Abstract Painting – Abstract … What does the Word Mean?

Webster defines abstract as: a.considered apart from a particular instance, b.expressing a quality apart from the object or c. having only intrinsic form with little or no pictorial representation. In other words; taking an object and focusing on its core fundamentalness. All three definitions very easily fit abstract painting in showing, telling, drawing and painting the very essence of the object without actually depicting the object itself.

How does an abstract painter arrive at an abstract design? Many stated that they started with a representational motif, that the motif was something readily identifiable. Then they dissected the motif so to speak, looking for the bare bones, the very essence of the object. They expressed this essence with colorful shapes, some beautiful, some drab, and some just plain ugly.

In any type of painting the artist is making a statement. It's easy to say pretty pink flowers in a representational painting. What the abstract artist has to say must be said with his / her simple means; brush marks, color and interesting shapes. Also, since color is arbitrary, color is at the artist's whim, and may or may not be pretty and has nothing to do with the painting's success.

To make a meaningful statement without a recognizable subject is daunting. It's not a matter of simply looking and drawing. He / she must use all their wiles to engage us in dialog with their art, being limited, or we should say, unlimited, with unrecognizable shapes and unrelated (to the object) color. The artist must interest and speak to the viewer through form and color.

A weak, wishy washy, pretty pink flower painting says, "Weak, wishy wasy pretty pink flowers!" Bright, bold colors, without form and substance in an abstract painting says, "No form and no substance!" Neither painting is successful.

So ….. here we stand in front of the piece of art, having no understanding of abstract art, its purpose and intent. We would like to respond but we are without a clue. So, we hesitate in front of the art work, we do not know what to say, we do not respond to the color or design, so, we walk away saying, "that artist must be nuts! " And wondering what the painting was all about. What was its purpose? Was it good art or not?

There are some people who are of the opinion that a painting must be representative to be good art. And if they can not see every hair on the head and every leaf on the tree, then the art is not good. That simply is not true. You may prefer the see every hair but that is not necessarily an indication of good art.

What guidelines do we have in judging abstract paintings merits? The guidelines that representational painters must follow are the same for the abstract painter. The work must have readable values, color harmony and domination, repetition with variety in shapes, colors and lines, all that pertains to good art must also be in abstract art.

A collection of wild colors and shapes does not always add up to good art in abstraction or representational art. A good abstract can be more difficult to pull off than representational art because the artist is relying on his imagination and intuition to make something meaningful and of value. (not necessarily monetary value)

In trying to understand abstract (non-representational) art, approach it with the idea in mind to simply appreciate what is before you. Sometimes the title will give us a clue as to what the painting is about. That helps. Then look and take note of how it affects you.

Does the color speak to you? Are you lifted up or cast down by the color? You will have some reaction to a piece of art work, it will move you in some way, sometimes not much, perhaps a great deal. Identify what it is. Good art, whether abstract or representative, sets a mood, tells a story, however subtle, intrigues and interests the viewer, and as such, each painting must be appreciated on its own merits.