Appreciating Abstract Art: A Guide to Unlocking the Mystery
Appreciating abstract art can often be a bit of a mystery to some people, making them feel confused and lost. The easiest way to appreciate abstract art is to let go of any preconceived ideas.
Give yourself a chance to see abstract art with your feelings. You might just be surprised by the emotional impact it can have.
In this article, I will walk you through the various components that make up abstract art and help you to better appreciate it on a deeper but simple level.
I’m writing this article, particularly for people who want to appreciate abstract art, but still find it difficult.
This is actually an important first step. The willingness and wanting to appreciate abstract art. It’s like almost anything else that we want to learn about. “Where there is a will, there’s a way”.
I totally understand and appreciate how some people, including art lovers, find it difficult to appreciate abstract art. Even some of my family and friends still find it difficult to appreciate abstract art.
And that’s fine. I’m not expecting everyone to like or appreciate abstract art.
So, sit back with an open mind and let’s explore the world of abstract art.
What is abstract art?
My website is dedicated to abstract art, particularly, non-representational art. Yes, there is a difference between abstract and non-representational art. For some reason, people got used to calling any visual art that is not representational, abstract art. I do the same, too.
So, what is abstract art and what is non-representational art?
I will explain it as simply as possible. Abstract art uses real objects which can be simplified, exaggerated or both. While non-representational art does not use or depict any real objects. Non-representational art is created with colours, shapes and lines.
Both styles of art are mainly about the expression of feelings, ideas, beliefs or even imagination. There is no accurate representation of the real world around us. You can click the above links to learn more.
And this is a nice video explaining What is Abstract Art?
Setting the stage: forgetting what you know about art
There is no doubt in my mind that if you are new to the world of abstract art and you want to appreciate it, you’ve got to approach it with an open mind and without any preconceived thoughts.
Forget everything you know about art. I know this might sound counterintuitive. You don’t need to analyse the artwork like a traditional landscape, portrait or still life. In a way, it’s like music, you feel it even if you don’t understand how it was made.
Appreciating abstract art is simple.
You don’t need to try to make sense of what you’re seeing. Have a look at this article as I’m sure it will help to explain more, Abstract Art Makes No Sense.
So, let go of your expectations and be open to a new experience. That’s right. Every abstract painting I make is a new journey, a new experience. No two people interpret the same abstract painting in the same way. That’s part of the beauty of abstract paintings.
Appreciating abstract art can be easily developed over a short period of time. Just look at abstract paintings regularly, whether visiting museums and galleries or simply scanning through the thousands of abstract paintings on the internet.
The power of colour in abstract art
If you have read any of my blog posts, you will notice how much I talk about colour. Colour is one of the most important elements of abstract art.
I like colours and it’s the first thing I notice about any painting. I often spend a lot of time looking at and examining the colours and layers in a painting.
The next time you visit a museum or an art gallery, pay attention to the colour choices in the paintings. Do you see bold, bright colours or soft, muted tones?
Have a look at the abstract paintings in this article or on my website. Look at the composition in abstract art. Is it chaotic or harmonious? How does the use of colour, shape, lines and other elements make you feel?
Remember, there is no right or wrong answer, it’s all about your personal emotional response. Try to focus on the emotions the artwork may evoke rather than trying to make sense of what you’re seeing.
I have written a detailed blog post about the power of colour in abstract art.
We all, or most of us, have our favourite colours and every culture in the world have its own colour meanings and association. So, appreciating abstract art can be found by simply linking your favourite colours with colour meanings and associations. Once you do that, you are likely to begin to actually see the beauty of abstract art.
For every painting I look at, I like to find out the type of materials and paint the artist used. Did the artist use acrylic, oil or watercolours? Did the artist use charcoal or other media? How did he/she build up the painting? How many layers can I see in the painting? What about the texture, is it smooth or rough? Did the artist use canvas or wood?
I may not be able to find all answers to these questions. But even without knowing all the answers, just thinking about it and the curiosity to learn more about the painting adds an extra layer to the meaning of the artwork. It gives me a deeper appreciation for the artist’s creative process.
Take some time and try to explore these things in your mind as you are looking at the artwork. I’m sure you will have other questions about the artwork, how it was made and what was the artist thinking about when he/she made the painting.
You might say, it’s easy for me because I’m an artist to think about these issues. However, I’m not talking about any technicality of how the painting was structured. It’s merely the curiosity of seeing something that you might admire or appreciate.
These questions and many more can intrigue our curiosity and interest, which may help you to begin appreciating abstract art.
After giving yourself time to look at a work of art and you still can’t find any interest, that’s fine just move on to the next one.
Not everybody will appreciate abstract art. I don’t necessarily like every abstract painting I see, but I always have a deep appreciation for the artist’s efforts and creative process.
