An explanation of Mondrian's oeuvre by Michael Sciam

Why abstract?

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. This is the real meaning of abstraction and not sprinkling just any shapes and colors in bulk on a surface.

“Painting is a mental activity” (Leonardo da Vinci)

Every description we formulate of the world is a process of transposing the infinite physical reality into finite 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 within ourselves.

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 we 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.

This has always been so, in the painting of the ancient Egyptians as in Byzantine, medieval, and Renaissance painting. Every work of art is the creation of a finite field of relations that seek to evoke the far more complex and elusive relations perceived in the space of real life

Abstracting a common basic structure from the fleeting aspect of single things 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.