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How to View and Understand Abstract Art: Part 2

Welcome back!

Are you ready for more tips and tricks to appreciating abstract art? In part one we talked about the basics of abstract art and some of the misconceptions that can surround this style of painting. We also talked about some of the mental blocks that people can have when viewing art, and at the end of that post (if you haven’t read it already, you can do that here!) I gave you all a little challenge; how many of you took me up on it? Today we’re looking closer at the style of abstract art that my own most closely resembles; abstract expressionism, and how to enjoy it. Are you ready?

Abstract expressionism took off after WWII, and is characterized by non-objective imagery that appears full of emotion and meaning. Some expressionist artists disagree that their paintings are abstract at all, but rather primal images dredged up from the subconscious, which do not solely express emotion, but that speak to universal truths regarding the human condition.

"We felt the moral crisis of a world in shambles, a world destroyed by a great depression and a fierce World War, and it was impossible at that time to paint the kind of paintings that we were doing—flowers, reclining nudes, and people playing the cello."
-Barnett Newman

Although the themes in this style of paintings can be a little more robust and esoteric than a lovely rendering of your favorite lake, viewing expressionist art is as natural as breathing, because these works speak to the human connection we all share; so unless you’re an alien from Mars, you can’t get this wrong!

original abstract art, black and gold
"A Simple Conversation"- Kenyatta Harden

One of the things I love about this style of art is that it allows me to connect deeply with my intuition, and I want everyone who views my art to have the same freedom to interpret what feels right to them. This freedom of expression, allows me to use my imagination to translate already intangible thoughts and emotions onto a canvas, and encourages a viewer to connect to my personal experience through the lens of their own. Once I share a piece of art, it is no longer about me, but it starts a new journey in the hearts and minds of those who will see it. I love this unknown factor called audience participation, and always appreciate the brave people who take time to let me know how my art looked through their eyes.

I’m naturally a fairly reserved and private person, but when I’m painting, I can share parts of my story without censoring myself, in the hopes that at least one other person will be able to connect to what I feel, and that alone makes the whole process that more exciting. I imagine it’s the same for most artists of any genre, they create in order to express themselves, and to help others do the same.

“You can’t look at abstract art without thinking.”
– Patricia Cole-Ferullo

I love this quote by Patricia Cole-Ferullo, and I couldn’t agree more with her statement. If you want to fully appreciate any piece of art, there is thought required. You must allow yourself to think in the moment, and to process what your eyes are experiencing. Once you chose to engage with the art, you’ve already begin to understand it! As a bonus, many artists will give you a helping hand in order to share their work effectively, if the context, theme, or process is key to a deeper appreciation of their artwork, a creator may add clues by way of the description notes or caption of the piece when it is presented. These notes are meant to provide more background, but usually won’t give more than that much away. A title probably won’t, and really doesn’t need to, explain the piece and it may also highlight the artist’s point of view (is it a whimsical title, does it seem to match the mood of the painting, or is it untitled all together?). My advice to you is to not get hung up on the titles of pieces, but to notice them as another detail of the artwork.

As a final note, abstract expressionism is a sort of freedom from boxes and regulations, so don’t get caught up in the semantics and trying to sound cool or like a pro. Speaking as an artist, sometimes I don’t know why I painted a particular piece until several months after I’ve released it, but I felt good while painting and wanted to share that experience with I did!

(This is the point when you take a deep breath through the nose, out the mouth, and accept that there's no magic formula here.)

I feel confident saying that any artist is simply thankful that you’re taking the time to view their work, and doesn't expect you to write a dissertation on their work and why it was any certain way. Yes, there are professionals in the world who make their livings by analyzing artwork, but at the end of the day, you decide what is good and what you like, and no one can tell you differently. Listen, if you see a unicorn riding a bullfrog in my paintings, I think that's amazing! I’m just so glad to be able to share a bit of my story with you through this medium, and that a piece of it connected with you.

With all that said, I hope you find more time to enjoy art and find a style that speaks to you.

Happy viewing,


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