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In contemporary culture, this may seem like an obvious quality, but before the advent of the Modern artistic era (approximately pre-Impressionism), art was not created to call attention to itself, but to celebrate figurative forms and accurately depict things that had some basis in reality.
By deliberately calling attention to the natural flatness of the canvas in a work of art, artists have exercised a uniquely modern phenomenon, wherein the viewer is not meant to appreciate the depiction of anything, but the act of painting itself.
By fitting the canvas to the contours of the paintings' colors, Stella redefined the traditional support system and made paint itself the painting's form.
This stylistic shift in perspective was perceived as a gesture of pure flatness.
Greenberg argued that the essential and unique element in Modern painting is its flatness.
They also employed a peculiar habit of leaving large portions of their canvases bare and untreated.
Both of these features further emphasized the canvas as an important painterly characteristic.