What Is Abstract Art?

Written by Nicole Nicholas


Posted on December 17 2022

Do you remember the last piece of art that truly captivated you?

What was it about that particular piece that stood out?

Was it the subject matter, the colors, the composition? Why exactly did you like it? 

Though we might try to guess, the truth is that we don't always know the real reasons why we gravitate towards certain types of art. Art tends to be very subjective. You might personally find that you absolutely love one piece of art, while at the same time, another person might come along who absolutely cringes at the thought of hanging that same piece on their wall.

Couch with abstract paint hovering above it

The bottom line is, we’re all different, and when we like something, even though we might not know why we like it, all we know is that we do. The actual reasons why, tend to be left to our assumptions and typically have more to do with our subconscious views of ‘beauty’ than anything we might be consciously aware of.

This is especially true with abstract art.

Abstract art is considered to be the most subjective type of art because it isn’t meant to represent anything ‘real’ that exists in the physical world; it’s purely there to express the emotions or imagination of the artist who created it.

For this reason, looking at it requires a leap into the unknown - a temporary ‘halt’ in seeing the everyday world through our eyes and instead, letting our minds take us on a journey into something deeper. Like viewing a "visual language" that needs to be interpreted using emotion instead of only seeing what's there in physical form.

Regardless of how you view it or what you see, one thing is for sure, abstract art has become one of the most sought-after styles of art that exists today. From gracing the covers of high-end magazines to adorning the walls of the rich and famous, its growing popularity among mainstream media has caused more and more interest and intrigue than ever before.

Having said that, this article is here to give you a foundation of knowledge on everything you might want to know about abstract art. I hope you enjoy it!

In this article we’ll explore:

1) What is abstract art?

2) A brief history; where does abstract art come from?

3) Some of the most popular styles of abstract art out there today.

4) Well known abstract artists from history

5) What makes abstract art so powerful?

6) Some great resources for learning more about abstract art.

7) And finally, an FAQ section to answer some of the most common questions people have about this art form.

Let's get started!

What Is Abstract Art

On Wikipedia, abstract art is defined as follows:

"Abstract art is visual art that does not represent objects or scenes directly, but rather attempts to convey an idea or mood."

So essentially, abstract art is art that doesn't depict anything realistic. It's just pure creativity and imagination.

It can be portrayed in anything from a painting to a sculpture to a drawing to a collage. The only requirement is that it should have nothing to do with reality; it should have no 'recognizable objects'. The artist's goal is to create something that represents his/her own interpretation of the world around them, via their imagination or their 'inner eye'.

A Brief History; Where Does Abstract Art Come From?

Image of a turquoise and black abstract painting

The first known examples of abstract art date back to ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. These early works were made using simple geometric shapes and symbols. They were used to represent religious concepts like the sun god Ra, the moon goddess Hathor, and the Egyptian pharaohs.

During the Renaissance period, many European painters began experimenting with new ways of expressing their ideas through painting. Artists like Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Botticelli, Titian, and others all explored abstract art during this time.

During the 19th century, many American artists became interested in using abstraction in art. In fact, one of the earliest movements in modern art was called "American Impressionism." Many of these artists included John Singer Sargent, Winslow Homer, Childe Hassam, Mary Cassatt, and other well-known names.

Since then, abstract art has gained much momentum and continues to be one of the most popular styles of art seen around the world today.

Popular Styles Of Abstract Art

Today, there are many different types of abstract art that exist. Each type has its own unique characteristics and appeal. Here are some of the most popular ones:

1) Geometric Abstraction

Geometric abstraction is one of the most common types of abstract art. This style focuses on creating patterns and designs based on geometric forms. Common forms include circles, squares, triangles, rectangles, hexagons, octagons, etc. Famous artists such as Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso are considered masters of geometric abstraction. It's kind of like a 'language of shapes' expressed artistically.

2) Minimalist Abstraction

Minimalist art is another very popular style of abstract art. This type of art often uses a limited color palette and minimalistic subject matter. A good example of minimalist art would be a black and white photograph. Famous artists such as Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin, and Lee Krasner are considered big names in this form of artistic expression.

3) Optical Art

Optical Art (Op Art for short) is a style of abstract art that originated in the 1950s. It involves the use of optical illusions to produce images that look like they're moving when viewed at certain angles. Famous artists include: Richard Anuszkiewicz, Bridget Riley, Victor Vasarely, and Meret Oppenheim.

4) Color Field Painting

Color field paintings are also considered a type of abstract art. They involve the use of bright colors and bold strokes to create a sense of movement and energy. Some famous color field painters who have created beautiful pieces throughout history include: Franz Marc, Paul Cezanne, Vincent van Gogh, and Claude Monet.

