What is Abstract Art?

What is Abstract Art?

Dictionary definition - abstractionism: an abstract genre of art; artistic content that depends on internal form rather than pictorial representation

Its interesting to know that many artists start off wanting to paint in abstract form for the simple reason that they think it will be easier than any other type of style. The truth is that abstract art is actually a lot more complex than they give it credit for. Abstract art requires artistic discipline, knowledge and a certain amount of expertise in painting techniques, and a greater understanding of the more formal aspects of art. Although it does allow for more expansive and intuitive play of creativity, it does not promise more freedom of expression. In fact many artists fail to find it satisfying in that their attempts at abstract art can easily result in a total mess without any inner cohesion. Abstract art generally needs some practice in form, colour and modelling before it becomes a worthwhile endeavour.

I recall one realist artist in particular who frustrated with lack of sales for her art, thought she might try her hand at abstract. The paintings she presented to me were little more than paint splashed and splayed across the canvas with no thought at all to form or design; the colours she chose did not work well together at all and completely lacked the finesse of her realism work. She clearly had no concept at all of what abstract art was and painted it as she saw it to be; a riotous mess that she thought she could make a quick buck from. There was no pretence that she scorned abstract art and thought ‘anyone can do it!’ Now there is nothing wrong with messing with paint in order to experiment and discover new possibilities, but I don’t feel it constitutes art at that stage! From my own experience of moving from realism to abstract, it took a long time just to retrain my mind to the concept let alone create something of any substance.

In its purest form in Western art, an abstract artwork is one without any recognisable subject, one which doesn't relate to anything external or try to "look like" something. Instead the colour and form (and often the materials and support as in canvas or board etc.) are the subject of the abstract painting. It's completely non-objective or non-representational.

Abstract art tends to represent things that aren't visual, such an emotion, sound, or things like a spiritual experience. Figurative abstractions are abstractions or simplifications of reality, where the detail is eliminated from recognisable objects leaving only the essence of it or some degree of a recognisable form.

So you still want to try your hand at Abstract art? When you’re looking for inspiration to do your abstract painting, you need to change the way you look at the world around you. You need to stop seeing the big picture and start looking for the details. Look more at the shapes and patterns which occur, rather than focusing on the actual objects themselves. Is your painting more about being beautiful and do you want people to extract their own meaning from it? Is it supposed to convey a specific message to the viewer and do you want to hint at an interpretation through its title or not? Quite a few artists do tend to name their work something significant to do with its theme and it often helps with selling the work, well that’s what I have found anyway!

I don’t think it’s a good idea to say too much however, like writing a statement to go with the painting explaining how it was created or what my thoughts were while I made it as it doesn’t or shouldn’t  matter to me if they don't "get it." I prefer them to put their own interpretation on it and make it more personal to them.

Working in art galleries means I often hear the expression "My five-year-old could've done that". Especially from those who do not understand what they cannot interpret easily. Yes some art can be somewhat ‘interesting’ and I fail to see what the hype is all about with some pieces myself but when challenged, these people who doubt the style cannot for the life of them produce anything better themselves and often have to admit that maybe its not that simple after all. It’s the classic case of everyone thinks everyone else’s job is easy to do. I’ve always wanted to fly a helicopter or perform brain surgery as they seem such simple jobs…….now Im being silly, so lets move on!

I think the key here is to educate the public that they don’t have to understand abstract art; if they can simply appreciate something for its colour or form and not be intimidated when they don’t ‘get’ the artwork’s meaning then its okay!

When looking at abstract art you need to ask yourself, am I trying to figure out what it looks like or represents rather than allowing something to emerge from what I see in front of me?

What are the elements, colours, and textures of the painting?

How do these interact with each other?

What emotions does the painting evoke?

What is the title of the painting and how is this influencing what I see?

Have I allowed enough time to make a connection with the painting?

There are many different styles of abstract art, lets have a look at a few -  

Cubism - The subject matter in cubism was less important that the way it was represented. Early Cubist works represented objects, figures, and landscapes. It developed into more cryptic and indecipherable works, in which overall pattern became more important.

Neoplasticism – This is a separate 'section' of abstract painting and is classified as geometric. Piet Mondrian took it to an extreme, using only primary colours (red, yellow, blue, plus white and black), squares, rectangles and straight lines (vertical or horizontal).

Fauvism - Fauvism is about not using realistic colours or perspective techniques to recreate an illusion of reality. Rather colours are selected to fit the emotion felt or to create emotional impact. The Fauvists were a group of French painters, prominent from the Paris salon of 1905. Their paintings were characterized by their use of simplified forms, bright or violent colours, and complementary colours. Fauvist artists included Henri Matisse, Maurice de Vlaminck and Kees van Dongen. The term "fauves" means wild beasts, and was first used by the French art critic Louis Vauxcelles in a review that appeared on 17 October 1905

Abstract Expressionism - A school of art that developed from Expressionism, which applied the principles of Expressionism to abstract art. The paintings of Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock are good examples

In future posts I will delve a bit deeper into these styles and explain a little more about them.

Want to learn a few simple abstract techniques? Check out this page for some ideas - 

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Posted: Friday 5 February 2010


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