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Two artistic styles of the 1920's used abstract representations in their imagery for the first time in Western culture. Beforehand, abstract designs could be seen in the religious art of Jewish or Muslim cultures, in the decorations of artifacts and places of worship. This religious aversion to figurative representation of religiously- emotive icons was spurned in most Western cultures until the very turn of the 20th century, when it finally came to fruition through two distinct and separate mentalities.

The first approach to abstract depiction centered on the use of shapes taken from the natural world. Regular portraits, landscapes and nature-scenes were stripped of the usual identifying marks; they were distilled into the essence of themselves, as captured by the artist. The goal was to expose the images and shapes already lying within any and all subject-matter. The face of a woman could be seen to be a series of triangles and circles and lines, as could be seen in all the work done by such Cubists as Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, a “Bird in flight” became the breathtaking lines of Constantine Brancusi's take on infinity and his sculpture was paradoxically both identifiable and without any traditional figurative features.

The second and more far-flung approach was so diverse it can barely be categorized into one huge lump of artistic creativity. This outlook gave credence to the very tools of art. Lines, shapes, color blotches, skewed perspective, tonal rhythm- these all became end-result, and were no longer simply defined as a means to a figurative end. These artistic tools now existed in their own right, with various interpretations as to their use.

On the one hand were the harsh geometric lines, the perfected finish and gloss of the Constructivists, the Suprematists, the Futurists and the De Stijl's. Attention to strict detail, absorption in the intricacies of form and counterform, of compositional integrity would be seen throughout the century in the work of Piet Mondrian, Theo van Doesburg, Georg Vantongerloo, Bart van der Leck. From Russia we can see the mystical work of Kasimir Malevich, Vladimir Tatlin and Aleksander Rodchenko, the materialistic earthiness of Naum Gabo and Antoine Povsner. These advances into clean geometric illustration would finally lead to Minimalism and Bauhaus in the 1950's and onwards. On the other hand was the softer, more indistinct abstractive art of Orphic Cubism and Tachisme. The overall look was splotches of color sitting in apparent disarray on the canvas. The emphasis was intuitive and emotive; and expressive outlet of imagination that needed no formalized thematic structure. In this general category we can see the work of Robert Delaunay, Fernand Leger and Juan Gris.

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