What is Abstract Painting?

So where to start, I create abstract paintings.  That sounds straight forward enough until you try to explain what they are about and how they were made.

When you paint a landscape for example, you are attempting to create a representation of what is in front of you.  The finished work gives the viewer an image of a landscape full of things they instantly recognise trees, sky and so on.  Even if the viewer does not know the particular place the painting is depicting, they still understand what it is and can decide if they think it is a good representation of a landscape or not.  There is nothing recognisable to focus on in an abstract, therefore when you view or paint an abstract painting a different approach is required.

Writing about abstracts is a bit like writing about music, it is difficult to put it precisely into words how it works and why we like it.  I think the best way to view or paint an  abstract painting, is to use the same part of our brain that we use when we listen to music.  Again this is not easy to do, but well worth the effort when you can do it.

Abstracts use the interaction between colour, line and shape to put the painting together (similar to composition in representational work).  Looking at an abstract painting is more about how it makes you feel and what attracts your attention, be it the colours, the shapes or both.  The painting has to feel balanced, all the individual parts of the painting need to gel together.  For me a good abstract painting draws you in and the more you look at it the more you see.

We are programmed to look for recognisable images in paintings even when they are not there, also no matter what we are looking at everyone sees things slightly differently.  This is very apparent when you listen to different people talk about what they see when they look at the same abstract painting.  From my own experience, I often find that when people look at my work they see things that other people do not see.

Painting an abstract is not easy, you have to undo all your ideas about how you would normally create a painting.  I begin a painting by trying not to ‘think’ to much about exactly what I am doing, allowing the painting to develop as much as possible by itself.  Even when I have a preconceived idea it rarely ends up there, each painting is an adventure into the unknown, which can be scary and exciting at the same time.  Once I have made that first mark it feeds into the next and so on, the same applies with colour.  I personally avoid straight lines (me rebelling against my engineering background!) it helps me to keep the painting feeling freer.

When I first started painting abstracts the hardest part was knowing when to stop, often adding a bit more and ruining what I already had.  It is difficult to stop especially when you are happy with one part of the painting and not so much with another part, it is easy to mess it up.

Regardless of what you are painting some paintings are more successful than others and some just do not work, painting abstracts is no different.  As with any style of painting the more you practice the better you get.   I learn something from every painting that I do even the ones that fail (more so sometimes).

Giving an abstract painting a title is another puzzle do you or don’t you?  I think it is down to the artist, I thought about this a lot when I first started painting and decided that I would give my paintings titles.  There are several reasons behind this decision.  An interesting title can add another layer to the work and  may even help to give the viewer a way into the painting.  Therefore going back to what I was saying about the link between abstract paintings and music, I decided to title my paintings using bits of song lyrics that I feel relate to each individual painting.

August 2021:

Update on my painting titles I have recently decided to stop using bits of song lyrics (I have used all the best ones) and create my own titles.

Hopefully this all makes sense…

4 thoughts on “What is Abstract Painting?

  1. Painting time has been hard to come by lately — several sick family members — and now the holidays are quickly approaching. I will definitely be doing some abstract painting after the first of the year. I’m looking forward to it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent post! I like the comparisons you drew between art and music, and you’ve really helped me get a better grasp on how to approach abstract art — both as a viewer and as an artist. I’m glad you’re putting titles on your art. That was a question I had when I first dabbled with abstract painting. I have a post on my blog (Yes, But Is it Art?) which includes the question about whether or not an abstract should have a title. At the time I wrote it, I thought maybe abstract art shouldn’t be given a title. After listening to the judge at a recent art show, though, I learned how very important it is that we give titles to our artworks. As you pointed out, this can add to the viewer’s understanding. Much of my self-taught art study presently involves learning principles of pure design. Along with the thoughts you’ve shared her, I think I might be able to use what I’m learning now to have fun playing with abstract paintings again. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts!

    Liked by 1 person

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