Comprehending abstract art often challenges the viewer to appreciate it. We’ve all stared at a painting and tilted our head from side to side to make sure we’re seeing the painting the right way. We may smirk, shrug and move on to the next piece without understanding what the artist had in mind. After all, it takes some work and concentration on our part to understand what we’re looking at because abstraction is the result of an artist’s ability to use imagination to call on us to release our reasoning of what is physically seen by creating a new and free interpretation.
The common grievance with abstracts is that a discernable subject is not readily identifiable, thus failing to resonate with the viewer. However, don’t presume that abstract art is nothing more than a series of meaningless doodles. To appreciate abstract art we must move away from the conventional idea of a painting – an image of something or somebody, which in itself is an imitation of the real world. Understanding the idea behind the artwork will help you appreciate an abstract painting for what it actually is – color, surface, shapes and emotions on canvas.
The first step in appreciating abstract art is to determine the general objective of abstract art. Let’s start with defining abstract art: abstract paintings primarily emphasize lines, colors, forms and surfaces in relationship to one another. This means, abstract artists believe that one does not need a definite conventional subject to create art but the colors, lines, geometrical shapes are in themselves the subject.
For the most part, there is more to abstract art than meets the eye. Every artist’s work is influenced by his immediate surroundings, his experiences and his emotions. The complexity for the artist comes from the fact that he needs to reflect this situation onto the canvas effectively so that the final artwork stirs emotions in the viewer.
At the same time the viewer is not expected to understand the artist’s intentions. Unless you can talk with the artist directly it is practically impossible to comprehend his motivation – which, by the way, is true for all kinds of art. The viewer fundamentally needs to stop trying to figure out ‘What’ it is and concentrate on ‘How’ it makes you feel. You have to switch off your right brain (logic thinking) and let the mind wander to see what the painting is communicating to you. This may take some time, but keep staring.
In 1910 modern Russian artist Kandinsky created the first abstract art by accident. The story goes that Kandinsky returned to his studio one evening and in the twilight he saw his unfinished painting propped up on an easel. From the angle he was standing at, combined with the twilight, he saw an arrangement of bright color patches, which he thought was extremely beautiful. This realization that colors can bring out emotions irrespective of content was the beginning of Abstract Art. This mishap became the basis for a profound evolution in Art History. Until that time color was just a medium to portray a subject. With the invention of Abstract art, artists began to use color as the subject itself.
Next time you view an abstract work of art don’t look for figurative objects or tangible meanings – none may exist. The actual subject may be the colorful paint, the crooked line or the triangular shape arranged aesthetically to provide viewing pleasure.