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Abstract Celtic Art, Patterns and Puzzles (Podcast #31)

(Updated June 2024)

Celtic Art has such a unique look to it that most people can easily identify at Celtic, whether it’s from the earlier pre-Christian eras or the later Celtic-Christian times. In this style we see a lot of patterns and drawings that look like knots and ropes. As far as abstract art goes, it’s a very meticulous, mathematical style- very different than some other types of abstract art. Today (recorded in 2018) we talk about Celtic art and a bit about what makes a work of art abstract.


What We Talked About

  • Insular (Island) Celtic Art has a distinctive look because they were somewhat cut off from the mainland. Also, the Germanic tribes never migrated as far as Ireland.
  • The Celtic designs are often near-symmetrical, and look like ropes- they look a bit like puzzles. They have a lot of repeating motifs.
  • The Book of Kells is a Christian manuscript.
  • Celtic designs with knots are very popular in our Culture! (Do you have any Celtic jewelry?)
  • Why are we studying Celtic Art?
    • We were looking for something more abstract.
    • We liked having a more left-brain project for one week.
    • There’s some math/geometry integration. (We also have an art lesson plan about mandalas!)
  • This art lesson plan also makes use of the Principle of Design: Rhythm and Pattern and of The Method of Perspective: Overlap.

What is Abstract Art?

  • Some experts say that Wassily Kandinsky first invented non-representational abstract art!
  • Jackson Pollock may be the most famous non-representational abstract artist.
  • M.C.Escher’s art is also abstract, but done in a realistic style- it has a lot of repeating Tessellations (where both the positive and negative spaces are used).
  • Salvador Dalí’s paintings, like The Persistence of Memory, look like weird dreams.
  • Pablo Picasso is created using multiple perspectives.

Personal Renaissance

  • Deanna went to an acrylic landscape painting class at Michaels with her husband. It was only $15, but the supplies were not provided. They all painted their own thing and the instructor gave advice and helped when needed.
    • Sometimes figuring out what to paint is the hardest part!
    • This made us think about Deanna’s plans to lead some Scouts through a painting project. When leading people through a painting class, help them by giving suggestions on a simplified version of what to paint.

The Art Lesson Plan for Abstract Celtic Art

Wanna Go Deeper?

Celtic art has a lot of symbols! Here’s a site I found that had a great explanation of all their meanings.

This site had a great explanation of the 3 main periods of Celtic Art history. Here’s my summary:

  • ~800 – 475BC: The Hallstatt period is regarded as the genesis of Celtic culture. This era is known for adorning functional objects like weapons, chariots, armor, and personal accessories, as well as creating fancy jewelry such as brooches and rings. These items often showcased intricate craftsmanship, contrasting colors, and lavish designs, reflecting a preference for precise symmetry.
  • ~500 – 0BC: The La Tène period marks the pinnacle of Celtic artistic achievement. It is notable for its flowing motifs of curves and lines. Most of what we know from this period has come from archeological digs at burial sites.
    • ~200BC – 100AD: During the concluding phase of the La Tène period, all Celtic tribes were assimilated into the Roman Empire by Roman legions. While Britain also succumbed to Roman rule, Ireland uniquely avoided Roman domination.
  • 400s-1100s AD: in the Middle Ages, Christianity arrived and began to have a strong influence on art and culture. Starting around the 600sAD, manuscript illumination began. (Check out the post about illuminated manuscripts too!) Vikings also arrived late in this period and began influencing art and culture.
  • 1800s- present: The Celtic Revival is not really a period of Celtic Art, but instead signifies a more contemporary interpretation of Celtic art history.

Cool Quotes about Celtic Art

“Some of the ideas which crop up again and again in Celtic art include… the use of complex vegetal designs, abstract patterns, and swirling interlocking lines.”

Mark Cartwright at WorldHistory.org 

 “The artists of Celtic Ireland and Angle-Saxon England mingled forms and motifs that, as we have seen, had long been elaborating into a recognizable regional style”

Gardner’s Art Through The Ages (10th Ed)

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