I saw some of the most expensive paintings and abstract art in the world and I still question their financial value. But, I still appreciate the artist and the intrinsic technical details of the making of the artworks.
A closer look: changing your perspective
In 2008, a study was carried out by Empirical Studies of the Arts, which found that museum visitors spend an average of 17 seconds looking at an individual painting. I’m sure you will agree that 17 seconds is way too short to actually see anything, never mind appreciate it.
The Slow Art Look Movement was born to help people to spend a little more time, 5 -10 minutes, to appreciate artworks. Slow Art Day became an annual event supported by many museums across many countries including the US, Canada and Europe.
(I have written about the Slow Art Look Movement in this article: Painting Your Feelings).
Take your time. Appreciating abstract art takes time. Get closer to the artwork. Stand in front of it, look at it from the sides, take a few steps back and just see how the artwork changes as you change your perspective.
Getting closer to a piece of artwork allows you to see and explore the finer details. Stepping back, you can see the whole painting, which would give a different perspective.
Every time I look at some of my abstract paintings, I see something new that I hadn’t seen before. There is always something to see and discover.
Going with your gut feeling: trusting your instincts
This is probably the one piece of advice I would suggest to anyone who may be interested in abstract art, but still not sure about it.
All types of art are a matter of expressing feelings. This is so important in abstract art as there is no real object to help us build our meaning and interpretation. Abstract art is created with the artist’s feelings and interpreted by the viewer’s feelings.
Many people approach abstract art expecting to see something they can recognise, something familiar. And they feel disappointed when all they see is random brushstrokes of colours and shapes.
You need to approach abstract art trusting your gut feeling. If a piece of the artwork resonates with you, that’s all that matters. If you can make your own interpretation and your own story, that’s even better.
Allow your imagination to take you to places that you have never been to. Allow the artwork to draw into it and connect with it. Let your emotions guide you and trust your instinct. There is no right or wrong in whatever emotional response you feel about the artwork.
Appreciating abstract art is not too difficult if you want to appreciate it.
Embracing the mystery: falling in love with abstract art
Looking back at my experience with art and how quickly I managed to embrace abstract painting and became a big part of my life. There is no mystery in abstract art. There are only expressions and feelings.
Abstract art can be a powerful and meaningful language of expression, but it needs a different approach to appreciation. The creative process is so different from traditional representational art. So is viewing abstract art.
Just an open mind without any expectation and I’m sure you will begin to appreciate this amazing art if you want to.
So many people link appreciating abstract art to understanding it, but in my opinion, these are two quite different approaches. It takes a great deal more in-depth knowledge to understand something. While expressing appreciation for something involves less knowledge of the ins and outs of that object or subject.
Let me explain. I like certain types of music and, as a matter of fact, I can’t make my abstract paintings without my music. I call it my “painting music”. But I don’t know much about music, its instruments, musical notes, etc. And I still appreciate it and enjoy it.
I even wrote a whole article about it, The Joy of Painting With Music.
One of my favourite videos on YouTube that takes a deeper look into appreciating abstract art is “The Rules of Abstract With Matthew Collings”. It’s a BBC production and there are 6 fantastic series about abstract art.
I like art, particularly abstract paintings, and I enjoy seeing so many of them created by other artists. I don’t understand many of them but I appreciate the way they were made that could evoke an emotional response.
Sometimes it could be the colours in the painting, the shapes or textures in the painting that attracts my attention. Maybe just one element that stands out and connects with me.
There are so many styles of abstract art and so many techniques. They are there for those who want to dig deeper into understanding more about abstract art. But for those who are only looking for a simple pleasure and enjoyment of it, they don’t need to go much further than appreciating the artwork.
Final thoughts about appreciating abstract art
Art has been a big part of my life since childhood. I painted landscapes and figurative art. Later, I became fascinated by photography. I had similar experiences as many people about appreciating abstract art. Every time I saw an abstract painting, I used to wonder about this type of art.
So many questions went into my head always wondering, what exactly is it? Why these artists were making these types of paintings? Why are some of these paintings are so expensive? What is the attraction to abstract art? Who is buying these paintings and why?
Like many people, I dismissed abstract art because I didn’t approach it with an open mind or preconceived thoughts. I always wanted to make the perfect landscape, the perfect figurative painting and the perfect photo.
When I saw abstract paintings, I didn’t allow myself time to see them with my feelings and connect with them. I was always looking for something that I could relay and link to the real world.
The shift to non-representational art took me a while without realising that it was happening. Simply, I got tired of perfectionism and this changed completely when I discovered the beauty of imperfection in abstract art. I never looked back and it has been an extremely interesting and exciting journey for over thirty years.
I hope you will find this article helpful in appreciating abstract art. And I hope you will come back and tell us all about it in the comments section below.
If you are still unable to find a way to appreciate abstract art, that’s fine too and I thank you for reading the article to this point.