What makes a painting abstract?

Abstract painting is one of the purest forms of expression, allowing the artist to communicate freely with colour, shape, texture and more without the constraints of objective reality. However, to truly understand what makes a painting abstract, it is essential to define abstract art as a movement. Abstract art can be defined as work that does not attempt to depict visual reality accurately. Instead, it uses colours, forms, gestural marks and shapes to create this effect.

What is an abstract painting?

Abstract painting can be traced back to the 12th century but, in its strictest sense, originated towards the end of the 19th century. During this period, Romanticism pushed new ideas to the forefront of the art world that denied classicism’s insistence on pure imitation and idealisation through painting. Instead, the movement fought for imagination and the unconscious mind as integral creative elements in producing art. Artists during this time felt a distinct need to create art of this nature which was representative of the fundamental changes taking place in society, from technology to science and philosophy. The realism noted in traditional paintings no longer appealed. With its strict emphasis on realistic perspectives, colour and lighting, all creativity and artistic freedom was removed to create the most accurate depiction.

Once this shift towards abstract painting began, artists created new artwork that allowed objects, figures and landscapes to be simplified or arranged in a way that abstracts visual reality. Artists could be free to use their imagination through gestural marks, geometric shapes, lines or colours that had no source of reference in visual reality. It is this freedom of expression with these key artistic elements that make a painting truly abstract.

What makes a ‘good’ abstract painting?

To quote Abstract Expressionist painter Arshile Gorky ‘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.’ What you should be looking for in an abstract painting is precisely what your mind allows you to see, the emotions it evokes within you and the places your mind wanders. Abstract paintings will enable you to create your own reality and appoint your own meaning to the piece, creating an intensely personal relationship with the art. Art is subjective, and abstract painting allows you to find a unique sense of wonder and beauty in a piece that only you can see.

Abstraction in any artwork is rooted in the freedom and intuition of the artist, allowing them to use their imagination and go beyond the physical world to translate a new depth and emotion onto a canvas. Viewers can free their minds from visual reality and connect with the artist’s intent behind the piece. Instead of analysing every accurate detail in a traditional painting, abstract painting allows the artist to trust their unconscious intuition to create something entirely new and beautiful.

What are the main elements of abstract art?

Abstract art has one main feature, which is that it is a non-representational practice which is any artwork that embraces that departure from traditional accurate representation, whether it is wholly or partially. Abstract art, particularly abstract paintings, can vary in abstraction; for instance, geometric and lyrical abstraction would be described as total abstraction. In contrast, figurative art and realistic art can be characterised as partially abstracted. However, regardless of how abstracted the piece is, all abstract artists use the six elements of art, their memory and intuition to create artwork that demonstrates how not only art is subjective but also our reality. We each see the world differently, which is captured in the very essence of abstract paintings.

It is easy to see periods of the 1900s as the peak of abstract art, but it is clear that abstract paintings are transcendent and have held their place in contemporary art throughout the 20th and 21st century. The uniqueness and versatility of abstract art mean we are still living in its ‘golden age’, and it is evident that it is a movement that will continue to thrive and hold value in contemporary culture for decades to come.

Abstract Art by Toni Thornton Art

Toni Thornton Art proudly offers a range of abstract paintings and limited edition giclee abstract canvas prints. If you are interested in exploring the abstract collections available, you can visit our dedicated page here. For any other questions or enquiries, please feel free to get in touch today via the form on the contact page or contact the artist directly on 01977 809048. Toni Thornton Art is more than happy to assist you in finding the perfect abstract art print to complete your space.


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