5) Landscape Abstraction

Landscape abstraction is similar to landscape painting. However, instead of depicting precise, realistic landscapes with exact detail, its elements are more loosely defined and can stray from the realistic nature you'd see in something like a photograph. The most notable artists in history who worked in this style are Georgia O'Keeffe, Edward Hopper, and Andrew Wyeth.

6) Still Life Abstraction

Still life abstractions are usually created by placing objects together in a way that makes them appear to be alive. Artists known for working in this style include: Edgar Degas, Pierre Bonnard, and Mary Cassatt.

7) Collage

Collages are pieces of paper or fabric that are cut up, then put together and arranged in a specific pattern. Individual artists in history include: Salvador Dalí, Andy Warhol, and Jean Dubuffet.

8) Surrealism

Surrealism is an artistic movement that started in France in the 1920s. It's characterized by dreamlike imagery and surrealistic elements, typically using a juxtaposition of images to convey something. Many well-known surrealists include Salvador Dali, René Magritte, Max Ernst, and Yves Tanguy.

9) Conceptual Art

Conceptual art is a broad term for any kind of art that deals with concepts rather than literal representations of visible reality. For instance, conceptual art might focus on social issues, political views, philosophical beliefs, or anything else that relates to what we consider to be important in our lives. Some of the big names in this field have been Joseph Beuys, John Cage, and Robert Morris.

10) Installation Art

Installation art is a type of art where the artist creates a work of art that requires interaction with the viewer. The artwork itself may not even be visible until someone interacts with it. Some notable artists in this field include Sol LeWitt, Christo, and Jenny Holzer.

11) Pattern Abstraction

Pattern abstraction is a style of abstract painting that involves using repetitive patterns to create a sense of harmony and balance. Famous artists include Wassily Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian.

12) Expressive Abstraction

Expressive abstraction is a style of art that allows the artist to express themselves through their work. In this case, the artist does not have to follow any rules or guidelines. Top artists throughout history include Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko.

13) Abstract Expressionism

Abstract expressionism is a style of modern art that was developed during the 1940s and 50s. It's characterized as being spontaneous and emotional, with a focus on the emotional response of the viewer. The goal was to create a direct connection between the viewer and the work of art. Helen Frankenthaler, Franz Kline, Jackson Pollack, Adolph Gottlieb, Lee Krasner, Willem de Koons, and other famous artists have been associated with this style.

15) Neo-expressionism

Neo-expressionism is a style of abstract expressionism that evolved after World War II. It focused less on the emotionality of the piece and more so on the composition of the image. Big name artists throughout history include Franz Kline, Joan Mitchell, and Agnes Martin.

16) Fauvism

Fauvism is another style of abstract art that originated in France in the early 1900 s. It was inspired by the works of Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. Fauvists used bright colors and strong lines to convey their feelings. They were also influenced by the natural beauty of French landscapes. Some of the top Fauvists throughout history include André Derain, Maurice de Vlaminck, Raoul Dufy, and Pierre Bonnard.

17) Postmodernism

Postmodernism is a style of abstract artwork that developed in the 1970s. Postmodernists rejected the idea of objective truth and embraced subjectivity. They believed that no two people could ever see things exactly alike. Famous postmodernists include Jean Michel Basquiat, James Rosenquist, Ellsworth Kelly, and Richard Serra.

18) Non objective art

Non objective art is a form of abstract art that doesn't try to represent real world objects. Instead, it focuses on ideas, emotions, and personal experiences. Some famous non objective artists include Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Cy Twombly, and Andy Warhol.

19) Cubism

Cubism is an abstract art movement that originated in Europe around 1911. European artists like Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso explored different shapes, angles, sizes, and movements of forms in order to reinterpret the traditional representation of reality. Other cubist artists include Juan Gris, Albert Gleizes, and Marie Laurencin.

20) Action Painting

Action painting is a type of abstract expressionism that emphasizes physical action over still life subjects. Artists use paint as a means for creating images from their own imagination. This can be done in many ways such as pouring, throwing, drawing, or even dancing. Notable action painters include Jackson Pollock, Jean Dubuffet, and Niki de Saint Phalle.

Well-Known Abstract Artists In History

Helen Frankenthaler
Jackson Pollock
Franz Kline
Willem De Kooning
Mark Rothko
Hilma af Klint
Robert Motherwell
Lee Krasner
Vincent van Gogh
Andy Warhol
Henri Matisse
Paul Klee
Pablo Picasso
Theo Van Doesburg
Claude Monet
Zao Wou-Ki
Kazimir Malevich
Jean Arp
Jean Dubuffet
Karel Appel
Barnett Newman
Piet Mondrian

And many others...

What Makes Abstract Art So Powerful?

Image of a red, cream, white and black abstract painting

Abstract art is a powerful form of expression. It has the ability to take something unseen from the depths of an artist's soul, and make it tangible. When you look at an abstract painting, you are seeing a literal representation of the artist's rawest thoughts, ideas and emotions. This makes abstract art one of the most expressive art forms out there.

