Understanding Abstract Art: Toni Thornton Art’s Ultimate Guide

Abstract Art

Abstract art can be tricky to understand and given that abstract art is a constantly evolving art movement that moves with the ever-changing world, it may sometimes feel as though you can’t keep up. While abstract art is incredibly inspiring to view, you may sometimes feel as though the artwork is overpowering or too stimulating for the brain to make sense of it.

Here at Toni Thornton Art, we recognise that abstract art can sometimes be difficult to understand or interpret. This article is designed to help you in understanding what abstract art is and how we can better appreciate its properties.


What is abstract art?  

By definition, abstract art is a term generally applied to non-representational art which does not objectively depict a visual reality. Instead, abstract art may use shapes, tones, colours, gestural marks, and other artistic measures to achieve its intended effect.

While the concept of abstraction may exist ubiquitously within all art, abstraction is particularly important when it comes to defining abstract art. According to the Tate, ‘abstraction’ is a term that can be applied to art that is based on an object, figure or landscape, where figures have been simplified. Abstract art is not subject to strict rules or regulations; evading classical definition, the possibilities are limitless when it comes to creating beautiful and inspiring abstract artwork.

Abstract art is a multifaceted, multi-media genre that can take on various forms including abstract paintings and prints, sculpture and 3D artwork, photography and design.

Artists such as Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth are perfect examples of contemporary abstract sculptural pioneers, while other artists like Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko opted for the more traditional abstract paintings. Unlike various other art forms, abstract art transcends many boundaries allowing for free expression.



“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


A brief history of abstract artwork

Abstract art is an ever-evolving genre that has been transformed and influenced by several historical movements. In the early 19th century, credited artist Vassily Kandinsky is thought to have pioneered the founding of pure abstraction using new and innovative abstraction techniques within his art.

Artists such as Jackson Pollock, Helen Frankenthaler and Mark Rothko began creating thought-provoking abstract art in the mid-20th century using new abstract techniques.

Today, abstract art has formed an integral part of the contemporary Artscape. Artists such as Toni Thornton are adapting traditional methods of abstraction whilst expressing the tastes of a contemporary and modern viewer.



“Every canvas is a journey all its own” – Helen Frankenthaler

Why is abstract art so popular?

Abstract art is incredibly popular within contemporary society, with abstract art amongst the bestselling artwork styles of this generation. Abstract art not only saturates museum and gallery spaces but also our homes, workspaces and even coffee shops.

Despite technological advancements, the continued attraction of abstract art can be accounted to its ever-evolving and versatile nature; abstract art develops in harmony with the modern times. Abstract art isn’t bound by a certain period and therefore proves timeless within domestic and wider spaces.



How to view abstract art:

The experience of viewing abstract art can not only begin to stimulate the brain but can also leave the viewer feeling inspired and motivated. However, for many of us, the prospect of understanding abstract art can be extremely daunting given the often mysterious and intangible nature of abstract art.

We recognise that abstract art can often leave its viewer feeling unsettled as our ability to attach meaning to artwork is sometimes threatened. Recognising the freedom in abstract art is the first step in understanding it.

Have an open mind

Once we understand the freedom in abstract art, we can begin to appreciate the artwork’s power. Typically, the best piece of advice to consider when viewing abstract art is to allow yourself to let go. In doing so, you can experience the euphoric feelings which abstract art can elicit.

Stop looking at the clock or trying to force meaning within the painting; just let yourself be. From here, consider the sensations you are experiencing and how this experience is motivated by the painting.

Let the painting speak to you

Abstract artwork may attempt to reach out to you in many ways. The power of abstract art is immeasurable, and therefore the artwork may attempt to reach out to you.

Permit yourself to understand the artwork as though it is alive. Feel however the artwork is compelling you to feel and be at the mercy of the artwork. This way, you may experience emotions you didn’t know possible when viewing artwork.

Understand it’s okay to feel nothing

Our bodies respond well to abstract art when we are completely free of any obligation to feel a certain way. However, frustrations may arise if you do so and still don’t achieve your desired emotional response. Recognise that it’s okay to feel nothing and that this is a reaction in itself.


Don’t worry too much about inferring meaning.

When standing in a vast gallery space amongst a sea of spectators nodding their heads, signalling their understanding of the artwork, we may feel obliged to force some pseudo-meaning to the artwork ourselves.

Try to avoid the need to understand the artwork’s meaning and let yourself be free of all obligation. It doesn’t have to be so complicated; the beauty in abstract art is its varied emotional response.


Allow yourself to view it differently each time

When viewing artwork, you might feel an overwhelming sense of connection to the artwork. The next time you view the artwork, you may feel something different, or even nothing at all. Recognise that this is perfectly okay, and all part of the pleasure in experiencing abstract art.


Have your say

With Toni’s original painting books set to reopen at the beginning of 2022, why not experience the magic of abstract artwork yourself by commissioning your own piece?

This way, your artwork will inspire you in ways that are personal to you and your space! For more details, see our article on the benefits of buying abstract art from an independent artist.



Toni Thornton Art

Discover some of the finest abstract artworks on our dedicated limited edition print page here. Similarly, for original abstract artworks, please see our page here. Want more information on our artwork? Please see our blog post on ‘what is giclee art’ here.

For more information on any artwork that we have available, please feel free to email the studio directly at info@tonithorntonart.com where we will be more than happy to help you!


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