An explanation of Piet Mondrian's work by Michael Sciam

Why abstract?

Painting is a mental activity

Painting means observing the world, breathing in all of its forms and colors and transforming that infinite variety into the most concentrated forms of thought. “Painting is a mental activity” (Leonardo da Vinci)

Abstracting a common basic structure from the fleeting aspect of each single thing enables the Dutch painter to represent the broadest range of variation without getting lost in the outward appearances of countless things that fragment the consciousness and prevent an overall vision. As Mondrian put it, “Art should express the universal.” Harassed as we are by the frenzied pace of life, we have lost the capacity to consider questions of greater breadth. We have reached the point of being ashamed to talk about universal issues.

Every description we formulate of the world is a process of transposing the infinite physical reality into a finite series of mental constructs that we can use to observe, examine, and establish relations between different things around us.
Physical reality is to be understood both as the macrocosm outside us and as the microcosm out of which our very individuality is constituted.
It must, however, be remembered that these constructs are abstractions of the real phenomena, which are always far more complex than our ideas.

We have been aware ever since Immanuel Kant that we can know our representations of phenomena but not phenomena in themselves. Nevertheless, we identify our mental symbols with physical phenomena out of habit and take our ideas as reality for the sake of convenience. Every era and every civilization or culture has its own ideas about the reality of things. While we do our utmost to give precise shape to our ideas, things change slowly and we change with them.