Understanding Abstract Art
A common criticism aimed at abstract artists is that the work is too simple and doesn't require skill or talent. Many lack language to describe what they are seeing and can feel inept because they don’t know how to tell if the artwork is any good. Without an explicit narrative, subject, or realism, abstract art can feel inaccessible.
Studies have disproven the “My kid could have painted that” critique, finding that even untrained eyes have been able to distinguish between the intentionality of artists and children’s art. These studies reveal that when we look at a piece of abstract art, we see more than we think we do -- we are actually getting into the mind of the artist who created it.
The value of abstract art rests in its ability to draw us in to the artist’s mind, inspire conversations, and spark your own imagination. It can be enjoyed for no other reason other than you simply like it.
You don’t need an art history degree or have a ton of knowledge about art methods to appreciate or talk about abstract art. You can simply say, “I am drawn to this piece” or “This piece brings a smile to my face.” The same is true for many art forms. For example, many people enjoy songs without in-depth knowledge of the elements or principles of music, or the artist’s intention.
Music, by its nature, is abstract. If music were representational, it would simply be a recording of traffic noises, birds chirping, or water running. While some songs may include these elements, when combined with the elements of rhythm, melody, harmony, timbre, texture, and form, our ears come alive.
Next time you are confused by a piece of art, stand before it, take a deep breath, and allow yourself to focus and block out the rest of the world - just you and the piece of art. Get up close. Stand far away. Stand to the side of the piece. Notice what you notice. Trace the texture of the surface or the brushstrokes in your mind or actually touch the piece if you are allowed. Become aware of how your eyes move from one part of the work to another. Notice how the color and texture affect your experience.
Reality, and art, are both subjective. Abstract art uses the same visual language as representational art does - color, line, texture, value, shape, and form. It is also based on the very same foundational principles including scale, proportion, composition, balance, movement, unity, variety, and rhythm (or the intentional breaking of these principles).
The only thing setting abstract art apart from other types of art is the fact that it is independent from visual references in the real world. That’s it. All other elements and principles remain intact.
When we open ourselves up to a work of art, we open ourselves to a deeper understanding of art, ourselves, and the artist behind the work.