impact on abstract art

Let's embark on a journey into the intriguing world of abstract art and its connection with Sartre's philosophy. How did the thoughts of a French philosopher shape an artistic movement that challenged traditional forms of representation? Let's explore this by understanding Sartre's philosophical tenets and his impact on abstract art.

Sartre's Philosophical Tenets

Before we dive into the depths of Sartre's influence on abstract art, let's first understand the philosophical foundation that Sartre laid out that has deeply influenced various fields, including art.

Existentialism and Freedom

At the heart of Sartre's existential philosophy is the concept of freedom. He believed that humans aren't defined by external characteristics or factors, but by their actions. In other words, we are what we do. This notion of freedom and responsibility can be seen as a parallel to the creation of abstract art—artists are free to express their ideas in a non-representational form, thus, they bear the responsibility for the understanding and interpretation of their work.

Bad Faith and Authenticity

Another key concept in Sartre's philosophy is 'Bad Faith'. It is the act of deceiving oneself into thinking that they are not free, and thus, escaping the responsibility of their actions. On the contrary, 'Authenticity' is about accepting this freedom and taking responsibility for one's actions. This concept has been a great source of inspiration for abstract artists, encouraging them to break free from artistic conventions and create art that is authentic to their personal vision.

Existential Despair and Absurdity

Sartre's existential philosophy also highlights the feelings of despair and absurdity that arise from the realization of one's freedom and the lack of inherent meaning in life. This idea, often represented in abstract art, has led artists to create works that evoke strong emotions and provoke thought, thus reinforcing Sartre's influence on abstract art.

By understanding these philosophical tenets, we can start to appreciate how Sartre's philosophy has influenced abstract art, helping artists to explore new ways of expression and interpretation.

How abstract art relates to Sartre's philosophy

Having understood Sartre's philosophical tenets, let's take a look at how these concepts find their expression in the realm of abstract art.

The Expression of Freedom

Just as Sartre emphasized the freedom of a person to define their own identity, abstract art gives artists the freedom to move beyond traditional forms and conventions. There are no rules or guidelines that dictate what a work of abstract art should look like—it's a blank canvas for the artist's imagination, which is a perfect reflection of Sartre's idea of existential freedom.

Embracing Authenticity

By choosing to reject traditional forms and express their unique perspectives, abstract artists embody Sartre's concept of authenticity. Each brushstroke, color choice, and form emerges from the artist's personal experience and vision. This commitment to personal truth in the face of societal expectations echoes Sartre's call for individuals to act authentically.

Depicting Despair and Absurdity

Abstract art, with its often chaotic and non-representational nature, can be a powerful way to represent the existential despair and feelings of absurdity that Sartre's philosophy explores. The viewer is left to interpret the artwork, mirroring the existential challenge of finding meaning in a seemingly absurd world.

So, you see, abstract art and Sartre's philosophy are more intertwined than you might have thought. These shared themes of freedom, authenticity, and existential despair make the influence of Sartre on abstract art undeniable.

Sartre's influence on abstract artists

Now that we've seen how abstract art and Sartre's philosophy are interconnected, let's move on to explore how Sartre's thoughts have directly shaped the work of specific abstract artists.

Revealing New Creative Paths

For many abstract artists, Sartre's philosophy was a beacon of light in a world that often seemed to restrict creativity. His ideas opened new horizons for artistic expression, allowing artists to explore their individuality and authenticity in their work. These artists, in turn, used their art to depict the existential themes of Sartre's philosophy.

Challenging Societal Norms

Embracing Sartre's philosophy, abstract artists challenged the societal norms and expectations of their time. They sought to portray the raw, unfiltered human experience, reflecting Sartre's belief in individuality and authenticity.

Creating a Dialogue with the Viewer

Inspired by Sartre's idea of freedom, many abstract artists chose to leave their work open to viewer interpretation, encouraging a dialogue about the meaning of the artwork. This interaction aligns with Sartre's belief in the importance of personal choice in defining meaning.

As you can see, Sartre's philosophy has had a deep, profound impact on the world of abstract art. His ideas have inspired artists to create works that challenge norms, invite dialogue, and celebrate individuality—fundamental aspects of the abstract art movement.

Case studies of abstract art influenced by Sartre

It's time to dive a little deeper and look at some real examples of how Sartre's philosophy has influenced abstract art. Here are a few artists whose work has been significantly shaped by Sartre's ideas.

Wassily Kandinsky

Wassily Kandinsky, a key figure in the abstract art movement, was deeply influenced by the existentialist ideas of Sartre. Kandinsky's art is known for its emphasis on emotion and expression, mirroring Sartre's focus on individual experience and authenticity. His painting "Composition VII" is a perfect example of this: it's a complex, chaotic swirl of colors and shapes that invites the viewer to create their own interpretation.

Jackson Pollock

Next up is none other than Jackson Pollock, another giant in the abstract art world. Pollock's "drip paintings" reflect Sartre's belief in freedom and individuality. Just as Sartre encouraged people to create their own meaning in life, Pollock's art encourages viewers to create their own interpretations of his work. Take a look at his painting "No. 5, 1948" — it's a tangle of dripped paint that leaves the meaning entirely up to the viewer.

Mark Rothko

Finally, let's not forget about Mark Rothko, an abstract artist known for his large, color-filled canvases. Rothko's art is often seen as a reflection of Sartre's philosophy. His painting "No. 14, 1960", with its layers of contrasting colors, embodies Sartre's idea of existential angst and the struggle to find meaning.

These case studies clearly demonstrate Sartre's influence on abstract art. It's amazing to see how his philosophy has inspired such a diverse range of artistic expressions, isn't it?

Reflection on Sartre's impact on abstract art

As we've journeyed through the realm of abstract art influenced by Sartre's philosophy, it's clear that his existentialist ideas have had a profound impact. But what does this mean for us as viewers and appreciators of art? Let's ponder a bit on this.

Moulding Perception

One of the key takeaways is how Sartre's philosophy has helped shape our perception of abstract art. He opened our eyes to the idea that art doesn't need to represent something specific. Instead, it can evoke emotions, provoke thoughts, or simply exist for its own sake. This shift in perception has allowed abstract art to flourish and continue to evolve in various forms.

Freedom of Interpretation

Sartre's emphasis on individual freedom and the idea that we create our own meaning in life is mirrored in the way we experience abstract art. There are no fixed meanings or interpretations—each viewer can see and feel something different. This freedom of interpretation makes the experience of viewing abstract art deeply personal and unique.

Art as a Reflection of Existence

Lastly, Sartre's influence on abstract art serves as a reminder that art is a reflection of our existence. The existential themes present in many abstract artworks — such as the struggle to find meaning, the anxiety of choice, and the isolation of individuality — mirror our own life experiences. This connection makes abstract art not only a visual feast but also a mirror into our own souls.

Reflecting on Sartre's influence on abstract art, it's clear that his philosophy has not only shaped the work of numerous artists but also our understanding and appreciation of abstract art. It's a testament to the profound impact that ideas can have on the world of aesthetics and beyond.

If you're intrigued by the impact of Sartre's philosophy on abstract art and want to explore more about the connections between philosophy and art, check out Andrea Orejarena's workshop, 'Intro to Surreal Art.' This workshop will provide you with an understanding of the surreal art movement and its relationship with philosophical ideas, helping you to better appreciate the depths of abstract art.