The idealistic roots can probably be traced back to ancient Greece. The philosophical adjustment for the classification and appreciation of the formal qualities of an oeuvre is therefore already derived from a statement by Plato: "Straight lines and circles are ... not only beautiful ... but eternally and absolutely beautiful". Basically, Plato wanted to express that non-representational images (e.g. simple geometric forms) possess an absolute, unchanging beauty. Accordingly, a work can be appreciated and valued merely on the basis of its lines and colours - it is not obliged to represent a natural object or a representational scene.
Abstract art as we know it today, on the other hand, is much younger and originated as a departure from classical and traditional academic painting in Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Shortly after 1900, the first painters and sculptors began to move further and further away from the reproduction of the real world. Wassily Kandinsky's path from a stylising painting committed to the Munich Art Nouveau style is well known, through numerous stages of development to abstract compositions culminating in the pure non-objectivity of organic and geometric forms. For artists like Kandinsky, the depiction of reality was no longer decisive. The Russian artist wanted to recognise the only truth in the inner being of man, and this inner being, the world of feelings, was to be reflected on the canvas in abstract colours and forms. The art historian Wilhelm Worringer had already written an essay on "Abstraction and Empathy" in 1907. It said: "The tendency towards abstraction is the consequence of a deep insecurity of man in the face of the world."
Kandinsky laid down a programmatic foundation with his 1910 essay: On the Spiritual in Art laid the theoretical foundation for the new direction in painting. Whether he was the pioneer in the history of the development of abstraction is, however, debatable. According to his own statements, he painted his first non-objective picture in 1910. Today, however, it is assumed that Kandinsky predated this picture; he probably did not paint it until 1913. The Czech František Kupka had already begun to paint abstract pictures in 1911.
However, according to a report by the journalist and historian Julia Voss in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in April 2011, Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) is considered the first artist to paint abstract pictures. After a series of small-format paintings in November 1906, she created her first large-format painting in 1907. Other pioneers of abstract painting were the artists Sonia Delaunay-Terk, Robert Delaunay and Francis Picabia, who were active in France, the Dutchman Piet Mondrian and Sophie Taeuber-Arp, who worked in Switzerland and France.
In sculpture, the works that were actually non-objective were not created until around 1920 by the Ukrainian sculptor Alexander Archipenko, the Russian Constructivist El Lissitzky and the English sculptor Henry Moore.