Describing a piece of art as 'abstract' is a default phrase used by many people. Abstract art, like any movement of art, is easy to explain and appreciate once you know how.

Abstract Canvas by Tanus Azevedo
Abstract Canvas by Tanus Azevedo

What is abstract art?

Abstract art is the exact opposite statement of the classic masterpieces of old like Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling. Where in previous centuries we sought to buy paintings that were particularly realistic, detailed or mathematically precise, we now look to be engaged in different ways.

Abstract art is non-representational, or in other words, it does not try to look like something. We see the gradual progression to abstract art from the impressionists onward that gives us clues as to how the genre came about.

The great artists of the impressionist period created a new way of painting by capturing the essence of a scene through depicting the light rather than conveying it as accurately as possible. Later movements like post-impressionism and fauvism build on this principal and introduce new colour combinations as a main focus.

We then arrive at cubism where lines, colours and textures are used as the main subjects of the paintings. Looking at the work of influential cubists like Albert Gleizes and George Barque it's easy to see the turning point where reality was no longer the major concern in creating powerful art. It was during cubism that we began to welcome in the concept of creating work entirely independent of objects. Abstract art had arrived.

 

Piet Mondrian - Composition with Red, Yellow, and Blue (1927)

There are many different types of abstract art from geometric to figurative. Piet Mondrian is one of the most notable abstract artists to use geometric shapes and lines. This type of abstract art has the most notable link to cubism with its broken pieces of geometric designs. The most famous of Mondrian's work is 'Composition with Red, Yellow, and Blue (1927)'.

Angular Abstract by Colin Miles
Angular Abstract by Colin Miles

Fluid abstract art –often noted to be like painting's answer to dance – is the sub genre of some of the most globally recognised works of art, featuring artists such as Wassily Kandinsky and Jacskon Pollock.

Figurative abstract art is all about emotions, sounds and experiences. All three of these branches of abstraction hold one thing in common: they are all large simplifications of reality and how we see the world around us. Taking a step back from representation allowed these artists to create very stimulating and moving works with their abstract gestures.

The Second World War led to many famous artists fleeing Europe and moving to America, many of who settled in New York. This dense concentration of abstract artists in new surroundings during World War II brought about the genre of abstract expressionism. The subject of much of this genre was expressing inner turmoil, troubles and horrors of war.

Blue Abstract Hint of Yellow by Jane Bainbridge
Blue Abstract Hint of Yellow by Jane Bainbridge

Abstract art is still a popular genre in the 21st century. The dynamic of our current century has often been described as 'anything goes and everything goes' in terms of styles of art for galleries and exhibitions. We currently have several genres all happening at the same time from digital art to graffiti and, of course, abstraction. Have a look at some of the abstract work from our artists on our online gallery!

How to appreciate abstract art

Here are a few tips on how to approach a piece of abstract art in a gallery and enjoy it. Too often we hear phrases like, 'my eight year old could do that', and 'they paid how much?!'. Follow these instructions and discover a whole new way of looking at paintings:

 

    1. Don't try and figure out what it looks like. The first thing we instantly do when confronted with disorder and chaos is create some structure and order – we're programmed to do it. Abstract art is turning away from this, so enjoy the freedom of not having to identify the object and allow shapes and patterns to naturally emerge to you the longer you gaze at the work.

Water Lilies by Cyndy Cmyth
Water Lilies by Cyndy Cmyth

    2. Think about the emotions it evokes. There have long been studies into the psychology of colours and certain shapes proving we do respond in different ways. Allow this to happen when looking at a piece of abstract art. Does that little dash of vermillion on the top right make you feel happy? Do these very expressive brush strokes overwhelm you? Are these neat lines extremely satisfying?

ICEBERG ABSTRACT by Alena Shymchonak
ICEBERG ABSTRACT by Alena Shymchonak

    3. Think about the title the artist has chosen for their work. Does this allow you to experience it in a new light? Have you ever seen their chosen title represented in this way?

Energy (Diptych) by Michael Craig Barritt
Energy (Diptych) by Michael Craig Barritt

Don't forget to take a look at our online gallery and find some great works of abstract art for your own home.

 Image credits:

By Piet Mondrian - http://www.gemeentemuseum.nl/collection/item/6496 http://www.lifeproof.fr/mon_weblog/2011/01/piet-mondrian-lartiste-qui-aimait-peindre-les-arbres-by-stefania.html, Public Domain, Link