What is abstract art and why should you care?
As a professional abstract artist, I could probably discuss the topic of abstract art for hours (but don’t worry, I won’t! 😁).
Instead, to get to the question of why abstract art is important, let’s consider the seemingly eternal question of what is abstract art? And what elements do you need to understand it?
Abstract art has been in existence as a specifically recognised genre for well over a century. But if you consider cave paintings to be a form of abstraction, then it has been around for much longer than that!
"Untitled", 1910, by Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky, who is generally considered to be the pioneer of abstract art.
Abstract art is a visual language of shape, line, form and colour, which is distant, if not totally removed from literal and representational references. It’s a departure from reality. This is why it is often referred to as non-representational art. In other words, abstract art does not depict something that is immediately obvious and clearly defined, such as a recognisable object, scene, or biologically accurate figure.
It’s a genre of art that often divides the crowd. Do you love it or hate it? Even if the latter, it proves difficult to ignore. Those who are not fans of abstract art still have a certain curiosity about it. Seeking to understand it, to find meaning and definition in this art form which they find so perplexing. Wondering what is the purpose of abstract art? And more specifically searching for an answer to that eternal question: “what does abstract art mean”?
Well, it doesn’t have to mean something just so that an easy label can be applied to it. In fact, you could even ask, “why does it have to mean anything?” Can’t it just be enjoyed because it looks beautiful or triggers a reaction? But there is so much more to it than that. Many abstract artists will create art which explores process, composition, form, colour, scale, shape, pattern, and texture. They will have an intention, an idea or a theme. But it will be expressed in an abstract way. The resulting art will mean something specific to the individual who looks at it. It may trigger an emotion or a memory, or be viewed as beautiful, dramatic or intriguing. Each person will see something different and will create his or her own reality vis-à-vis the artwork. They will feel a connection to the art. Part of the wonder of abstract art is that offers a freedom to interpret, to feel, to imagine, to explore.
There is often a response of fear, unease or dislike when humans can’t easily identify or understand something, and over the years this has created a barrier in many minds towards abstract art. A sense of snobbism and false belief that art can only be good if it depicts something recognisable. A lack of understanding of (or refusal to acknowledge) the skill set required to create great abstract art. Abstract artists have a veritable arsenal of aptitude and skills, including technique, composition, design, materials, colour, shape, form, texture, depth, details. Not to mention the levels of imagination required to create abstract art in the first place (rather than producing what the eye can see, or reproducing something that is already known). As an abstract artist, I describe the process as painting with my mind’s eye. I want my painting process to take me on a journey of discovery rather than down the path of the familiar. Thankfully, appreciation for abstract art continues to grow as people become more enlightened about the genre.
But you may still be wondering why abstract art is important for you? Why should you care?
Well, art is an experience, and the influence it has on you is personal. Not everything has to be put into words, sometimes it’s simply a moment in time, a look, a touch, an emotion, a feeling. Approach abstract art with an open mind and imagination and it will take you on a journey of amazing visual moments.
Abstract art gives you freedom to wonder, imagine and explore. It’s about your interpretation. So, let your eyes roam and dance across an intriguing new world unfurling on the surface. Let the painting speak to you, rather than you forcing a meaning onto it. Imagine how it might feel if you were to touch it. Enjoy flows of colour, look at how lines, shapes and strokes interact. Discover the details. Think about how the painting makes you feel.
And while you’re exploring and absorbing abstract art, you’re making your brain work, and decreasing your stress levels.
Experiences enrich life, and discovering and enjoying abstract art, and art in general, is one of the most wonderful, liberating experiences there is.
That’s why abstract art is important.
Article by Jayne Leighton Herd
Artist & co-founder of Claude & Leighton