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What Makes Abstract Art Good or Bad Really?

Georgia O’Keeffe, Nature Forms – Gaspé, 1932 (Georgia O’Keeffe Museum)

While it can be difficult to pinpoint what makes abstract art good or bad, at a base level, good abstract art should resonate with viewers and, ideally, convey some sort of emotion.

In this post we’ll take a look at a couple different pieces of abstract art, breakdown what we think makes it good or bad, and provide you some questions to ask yourself when deciding if an abstract work is good.

Questions to Asked Yourself to Determine if Abstract Art Is Good

  1. Does It Remind You of Something Else? Does the abstract art remind you or resemble other works of art, other art in different mediums like sculpture, film, or even locations, memories, or people?
  2. Does the piece evoke a feeling or mood? Does it bring up a feeling? A memory?
  3. What do you think the artist was feeling or trying to communicate? What do you think the artist was experiencing during its creation? Even if the message isn’t immediately clear, abstract art often reflects the artist’s emotions or ideas. Reflect on what you believe the artist was trying to express.
  4. What attracted you to the painting? Your initial reaction can be telling. Consider what aspect of the piece caught your attention. Was it the color, form, texture, or an overall feeling?
  5. What is the composition of the art? Look at how the various elements like lines, shapes, colors, and textures are arranged. Is there balance, contrast, and movement?
  6. Does the artwork have an element of originality or innovation? Good abstract art often brings something new or different to the table, whether it’s a unique technique, an unusual combination of elements, or a fresh perspective.
  7. Is there a sense of intentionality? Even in the absence of recognizable subjects, good abstract art often has a sense of purpose behind its creation. Look for evidence of deliberate choices and controlled execution.

Finally, if at all possible, I strongly recommend seeing abstract art in person to get the full feel

Analyzing Abstract Art

Vir Heroicus Sublimis, Barnett Newman 1950-1951 (wikimedia commons)

I remember seeing this piece at MoMa (Museum of Modern Art) back in 2017.

Some things I noticed where:

  • How massive it was (when you stand close to it, it feels all enveloping)
  • It almost felt overpowering like I could be sucked into it and live there forever

Again, choosing whether abstract art is good, is highly personable, and you shouldn’t let art critics or others determine your opinions.

Franz Kline (wikimedia commons)

Another piece of abstract art I was able to see at MoMa in New York were some by Franz Kline.

Some things that struck me initially were that:

  • The black felt dark, harsh, and angry (I can almost imagine Kline’s fast, hard motions of smearing the paint)
  • It felt disorderly with thick globs of paint, smears, and drops everywhere
  • Also the size of it surprised me in person as well

Georgia O’Keeffe, Nature Forms 1932 (Georgia O’Keeffe Museum)

While I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing this piece in person, I saw some of O’keeffe’s work in San Diego.

To me this abstract piece:

  • Feels like it could swoop me up like a tornado, and I could get lost in it
  • However, that scary or unnerving feeling is contrasted by the comfort found in the soothing colors and flowing lines

Defining Abstract Art

Abstract art is a genre that challenges the traditional representation of physical objects. It’s known for utilizing colors, shapes, and forms to create compositions independent of visual references from the world. Abstract art does not attempt to accurately depict reality but instead uses a visual language of form to convey a sense or feeling.

Characteristics of Abstract Art

  • Non-representational: It often does not display objects or scenes that are easily recognized.
  • Focus on Form and Color: Artists may emphasize elements such as texture, line, and color over recognizable subject matter.
  • Subjective Interpretation: Viewers might derive their own meanings from the artwork, as it invites individual responses.

Types of Abstract Art

  • Geometric: Characterized by geometric shapes and lines.
  • Emotional: This type often seeks to represent emotional or spiritual themes.

Artists known for abstract art, like Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, have paved the way for the exploration of non-representational forms. They’ve showcased how the absence of clear subjects can nonetheless create impactful and resonant works. As such, abstract art is recognized not for its fidelity to the visible world, but for its ability to communicate beyond it through a visual language that transcends the boundaries of concrete imagery.

Intention and Concept Behind the Artwork

The value of abstract art often lies in the intention of its creator and the conceptual depth they infuse into the work. This section explores the nuances of the artist’s expression and the viewer’s interpretation, which are instrumental in determining the impact of an abstract artwork.

Artist’s Expression

An abstract artist conveys thoughts and emotions through color, shape, and form rather than direct representation. They may aim to manifest inner experiences, societal commentary, or purely aesthetic explorations. For instance, the intended message might be a reflection on social change or a personal emotional journey. It is important to recognize that every stroke and shade on the canvas is a deliberate choice, aiming to generate a specific response or reflection.

