A Beginner’s Guide to Abstract Art

We have all been there: looking at a painting, taken in by the visual power of it, but completely bewildered regarding the meaning. The chances are that you are probably looking at a piece of abstract art. In this guide, we are going to take a look at what abstract art is, as well as providing you with some actionable tips regarding this style of painting. So, continue reading to discover everything that you need to know about abstract art.

What is abstract art?

In order to understand abstract art, you are going to need two things: the first is an open mind. The second is a wandering imagination. You need to be prepared to look beyond the things that you already recognise. Abstraction allows a person to see what they cannot physically see with their eyes. It is about going beyond the tangible. The roots of this style of art are found with the freedom for the artist and the viewer, as well as the intuition of the artist. It is all about the artist using their imagination to look beyond what we can see physically with our eyes and instead translate emotions that are not tangible onto a canvas.

Abstract art is art that does not attempt to represent an accurate depiction of visual reality but instead use shapes, colours, forms and gestural marks to achieve its effect – Source: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/a/abstract-art

Looking at abstract art – Some tips

Now that you have a base understanding of what abstract art is, let’s take a look at some tips for observing this type of art:

  • Do read the blurb found next to a piece of art in a gallery. This can provide you with some helpful details regarding the artistic intention or the background of the artist.
  • Don’t be too fixed on the title of the work is. More often than not, an extremely vague title will accompany a piece of abstract art. It can be easy to get bogged down by this, trying to figure out what it is. However, you will find that a lot of artists go for this approach on purpose because they want you to interact with the art and find your own meaning. I like to give a hint with the title – sometimes anyway.
  • Remember, abstraction does not have to have a meaning. Or you don’t need to know what it is to like the work. I like many pieces of art and yet I don’t know what the artist meant.
  • You could focus on how the painting makes you feel. What sort of emotions does it convey to you?

Painting abstract art

If you are interested in finding your path in abstract art as an artist, there are many different ways you can go about it. After all, what works for one artist is not always going to work for another. However, there are some steps you can follow if you are looking for a bit of guidance regarding this type of art. This includes the following:

  1. Begin with an idea. You need a concept that is going to direct your work. That is what they will tell you at art school! I can start a piece of abstract art without the idea. The idea emerges as the paint is added to the canvas. If that doesn’t work for you yet – get an idea.
  2. Build your abstract painting using a solid structure. We will provide you with some suggestions regarding this in the next section.
  3. Now comes the fun part! Use any technique or any sort of materials to support the former two steps.
  4. Last but not least, you need to recognise that there are no hard and fast rules. The only rules in abstract art are the rules you create for yourself. Why not make up your own rules?

What can hold everything together?

In order to create a piece of abstract art, it is important to have a basic foundation that holds everything together. Below, we are going to take a look at some examples of this. However, it is important to recognise that they are not inclusive. They all have valid modifications. However, if you hang elements onto one of the structures mentioned below, it helps to hold together a non-objective design.

  • A lot of designs are based on the shapes of different letters. Some of the most common include L, S, Z, H, and T.
  • The cruciform (cross-shape), i.e. the rectangle with a rectangular frame.
  • The bridge design, which is something that connects one side to another.
  • The triangular design. The easiest triangle to work with is the scalene triangle because its side are all different lengths.
  • A grid in any axis, for instance, diagonal, vertical, or horizontal.
  • A radial design, which is where everything radiates from the centre.
  • A composition, which is what we can call a formal foundation. Some types of composition include an overall design. However, you do need to be mindful here because this sort of design does run the risk of becoming visually boring and repetitive.

Art and psychology

There have been a number of different artists who have explored the relationship between art and psychology while producing pieces of work in this genre. Wassily Kandinsky is a perfect example. It is widely held that Kandinsky is the first abstract artist. He explored the relationship between form and colour in his works, describing abstract art as the ‘science of the soul.’ He also carried out ‘psychological tests’ of staff and students at the Bauhaus art college in an aim to show that the mind pulls certain shapes and colours together. There have been a number of other artists who have been influenced by psychology. Jackson Pollock is another famous example. He was particularly interested in brain processes. He claimed that his famous drips were examples of artists enabling their unconscious mind to figure out a painting’s form.

Of course, this guide to abstract art only touches the surface. There is no denying that abstract art is one of the most popular forms of art today. However, a lot of people assume that it is difficult to understand and they struggle to comprehend the meaning behind a piece of abstract art. I hope that this guide has helped you to see that abstract art does not need to be such a challenge. It is all about looking at things from a different perspective. It’s about focusing on your emotions and feelings. It’s not literal and you don’t always need to find a meaning. And does it matter if a piece of art means something to you that is different to what it means to someone else?

Do you like abstract art?


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