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Think you don’t get abstract art? Try not to think about it.

Updated: Jun 11, 2019

Old Woman In A Landscape

Are you baffled by abstract art? Do you think that given paint, a brush and a canvas, you could achieve the same results? You’re certainly not alone. While it may be easy to get swept away by the light and shadows of Monet’s Water Lilies, Jackson Pollack’s abstract expressionist works might leave you shaking your head.

Part of the problem in interpreting, and therefore appreciating, abstract art is that you think you need to identify something real in the piece. Not so. Abstract art doesn’t have to have meaning or explanation. It is more about how the artist uses formal elements of design – color, form, texture, line, patterns, composition and process – to evoke a visual, emotional, visceral and or cerebral reaction. What you experience when looking at a piece of abstract art is unique to you. Someone else may look at the same piece and have an entirely different reaction.

Moving from real to abstract

Many of the world’s most celebrated artists, such as Vasily Kandinsky or Piet Modrian, started out painting figurative or representational art, meaning the painting has an identity to something that is real. A painting of a vase looks like a vase. But over time, these artists began producing paintings that became more abstract.

Kandinsky is considered to be the pioneer of abstract art. “He especially believed that color could be separated from all external references and become a subject for art,” writes Time Out in “The 10 best abstract artists of all time.” This theory was fueled by his interest in theosophy, an alternative way of thinking about art and spirituality, which believed that “color had a vibrating spiritual property which could awaken the dormant spirituality within a person,” explains Radford University.

Similarly, Mondrian started out painting realistic landscapes of his native Dutch countryside but over time, as he sought to convey underlying spirituality of nature, his work took on a more abstract direction. Using geometric compositions or primary-based square contained by bold, black perpendicular lines, Mondrian attempted to reveal the dynamic forces that govern nature and the universe.

Take these steps to understand abstract art

To understand and appreciate abstract art, do the following:

Free your mind: To begin analyzing abstract art, you need to first free your mind of other thoughts. Don’t try to understand the artwork immediately. Give it time to see what emotions you experience. Look at the elements and design – the colors, forms and lines and balance, symmetrical or asymmetrical.

Let the artwork raise questions: For example, ask yourself “what does the object on the right say to me,” “how do I feel about the large object that dominates the piece,” “how do all these elements make me feel?”

Consider the artist’s background: Work with what you know about the artist (it helps to get some background on an artist before looking at his/her work) instead of trying to assign meaning to everything. What do you know about his life, philosophy, experiences? The title might give you some insight into the meaning or intent of the painting.

“Old Woman in a Landscape”

To help you appreciate the piece featured in this post, "Old Woman in a Landscape," here are some questions to consider:

· What is your reaction to the picture?

· Does the simplification of form and use of texture add to the effect of an aging person?”

· How does the use of color affect the overall mood of the picture?

· What issues does isolation of the figure raise about aging - separation, abandonment?

· What does the interweaving of the landscape and figure suggest to you? -

returning to where it originated, back to the earth, death?

Don’t feel you need to have a reaction. Not every painting is going to speak to you. But do give a painting some time. Spending a few seconds glancing at a painting will not enable you to begin to understand what an artist is trying to say.

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