Abstract oil painting

All About Abstract Art

Abstract is one of the most subjective and debated styles of art out there. As an artist, abstract painting can feel like the most relaxed and open-ended approach to take with a brush in hand. However, as an observer, one might feel intrigued, confused, or repulsed by the ambiguity of what you see to try to make sense of the artist’s canvas. Well, in fact, that’s one of the best qualities of abstract art – its value and meaning are completely subjective, and therefore, never right or wrong!

Abstract art appears to have few rules or objectives, leaving both the artist and engaging audience to dance with the unknowns of what each stroke, color, texture, or blank space represents or is ‘supposed to mean.’ But does art always need to ‘mean’ anything? Let’s dive into reasons to love and critique abstract art, the abstract process, as well as inspirational prompts to play with abstract art in your playtential time.

Reasons to Love Abstract Art

RELATED: Painting with Purpose

There are many reasons to love abstract art, though it is certainly no crime if it is not your cup of tea. The non-representational nature of these works engages the painter and the viewer in unbound curiosity and ignites the imagination. More often, abstract comes from a place of free expression, experimentation, and concepts beyond literal translation. Art can present the non-tangibility of emotions, energy, concepts, even subtleties of realism without conveying the ‘obvious.’

“Abstraction allows man to see with his mind what he cannot see physically with his eyes.” 

―Arshile Gorky

The mindset of an abstract painter can lean into the unknowns of what will come of their creative practice. Unlike other styles where one may wish to plan for the subject and texture of their project, abstraction leaves the canvas wide open for experimentation, flow, and presence. Thus, abstract serves the creator fantastic opportunities to cultivate presence and courage in appreciating their creative journey more than the destination or outcome. This is the most common approach to art therapy projects because it emphasizes playful presence and creative expression through somatic exercises.

Oil painting on glass (2015)

The painter and the audience in abstract work engage with such potency of imagination, subjectivity, and personal values that can really serve both to relax or completely forfeit judgment of the piece. As a result, all art will resonate more or less with each person. That is a profound, stress-relieving gift for both artist and audience, for abstract highlights the merit of process and unbound engagement with the piece.

Abstract Energy, Abstract Mind

Taking a meta-view moment here, I invite us to reflect on the energetic nature of the universe. Energy takes so many forms, and indeed itself is such an abstract concept and force within each and everything. As miraculous as we are as human beings, painting is an embodiment that allows for expressing the unique energy alive within each of us. Abstract painting is often named the most expressive style as it aims not to mimic reality nor direct the viewer’s comprehension of or attention to a subject but instead evokes energetic and emotional curiosity.

We as artists can play with mediums, materials, techniques, colors, and textures as mere energetic gestures to manifest our spiritual and emotional states. Pour, spill, spray, stroke, swish, stir, mix, layer… play with your paint, with your materials, and let that exchange of energy be the product. Paint for painting’s sake, adoring the process and admiring the product as it evolves in your playtime with abstract painting.

Painting for Painting’s Sake

Yet, there may be no purer joy than painting for the sake of painting. So whether you already love to paint abstracts or are just beginning to explore the genre, we’ve got a roundup of ideas, techniques, and inspiration to keep you delving into the possibilities.

The Abstract Process

what is abstract art \ Squares with Concentric Circles by Vassily Kandinsky, 1913
Squares with Concentric Circles by Vassily Kandinsky, 1913

The abstract process of painting is one of automatic, spontaneous, and intuitive expression. Painting in the abstract is about relaxing into your confidence. That’s right – trust your unique creative process. Perhaps the most profound difference between abstract composition and other styles of painting is knowing where to start can be the easiest part of the process! Because this style of art is non-representational, planning what to paint is not the essential first step.

Believe that there are no mistakes! What a liberating point of view!

Painting Prompts

While abstract art may not have clear rules, there are techniques to support balance, harmony, and interest in your paintings. Check out these resources:

  • Our Artists Network free downloadable guide to abstract art techniques is an essential starter.
  • Learn about colour symbology. Colours can be subjective in their resonance with people, but there is historical and spiritual significance attributed to certain colours. For instance, the colours of the chakra system relate to colour frequences and correlating mental, emotional, and energetic states.
  • Imagine a word and then a corresponding colour. What colour is nervousness? What colour represents the morning? When you think about your family, your childhood, or your favourite song?
  • Just feel. Let it pour out of you without judgement, without critique. One of the most profound shifts is when the artist sits back to engage with their work as the audience. See what comes up for you.
  1. Connect 10 dots. Lean into your intuition and remember nothing is permanent or forever. Connect each of the dots in a creative way. Leave it like that, or play with colouring in or texturing sections created between your sections.
  2. Change which hand you use. Using your non-dominant hand is a great brain exercise, and inevitably gets you out of your common patterns of ‘doing’. See how it goes!
  3. Alter your canvas or surface. Spin it around. Crumple up the paper. Coffee or tea-stained art paper can add such a delicate and antique-y effect. Try it out!
  4. Use a single colour, and see how creative you can get with texture and negative space.
  5. See our article for expressive art ideas, Planning Your Paintings.

Let me know about your favorite abstract paintings or artists and your abstract journey below! Please share your work and about your process, too!

About the author:

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I am passionate about making the best of life through cherishing relationships, exploring worldly experiences, and cultivating a creative lifestyle of art, music, dance, and fitness. I am a self-taught painter, inspired by the sublimity of nature, consciousness, love and universal transcendence that binds all of humanity and nature, together.

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