Understanding Abstract Art

June 25, 2019



We process representational art and abstract art quite differently.  Abstract art is often confusing and unsettling, with no subject to hold onto, it makes a lot of people scratch

their head and comment ‘a five year old could do that’! 




Michael Luther, Brushlines, oil on canvas


Often the subject of abstract art is actually the artist's practice and the application of paint to the canvas as we see above with Michael Luther's Brushlines of 2016. It is a form of self-reflection, self-criticism and analysis of one's own works. Brushstrokes, the colour palette and the organization of forms become the subject, otherwise known as the formal elements of art.



What many people don't realize is that abstract artists have worked figuratively in the past and their representational skills are technically advanced.  These artists favour expressing their creativity by making a visual experience that is more free and unencumbered by the weight of objects.   To help you get to grips with abstraction we have put together a short explanation. 


Since the early 1900s, abstract art has figured substantially in the
development of Modern and Contemporary art. We only have to think of the
Bauhaus, the Cubists, the Suprematists, through to Abstract Expressionists
and the Hard edge painting of the 1960s for example.   


Most credit Wassily Kandinsky's abstract watercolour of 1910 as the first
abstract painting and the birth of abstraction. Western art had been, from
the Renaissance up to the middle of the 19th century, underpinned by the
logic of perspective and an attempt to reproduce an illusion of visible
reality. Total abstraction (other terms include pure abstraction,
non-objective art and Concrete art) bears no trace of any reference to
anything recognizable. Other forms of abstraction take an object or
landscape and depict a certain aspect of it in simplified form, or distort
it from its original form so it is not readily recognisable.


Why have abstract art in your home?
Abstract artists are capturing how they experience the world and there
paintings in turn trigger an experience or sensation in us, the viewer. It
is a scientific fact that beautiful artworks activate the pleasure centres
of the brain.   The idea that the highest form of beauty lies in geometry is
the basis of abstraction. This idea originated as far back as Plato and his
discourse on the Form of Beauty.


Abstract painting, because of its universal forms, has often been
characterised as having a moral dimension and appealing to such virtues as
order, purity, simplicity and spirituality.  This is reflective in some part
of the reasons why people choose to buy abstract paintings and photography
over realistic, representational work.  Living with abstract art can open up
a new meditative and contemplative spot for your home.  There are no
distracting images or objects, just colour and form resonating off your
walls.  Many people find that once equipped with the language to express
their feelings about abstract painting, they are able to develop an ongoing
and  fulfilling dialogue with the pieces as they become a focal conversation
piece for an entertaining/ living space or calming presence in a bedroom.


Often all that is needed is  'a way-in' to the work.  'A way-in', is finding
something about the painting or its title that you can start from.  Perhaps
it is the information about how the artist works, perhaps it is the
relationship of colours or the forms that hint at a clue.  Just like music
is patterns of sound that can uplift us or transport us to another mood or
place, so too can abstract art.  Patterns of form colour and line can take
us somewhere else profound and spiritually rewarding over and over again.















About the author

Lisa Norris

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