在哲学中, “从物质对象或实际事务中抽离或分离” (与 concrete) 的意思是从15世纪中叶开始的. “难以理解, 晦涩难懂” 的意思是从15世纪开始的.
在美术方面, 到1914年, “以缺乏表现力为特征”; 至少从1847年起, 它就成为音乐中的一个术语, 指没有伴奏歌词的音乐. Abstract expressionism 作为一种以美国为基础的无拘无束的艺术方法, 由杰克逊-波洛克为例, 是从1952年开始的, 但这个词本身在20世纪20年代的康定斯基等人就已经使用了.
Oswald Herzog, in an article on “Der Abstrakte Expressionismus” (Sturm, heft 50, 1919) gives us a statement which with equal felicity may be applied to the artistic attitude of the Dadaists. “Abstract Expressionism is perfect Expressionism,” he writes. “It is pure creation. It casts spiritual processes into a corporeal mould. It does not borrow objects from the real world; it creates its own objects. .. . The abstract reveals the will of the artist; it becomes expression. .. .” [William A. Drake, “The Life and Deeds of Dada,” 1922]
Then, that art we have called “abstract” for want of any possible descriptive term, with which we have been patient, and, even, appreciative, getting high stimulation by the new Guggenheim “non-objective” Art Museum, is reflected in our examples of “surrealism,” “dadaism,” and what-not, to assert our acquaintance in every art, fine or other. [Report of the Art Reference Department of Pratt Institute Free Library for year ending June 30, 1937]