At a working level, this makes total sense. In order to build a strong painting, you need to establish a strong composition based on a good mapping of tones and colours. If you work in oil or acrylic in particular, this means working out the large masses before thinking about details.
Block-in stage of my painting “3 geese”
The way we see the world to paint it is also abstract. The painter has to abstract the subject in order to see the world as a collection of colour patches of varying degrees of darkness or lightness (see my previous article “It’s a patchy world”).
It you consider the process of creating a work in oil, abstract painting appears as a natural evolution of realism rather than its opposite. In the way I paint, the underpainting is in general spontaneous, colourful and often far from the depiction of the scene. Then, the block-in stage brings some structure but is still fairly abstract. It is only late in the process that realism emerges with the addition of details.
Rain, Steam and Speed - The Great Western Railway – Oil painting (35.83 × 47.95 in) by J. M. W. Turner [Source: Wikimedia]
Artists reaching their maturity often let more abstract elements into their paintings. Turner’s landscape became more and more abstract along the years. The late paintings by Monet have an abstract quality which is not only due to the deterioration of his sight.
The Japanese Footbridge by Claude Monet – Source: Wikipedia Loves Art participant "Opal_Art_Seekers_4" via Wikimedia