What do people see in abstract painting is a question that I have been asked about so many times by so many people and still do today.
There are many explanations and discussions answering the question by raising other questions such as:
- How to understand abstract painting?
- What message the artist is trying to tell the viewer?
- What is the purpose of abstract painting?
- Why abstract art is important?
My answer to the question is you don’t need to understand abstract painting to appreciate it and you don’t need to know the artist’s message or how he/she made that painting, what material they used, etc.
From early childhood, our brains learn to interpret all the information we receive through our 5 senses (seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling and touching) to something that can be recognised or something familiar.
This is the key. Abstract art isn’t about the familiar and most definitely isn’t about using our logical minds to interpret it.
Is Abstract Art an Expression of Feelings?
Abstract art/painting uses our feelings and emotions to appreciate it. This is the difficulty with some or many people when looking at abstract paintings. All the time, the mind is trying to link it to something familiar, but it can’t and this is when the brain finally blocks it.
Notice how it is different when looking at realism artwork like a painting of a sunset. We are able to automatically associate almost every element in the painting to something familiar. So, we feel more comfortable appreciating it.
The ability to engage our feelings (not our brains) is the key to appreciating an abstract painting, but how do you do that?
Before looking at abstract paintings, prepare yourself to expect to see unfamiliar objects that may not represent familiar subjects. Then, spend as much time as you can looking at the painting and try to stop your brain from continuously attempting to link the painting to something familiar.
I believe the more you look at abstract art the more you could begin to engage your feelings to connect with the painting. It is all about allowing yourself to engage your emotions and feelings and letting go of trying to link any element of the painting to the familiar.
Museums around the world noticed how many visitors spent little time looking at individual artwork. The Slow Look movement became more popular at museums and other educational institutions have adopted a similar approach, too. Here is an interesting article about using the slow look in education.
Over the years, I have actually carried out similar exercises with all my family and friends. And it really works. The initial reaction to seeing my paintings was the usual response, such as: “it doesn’t make any sense”, “it doesn’t relate to anything”, etc. However, by just taking a little more time to look at the colours, shapes and lines the painting started to look more appealing.
Abstract painting communicates to our feelings, not to our analytical brain.
Abstract Art Meaning
Abstract art doesn’t have to be realistic and it doesn’t have to be beautiful, but it does need to make the viewer feel something and in order for that to happen, the viewer must be open-minded and willing to engage their feelings and emotions. It is only then that the viewer can begin to experience the hidden beauty of the artwork and feels it. You would actually feel its meanings, too.
The beauty of abstract art is its lack of definable meaning. It doesn’t restrict the viewer to a certain meaning and it is entirely up to the viewer to form and discover their own meaning.
Like all other art, abstract painting is about self-expression and self-discovery. Those two entities directly link to our subconscious and innermost ‘self’.
These are very complex subjects and can be beyond many people’s ability or experience of being aware of its immense power of meanings and may not be apparent to everyone.
It can be quite challenging to read the language of visual art ‘feelings’ and translate that into words.
There is no doubt that genuine abstract art is created from our deepest feelings. It is our feelings that lead the entire process of creating abstract artwork.
This is most definitely my experience. I do my very best to stop the logical mind from interfering. The logical mind is shaped, to a great degree, by society and cultural rules and restrictions.
In the context of self-expression and self-discovery, abstract art must overcome all rules and restrictions and let your inner ‘you’ free from all these barriers.
To further eliminate more barriers, non-representational art makes no reference to anything depicted from the real world and no representation to the ‘familiar’. It allows both, the artist and the viewer, absolute freedom of expression.
It always surprises me when some people ask the question of what do people see in abstract painting. A lot of us listen to music without the lyrics and they don’t necessarily think of how it was made or question the need to understand music before we appreciate it. You either like it or you don’t. As simple as that.
At the end of the day, art remains subjective and influenced by culture and personal experience. It is, therefore, entirely up to you as the artist to create whatever you want and the viewer has the total freedom to make up their mind about the artwork.
Throughout this article one may say there is a mix up between abstract art and non-representational art. I wrote an explanation of “the difference between abstract and non-representational art” in my article Painting Your Feelings.
If you can connect with abstract art, you are actually connecting to your own deeper self. Does it now make a little clearer what do people see in an abstract painting?
Is Abstract Painting Beautiful?
Could the answer to the question of what do people see in abstract painting be as simple as its beautiful!.
Every artist strives to create beautiful paintings. However, with abstract paintings that beauty may be more than what you see on the surface and a lot more than just the aesthetic beauty.
I think of it as the beauty you actually feel rather than just seeing it. It is the creative response that your eyes see but interpreted by your heart and soul to truly feel its beauty.
There are many definitions of the meaning of “beauty” and I’m sure we all have our own different interpretations. But, I think we will not disagree with the fact that beauty is from within, deep inside.
Our planet is full of beautiful objects and subjects, some are natural and others are human-made. Yes, subjects can be beautiful. For example, we describe a beautiful novel or a beautiful poet. Therefore, we always describe beauty with our feelings, irrespective of whether we see it, hear it, read it, touch it or smell it.
A few brushstrokes here and there, a few random lines and colours could evoke emotions feeling the beauty of abstract paintings.
What do you think?
I would be interested to hear your views about the subject. Please leave your comments in the section below or drop me an email, if you prefer.