Your Guide to Understanding Abstract Art

Get inspired to form your own visual connections and interpretations of abstract art.

The Magic Hour by Rebecca Katz

Have you ever stood in front of a painting, taken by its visual power and yet absolutely bewildered by its meaning? Is it a giant snowy mountain shining brightly under the sunlight, or is it an intimidating volcano bursting through the sky? Is it even supposed to be anything? If questions like these have ever crossed your mind while viewing a work, you’re in the right place.

The Magic Hour
The Magic Hour, Acrylic on Canvas, 36″ x 54″ $3000 by Rebecca Katz

What is abstract art? Here, we discuss how to understand it and comprehend the artist’s intention. By appreciating the art form for the freedom it inspires in making individual visual connections, we’re attempting to navigate every step toward understanding abstraction.

Let’s Begin…

Understanding abstract art is fairly easy – all you need is an open mind and a wandering imagination. The first step is to prepare yourself to look beyond the things you already know or recognize.

“Abstraction allows man to see with his mind what he cannot see physically with his eyes… Abstract art enables the artist to perceive beyond the tangible, to extract the infinite out of the finite. It is the emancipation of the mind. It is an exploration into unknown areas.”
– Arshile Gorky

2012.VII.16, Acrylic & Mixed Media on Wood Panel, 24″ x 24″, $1550 by Anina E. Hathaway

Abstraction finds its roots in ‘intuition’ (of the artist) and ‘freedom’ (for the artist as well as for the viewer). It is the capability of the artist to use their imagination to look beyond what we can physically see and translate intangible emotions onto the canvas. It is also the ability of the audience to then try to connect to the artist’s intention and free their own mind of visual restrictions. Historically, the abstract art movement emerged in the nineteenth century as a reaction to academic painting or realism. In fact, a very simple way to understand the essence of abstract art is to think of it as a visual opposite of realistic art. While realism pays attention to every tiny fold or wrinkle, abstraction gives the artist the freedom to trust their intuition to create art that is equally worthy of an audience. Buy Xanax

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As human beings, solving problems comes naturally to us. While this can be quite useful in most situations, it isn’t so in the case of abstract art.

The most important thing to understand about abstract art is that it does NOT have to have a meaning, narrative or even a singular explanation.

The main purpose of abstraction is not to tell a story, but to encourage involvement and imagination. This art form is mostly about providing its viewers with an intangible and emotional experience – more often than not, the experience is completely different for every individual depending on their personality and state of mind.

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Therefore, it is really up to the viewer to decide whether the painting in front of them has any meaning or provokes any emotion. As we mentioned, abstract art is all about freedom.

How to Look at Abstract Art

So, how do you actually look at it and understand it? Do you stand in front of it and try to find familiar figures or do you just glance at it in passing?

Anxiety, Oil on Birch Panel, 48″ x 61″, $5200 by Marina Maltezou

Realizing that there are different ways to approach and criticize art is important when attempting to understand abstraction. It is easy to appreciate a Van Gogh or a Rembrandt, as the mastery of technique is visible. However, in order to appreciate abstraction, our focus should not be on how realistically the artist has painted something or someone but rather on how successful a piece is in evoking emotion.

Abstract paintings can also be appreciated in terms of the individual elements of art: color, shape, line, texture, space, value, etc. An abstract artist’s skills lie in his or her ability to use colors and textures to their best visual strength and to create a sound composition from these elements.

Here are some dos and don’ts to keep in mind:

Don’t look at the clock. There is no need to stand in front of an abstract work for hours to really understand it. Look at it for as long as you want, and for as long as it pulls you in.

Don’t talk about your five-year-old. We all know art is subjective, and sometimes there are pieces that we just can’t connect to, especially when it comes to abstract art. Nonetheless, your five-year-old can still not do that.

Don’t insult the artist’s imagination. Instead, if you really can’t seem to like a work, think about what it is that makes you feel that way.

Don’t mind the title. More often than not, abstract paintings will have an extremely vague title, like Number 4 or Black and Red. Don’t let that bother you. Most artists purposely don’t use giveaway titles because they want you to interact with the art and eventually find your own meaning. On the other hand, you don’t have to completely ignore the title; sometimes, they can be very helpful in guiding your imagination.

Untitled 15, Acrylic & Beads on Canvas, 48″ x 36″, $3100 by Cesar Rodrigues

Do read the wall text. Speaking of guides, always read the wall text. It can give you valuable information on the artist’s background or artistic intention. Generic Modafinil 

Do let the painting reach out to you. Free your mind of any other thoughts, give it a little time and simply let the painting convey its intended emotion to you. Observe the colors and textures. What do they make you feel? Jackson Pollock said, “Abstract painting is abstract. It confronts you.” Let the painting ask the questions instead of the other way around.

Don’t stress about feeling something. It is not necessary for an abstract painting to have a contextual side to it, and it is not necessary for you to be able to feel each and every emotion it is meant to convey. If it doesn’t do anything for you, so be it.

Don’t ask all of the questions just yet. Thinking too much about what the painting means can be disturbing or tiring. Instead, focus on how the painting makes you feel and what kind of emotions it conveys to you. Think about how the artist’s background or situation may have affected his painting. Try to work with the things you know, instead of questioning everything.

Do remember that abstraction does not have to have a meaning. While “getting” an artwork brings a momentary feeling of victory, bathing in its mystery brings enjoyment for far longer.

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  • I really am a fan of this type of painting, I really like what transmits color, I am faithful follower of Spanish painters like Gabino Amaya Cacho, Abrahan Lacalle, because they transmit life, they should follow them, they are Spanish. Ah Gabino is creator of his own technique Abstract Puntillismo

  • We would be interested in posting an interview with established artist from our gallery in Manhettan.
    How can we do it? Here is the link to the gallery
    Thanks for response.

    • Hi Antony! The interviews posted on this blog are only with the artists represented by Agora Gallery.

    this is really great,unique and very informative post, i like it. thanks

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  • This is a beautiful article! Seriously abstract perfact! This is my abstract

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    • Thank you for reading our blog! What else would you like to know about abstract art?

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  • Wow, this is really great. (Can’t thank you enough for it). God bless you for making out time to simplify this subject. Cheers.

  • I was able to find good information from your blog articles.

  • I didn’t know that abstract art was a reaction! I personally have always been a fan of realism. But, recently, abstract art has been growing on me!

  • Thanks for your tips about looking at abstract art. I think that it was a good tip to read the wall text because it can give you valuable information about the piece of art or the artist’s background. I want to go to an art exhibition this weekend, so I will remember to keep these tips in mind when I look around.

  • Thank you for this post, it helps me to understand what i see sometime.

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  • I have used abstract art on two occasions at sidewalk chalk events, placing second place in my category, both times. Chalk colors are fun to experiment with. Chris Suber, Macon, Ga.

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