How to Appreciate Abstract Art Pt. 1

How to Appreciate Abstract Art Pt. 1

Do you struggle understanding abstract art? 

Have you ever looked at an abstract painting and thought, "A child could paint that!" or "It looks like splatters to me. It doesn't make a bit of sense."?  There are certainly times where these statements may prove to be true. However, I would like to equip you with tools that will help you appreciate and even enjoy abstract art. Let's take a moment to discuss how to get the most from viewing abstract art.  

The definition of abstraction means "to remove from". Abstract art has had the subject removed, therefore it is non-subjective. You may ask, "If there is no subject, then what are we looking for?".  I'm glad you asked. At the end of this article, I'll give you some practical things to look for.

Have you ever listened to an instrumental music score that made you feel something? How about the most recognizable film score, Jaws? That certainly makes me feel something! Maybe you're like me and would prefer the film score to the movie Pride and Prejudice. I'll include the link to both of these below.

Action step - When you have a few minutes, I have a fun exercise for you. Take the time to listen to each of these masterpieces. After each one, simply jot down the feelings or thoughts that each of them brings up for you.


I'm sure you found that without words, these instrumentals stirred something within you. Abstract art is much the same.  Even though the subject is absent, many times they have the ability to bring up memories or evoke feelings in us. 


Four Craftsmen

“Abstraction allows man to see with his mind what he cannot see physically with his eyes… Abstract art enables the artist to perceive beyond the tangible, to extract the infinite out of the finite. It is the emancipation of the mind. It is an exploration into unknown areas.”
– Arshile Gorky


Understanding abstract art doesn't require you to be artsy or highly intelligent.  The opposite is true. The more childlike and imaginative you are, the more you will "get it". An interpretation is not necessary. However, if you have one, it's correct.  The viewer is invited to simply respond honestly to what is on the canvas. 


While I'm creating an abstract piece, I do not use a photo reference. Instead, I feel the freedom to allow my heart guide me. I use discernment to decide what I will add or subtract from the composition. I take my time as layer after layer a depth evolves. I allow the painting to tell me what it needs, while keeping in mind the elements of art. This process is very unique for each artist. It's truly amazing that what I'm feeling in that moment will often come through on the canvas. 

Falling Feathers

As promised, here are a few tools to help you the next time you are staring an abstract in the face:

  •  Leave logic behind and instead look through the eyes of imagination.  Awaken your childlike wonder.
  •  Imagine the scene you are viewing as another world. Is there an energy or a stillness to this world? Is it loud or quiet?
  •  Can you see depth? Do some shapes seem to recede while others come forward? How many layers can you detect?
  • What does your eye focus on first? Does your eye travel around the painting with ease? 
  •  What feelings or thoughts come up, if any, while looking at this painting? Does it remind you of anything familiar? It's okay if you don't feel anything. 
  •  Is there a human quality to this piece? Can you see a variety in brushstrokes, drips and/or scribbles? 
  •  When you stand across the room, does it interest you? How about when you are up close - are there tiny details that keep your attention? 

This is part one of "How to Appreciate Abstract Art". I hope you enjoyed it. Next time, let's go a little deeper on this topic. 



Pride and Prejudice