How to look at abstract art? Here's a hint!

Posted by Robert Lange on

Abstract art, with its explosion of colors, shapes, and textures, can be a world both captivating and confounding for art lovers. Unlike representational art, where the subject is readily identifiable, abstract art demands a different approach that doesn't come naturally for everyone. But it's okay: art interpreting and appreciating is a skill, too. Try to think of abstract art as an invitation for a deeper engagement, a conversation not with the depicted but the evoked.

We hope this guide equips you with tools for abstract art understanding that will let you actually enjoy this vibrant chaos of abstraction!

How to Understand Abstract Art? Step 1: Shedding Expectations, Embracing Experience

It may sound harsh, but truly, the first step is to shed the burden of interpretation. Want to know how to look at abstract art? You must understand that, unlike representational art, where we seek to identify objects and decipher narratives, abstract art doesn't offer a singular "correct" reading (although traditional art also allows for a lot of different interpretations—it's art, after all). Instead, approach it with an open mind, prepared for an experience rather than an explanation. 

It's often the toughest part. But after you wrap your head around it, the whole process will get easier – we promise!

Step 2: Find Your Connection Through a Personal Journey

Made it this far? Good. It's time for the second tip: engaging your senses. Abstract art speaks in colors, shapes, and even textures. The more you try to understand and feel it, the clearer the whole picture becomes. Let's get into the specifics:

  • Colors. Notice the artist's palette. Are the colors bold and contrasting or muted and harmonious? Do they evoke a sense of energy or tranquility? How do the colors interact with each other – do they clash or create a sense of unity?
  • Shapes and Lines. How do the shapes on the canvas interact? Are they geometric and precise or organic and fluid? Do the lines create a sense of movement or stability?
  • Textures. Is the surface smooth or textured? Does the texture add another dimension to the artwork, or is it purely visual? What can you tell about the artist's brush strokes?
  • Scale and Composition. How does the size of the artwork affect you? Does it feel expansive or intimate? How are the elements arranged on the canvas? Is there a sense of balance or asymmetry? And what about the negative space?

Try to answer the questions above when looking at an abstract painting of your choice. What will it be? Kandinsky's Composition VII? František Kupka's Amorpha, Kazimir Malevich's Black Square? Piet Mondrian Composition No. 10.? Or maybe someone from Robert Lange Studios' Collection?

As you observe the formal elements, allow yourself to connect with the artwork on a personal level. What emotions does it evoke? Does it remind you of anything – a landscape, a feeling, a memory? Don't be afraid to let your imagination wander. It's not only allowed – it's highly recommended!

Keep Dreaming - 24" x 36" oil on panel - Robert Lange

Abstract Art Understanding, Step 3. Context Can Be Your Compass (But Not Your Captain!)

While the beauty of abstract art lies in its open-ended nature, some context can provide a helpful springboard. Research the artist's background, their inspirations, and the broader artistic movement they might be associated with. This can offer insights into the meaning behind their choices. Look at the title, too: while it doesn't dictate your interpretation, it can sometimes offer a subtle hint into the artist's intentions.

Remember, There Are No Wrong Answers! The beauty of abstract art is its subjectivity. There's no single interpretation. Trust your gut, your emotions, and your own unique perspective. If you know the history of art, or at least spent time around art in the past, you'll know your basics. Then, you can go beyond merely looking and feeling: sketch or write to capture your response to the artwork. Discuss and debate while engaging with fellow art lovers! Discussing abstract art can be an enriching experience, as it offers plenty of new perspectives on the artwork. If you'd like, you could also try your hand at creating your own abstract art. This can deepen your understanding of the artist's choices.

You can also broaden your horizons by learning How To Look at Modern Art

How to Look at Abstract Art? A Brief Takeaway

Abstract art is a gateway to a world of emotions, sensations, and ideas. By approaching it with an open mind, a curious spirit, and an active engagement, you'll unlock a completely new (and often unexpected!) understanding. Remember, the journey here is just as important as the destination. The next time you encounter an abstract artwork, take a deep breath, let go of expectations, and allow yourself to be swept away. Just like that.

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