When the making of art was separated from its sacred function by industrial societies and "free" artists, we saw the rise of secular thinking and different understandings of what art is and what its function should be. With spiritual societies we see art depicting unseen abstract entities and concepts usually within a framework of mythologies. With the advent of secularism and the decline of the church in the West we witness the attempt to avoid the abstract with strict adherence to the "real" or what is seen! The advance of technology and the separation from nature and the land witnesses a return to abstraction in the 20th century as artists begin to yearn for a return to a more fundamental life with deeper meaning.
This migration between what is "seen" and "unseen" is no accident as artists in the process of making, attune themselves to deeper, inner realities and feelings. These "feelings" can only be expressed by the idiosyncratic use of colour, line, texture and form. Here i would postulate that if there is no other reality than what can be seen, tasted or felt in the here and now then the "process" of "making" becomes vital to "being." This is echoed in the words of Barnett Newman when he said "we are making it out of ourselves," in other words, the outer cathedrals of worship aren't valid anymore so we are constructing "inner secular cathedrals" in order to find a new way or purpose in art and life. The making of art then becomes an attempt to make something new out of the "self." This is a major leap from previous artists who for the most part painted representations of mythological characters, stories from the Bible or genre scenes and portraits. The exception here is probably Islamic culture where figuration was forbidden and was replaced with intricate pattern systems particularly in and on mosques.
Georgia O’Keeffe wrote, “I had to create an equivalent for what I felt about what I was looking at - not copy it.” She understood that through careful observation in order to get close to what she was trying to paint she had to re-invent what she saw and that would result in a "translation" of her subject not a copy of it. Her work skirted close to the edges of abstraction as she developed her own painting "voice."
Even the poet E. E. Cummings, wrote, “the artist, is not a man who describes but a man who FEELS.” He was quick to dismiss the idea that writers are just wordsmiths manipulating syntax and grammar. The feeling of the artist hunts for an avenue of expression via the mind using the creative thinking tools. The process might go either way, concrete to abstract or vice versa. The important thing is that the artist is able to bring into the world new "things" that open up new "perspectives" whether by poem, painting or other means through often very "abstract" feelings.
I'm inspired by artists that find their way through the maze of creative possibilities and then go on to do amazing things in the field of abstraction. Whether dealing from a sacred or secular viewpoint abstract thinking opens up a plethora of creative possibilities!