The essence of abstraction consists in singling out one feature, which, in contrast to other properties, is considered to be particularly important.

Sparks of Genius, p. 72

Looking past the obvious is hard to do, especially when you're up against a deadline. Our quick-to-consume culture has conditioned us to see the world in snippets...short bursts of stimuli. It's marketed as "consumable" or "digestible," but it's a cheapened experience.

Root-Berenstein (2013) characterizes Werner Heisenberg, Picasso, and others, finding the root of abstraction in "finding the minimal visual stimulus that can be put on paper or canvas and still evoke recognition." Consistently, the simple concept defined through an abstraction can be applied to the bigger picture.

This is hard because it takes time. There is significant effort in abstracting seemingly simple ideas, objects, or actions. With photography, it is difficult to capture an abstract idea because the camera lens gathers so much information with the flick of a mirror.

Identifying main themes in any abstraction will help with breaking down complex ideas. What patterns exist? How can those patterns be grouped together? What other patterns emerge as you break things down? Often times, in the process of identifying a theme or themes, you can combine ideas into simpler, more generalized themes. Repetition is key in this process because you can look for common threads. This also means that our first attempt can usually be thrown away. Abstraction, in its truest form, is the result of a process, not creation through obscurity.


Root-Bernstein, R., & Root-Bernstein, .M. (1999). Abstracting. In Sparks of Genius. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

One thought on “Abstraction

  1. Kathryn Ortmann says:


    My name is Kathryn Ortmann and I am a student at the University of South Alabama. I am in a technology class that is working to further the use of technology in the classroom setting. I am quite interested in your post about abstraction. I, for one, have never given the concept much thought because I mainly see the term used in descriptions of papers I have written that result in less than desirable grades. However, I have never thought about how abstraction is focusing more on one thing in contrast to the others, which in turn shows how important or not important those others may be.

    Have a great week,

    Kathryn Ortmann

    EDM310 Blog

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