To try and interpret and understand an abstract painting, it helps to have an open mind and wandering imagination.
Let's start with some basic definitions - then we can focus on how to interpret abstract art
Visual art can broadly put into 2 categories:
Representational - recognizable. Clearly derived from real object sources - representing something with strong visual references to the real world eg figures, landscapes, animals. But even representational work is abstracted to some degree - entirely realistic art is elusive
Abstract - exist on a continium - from somewhat realistic, to work that is not based on anything visible from the real world (non-representational). Often expressing the artists emotions, impressions or ideas using shapes, colours, forms and gestural marks.
So again, to try and interpret and understand an abstract painting, it helps to have an open mind and wandering imagination.
Look at the painting without trying to find a meaning or story. See what emotions, sensations or memories come to you. Let your eyes relax & travel around the work without expectation.
Examine the elements & principles of design - colours are often most obvious, but look for line, shapes, value (dark/light) form, space and texture.
What are the colours? are they warm or cool, saturated or more subtle?
What kinds of lines or shapes are used?
Is it visually balanced?
How do these elements create contrast, harmony, movement, rhythm or unity?
Find out more about the artist and the context of the painting.
What was the artists intention, motivation or inspiration?
What was the historical, cultural or social background?
How does this work relate to the artists other works or art movement it belongs to?
Most important, form your own opinion and interpretation. There is no right or wrong answer - have fun with it. An artist will often be interested in your interpretation. Thing about what the painting means to you - how does it make you feel? How do you relate to it and what does it remind you of?
Take our Poll
Content for this article has been written by Mark Humes.