JF Ptak Science Books Post 1528 Part of this blog's Blank, Empty & Missing Things series.
What is the opposite of "the Devil is in the details", without getting too terribly religious? Expressing detail in the history of art has been a progressive process, and perhaps in some sense that is what art was all about--adding detail, becoming more representational, more life-like, more expressive of the world and nature. Perhaps that is what one essential element of art was all about for hundreds, or thousands, of years--a progression that marched its way through time with greater effectiveness and representation, for the most part, until relatively recently, when--in the early part of the 20th century--details began to disappear, until in some cases there were no details at all. Or at least the details that people had been comfortable with for so long, like folds in dresses, or lustre in eyes, or thinness in clouds, or even the correct perspective in the re-invention of three-dimensional representation.
Detail changed with the Romantics, and then definitely with the Impressionists, and then on into the the Cubists and the Abstract, until the detail of what we would recognize as elemental objects would disappear altogether. Corot, Cezanne, Gauguin, Whistler, Seurat, Van Gogh, Picasso, Braque, Duchamp. And then everything goes away with Kandinsky. 1911. Details of references to the physical world slipping away into general sense impressions.
It would probably make more sense to look at the Kandinsky at this point--I'd rather look at the Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947) and his La petite blanchisseuse (Roger-Marx 42, also known as the Small Washerwoman). The wide expanse of her black working gown is a primary link to solid blankness, without detail of nearly any sort, missing parts of reality, allowed to go to Disappeared Detail Heaven.
The occupants of the Heaven was begun centuries ago, though the details banned there on purpose really only begins in earnest with the missing details of the solids in (Paolo)1 Uccello. This great master (dissed terribly by Bernard Berenson I don't know why) was one of the very few exceptions of artists who purposefully banned details from his work, just as the reality of the world crept deeper into the works of the late Siennese masters pointing out the details of their rediscovery of perspective.
There would be a long period in between Uccello and the other detail disappearers.
1. The phrase "the solids in Uccello" comes of course from the Great American Novel, William Gaddis' The Recognitions, discovered and shared to my by the lovely Patti Digh. In some of his enomrous cnvases it is quite easy to find wide expaneses of nthing where detail should be...