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How to Interpret Abstract Art

Things to consider when looking at or creating abstract art.

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Abstract Art
Image: © Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc

One of the most common reactions to abstract art is along the lines of "My six-year-old could've done that". And the usual response by artist is to say the person lacks the mental ability to appreciate abstract art.

For a piece of abstract art is to have significance for anyone other than the artist, it needs to have something that'll retain the viewer's attention, draw them in, keep them looking, and generate an emotional response.

As a viewer of abstract paintings, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I trying to figure out what it looks like or represents rather than allowing something to emerge from what I see in front of me?
  • What are the elements, colors, and textures of the painting?
  • How do these interact with each other?
  • What emotions do the painting evoke?
  • What is the title of the painting and how is this influencing what I see?
  • Have I allowed enough time to make a connection with painting?

As an artist creating abstract paintings, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I simply want my abstract painting to be beautiful?
  • Do I intend this abstract painting to convey something specific to the viewer?
  • Do I want people to extract their own meaning from it?
  • What in the abstract painting is going to do this?
  • How do the elements interact?
  • Do I want to guide the viewer's interpretation with my choice of title?
  • Do I want to write a statement to accompany the painting explaining how I created it, what my thoughts were while I made it, or what I see it conveying?
  • Does it matter to me if they don't "get it"?

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