Seeing this kind of expression, then noticing how you react to it can give you a glimpse into yourself, and can force you to look at your own perceptions of reality. You start thinking about how you perceive the world and everything around you, which ultimately leads to helping you understand yourself better.

For me, abstract art is freedom. I create it, so in doing so, there are no boundaries, just imagination and creation - no rules!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the meaning and necessity of abstract art?

The purpose of abstract art is to make us think. It forces us to question our perception of reality and what we know to be true. We may find ourselves questioning our beliefs, and even our very existence, depending on the abstract style we're looking at and how it speaks to us.

Why do some people like abstract art while others don't?

Some people dislike abstract art because they feel it doesn't have enough literal "meaning" to it. Others don't like it because they feel it's too difficult to understand. If you really want to get to the heart of why someone dislikes abstract art, ask them what it is they're looking for when they view it. If they say they're looking for meaning or understanding, then perhaps they need to learn to appreciate abstract art for what it is, instead of trying to find something in it that purposely wasn’t put there.

What does abstract art look like?

Abstract art is any work of art that uses shapes, patterns, color and/or line as the primary means of conveying a message. The term "abstract" comes from the Latin word abstrahere, which means "to draw away". In other words, it's an artistic style that draws attention away from the physical objects depicted on canvas, and focuses instead on the emotional experience viewers have when viewing the piece.

Does abstract art really mean anything?

Yes, it does. It means whatever you want it to mean. It's up to you to decide what that is.

Is abstract art really art?

Yes, absolutely it is. Abstract art is simply a way of expressing oneself through visual mediums. It allows artists to freely express what's inside of them through various forms, turning their ideas into unique visual realities.

How did abstract art begin?

It began with artists who wanted to express themselves more freely than was possible using traditional methods. They were inspired by the world around them, and wanted to capture their feelings and emotions through their artwork.

Who created abstract art?

While it's difficult to nail down one single artist who created abstract art, there are many famous artists throughout history who have been known to create abstract works. Some of the most notable ones include:

Van Gogh

How can I become good at abstract art?

There are many ways to become good at abstract art. One of the best ways is to practice. Practice drawing, practice different techniques and styles, and experiment with new media. Another great way to improve your skills is to attend classes. Classes will help you develop your artistic abilities and teach you new techniques.

When creating, I would suggest attempting to remove all reference to the real world, and replace that with something else - whatever comes to your mind that isn't a literal 'thing' that exists in the world. Start by interpreting your feelings, memories, etc. into an image. Then try to convey those feelings onto paper. You might also experiment with different materials such as clay, paint, ink, pencil, charcoal, pastels, etc.

What is the best way to understand abstract art?

The best way is to try and see how it differs from realism. Realism is about representing things accurately, whereas abstraction is about making an image that has no resemblance to the original object.

Can abstract art ever be realistic?

Absolutely. There are many examples of abstract art that are quite realistic. For example, there is a painting by Pablo Picasso that depicts a woman holding a baby. It is considered abstract, just a different form than you might not normally think of.

What is the difference between abstract art and modern or contemporary art?

Modern art is usually defined as art that was made between 1880-1960. Contemporary art is usually defined as art that was made within the last 50 years or so, generally where the Contemporary Artist is still alive. Modern art came before contemporary art.

Abstract art on the other hand doesn't necessarily follow the same timeline rules. Its defining characteristics are that it is often thought of as being less focused on technique or subject matter, and instead, is more focused on the emotional experience of the artist/viewer.

Does abstract art always have a meaning?

It depends. Abstract art is meant to be interpreted by the viewer, and there’s no real way to know the full depth of why an artist created each aspect of the art piece they created. They may have meant to represent something that gets lost on some viewers but is caught by others, whereas some viewers may find meaning in certain aspects of the piece that were never intended to be there by the artist. All meaning is based on perspective.

What are the indicators that abstract art is actually good?

Abstract art is meant to evoke certain feelings in the viewer, so if you find yourself thinking "this looks like a bunch of random shapes/brush strokes", then chances are you won't enjoy it. However, if you're looking for something that makes you feel a certain emotion, like calm, peaceful, happy, or even sad, then abstract art can definitely do the trick.


Abstract Art on Wikipedia - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abstract_art

What Does the Brain Tell us About Abstract Art? - ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

 Abstract Artists Throughout History - Art In Context - artincontext.org/abstract-artists/

Google's Top Abstract Art Search Results - google.com

View the Nicole Nicholas Art Abstract Painting Gallery

I hope you enjoyed this article. As an abstract artist, I like to bring a combination of all the styles mentioned above into my abstract paintings. Check out my art gallery for more information.

Thanks for reading!