Viewer’s Interpretation

The experience of abstract art is not only dictated by the artist but also shaped by the viewer’s perspective. Each individual brings their own experiences and emotions to an artwork, resulting in unique interpretations. Consider, for example, the interpretation of Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings; one viewer might see chaos, while another discerns a complex structure and flow. In this way, the abstract artwork serves as a catalyst for personal contemplation and intellectual engagement.

The Role of Innovation and Originality

In the realm of abstract art, innovation and originality are pivotal. They serve as the backbone that differentiates the impactful from the mundane. Artists who infuse their work with fresh perspectives and distinctive styles not only captivate viewers but also advance the discourse within the art community.

Innovation is the act of introducing something new or performing a creative leap. In abstract art:

  • It involves novel techniques or materials.
  • It can be a unique way of leveraging color, form, and lines.
  • It often includes subverting traditional expectations of art.

Originality, on the other hand, pertains to the uniqueness of the artist’s vision and execution:

  • It embodies the personal imprint of the artist.
  • It is evident when an artwork cannot be easily compared to others.
  • An original work stands out in its conception, shunning imitation.

Both innovation and originality are essential for an abstract artwork to resonate with authenticity. They prompt a viewer’s deeper engagement with the piece, encouraging contemplation and emotional response. A work that lacks these qualities may come across as derivative or uninspiring.

Artists who strike a balance between innovation and originality create pieces that are not just decorative but are also intellectually and emotionally stimulating. These works naturally invite a dialogue, and they thrive on the subjective interpretation they evoke in every viewer.

Impact of Presentation and Curation

The manner in which abstract art is presented and curated plays a crucial role in its reception. Gallery surroundings, lighting, and arrangement significantly enhance or diminish the perceived value of artwork. Consideration of the context in which the artwork is displayed is equally important.

  • Gallery Surroundings: They can either complement the artwork or create a dissonance with the piece’s visual language. The physical space should involve the viewer, giving the abstract art the spatial respect it requires.
  • Lighting: Lighting can alter the artwork’s color and texture perception. It should be tailored to each piece, accentuating important features without creating distracting shadows or reflections.
  • Arrangement: How pieces are arranged affects the narrative and flow. Curators must understand the visual relationship between different artworks, ensuring they converse rather than clash.

When abstract art is well-curated, it allows viewers to engage with the pieces on a deeper level, beyond first impressions. The selection of pieces for an exhibition can reflect thematic or stylistic connections that provide greater insight into the abstract movement or the particular vision of the artists.

Curation is not just about display, but also involves the dissemination of knowledge. Providing background information on the artist and the artwork helps the audience to engage intellectually and emotionally. This might be achieved through:

  • Plaques with artist statements
  • Catalogues or guides that offer interpretations
  • Educational events that provide broader conceptual frameworks

In essence, presentation and curation are vital in shaping the audience’s experience of abstract art—they either open a window to the artist’s intent or barricade it from understanding.

Cultural and Personal Influences on Perception

The perception of abstract art is profoundly shaped by cultural and personal factors. From a cultural standpoint, the collective experiences and values of a society can influence how abstract art is received. Cultures that value tradition and realism may resist the non-representational nature of abstract art. Conversely, societies that embrace innovation and freedom of expression are often more receptive.

Personal influences include an individual’s own experiences, education, and psychological disposition. People with exposure to a wide range of artistic styles may appreciate the radical experimentation that abstract art represents. Moreover, personal preference plays a crucial role; what one individual regards as thought-provoking, another might find non-resonant.

Here are key factors that impact how abstract art is perceived:

  • Artistic Exposure: Frequency and diversity of encounters with art
  • Cultural Background: Prevailing values and norms regarding art
  • Education: Knowledge and understanding of art principles
  • Psychological Disposition: Openness to new experiences and interpretations

Neuroscience studies suggest there is a neurological basis to the appreciation of art, including abstract forms. They indicate that the human brain responds to the visual stimuli of abstract pieces in unique ways that create personal attraction or indifference.

In summary, perceptions of good or bad in abstract art are not universal. They are instead deeply interwoven with cultural narratives and individual sensibilities.

Lastly – Market Dynamics and Collectability

In the realm of abstract art, market dynamics play a critical role in determining what is considered ‘good’ or ‘collectable’. Collectors often view abstract art through the lens of both aesthetic appeal and investment potential.

Several factors influence the collectability of abstract art:

  • Artist Reputation: Well-known artists generally have a higher market value. Their pieces are sought after for their recognized contribution to the field.
  • Rarity and Exclusivity: Limited editions or one-of-a-kind pieces can increase desirability among collectors.
  • Provenance: A well-documented history of the artwork adds to its authenticity and value.
  • Market Trends: The art market is subject to trends. Works that fit the current trend will often be deemed more collectible.
  • Quality of Work: Discerning collectors consider the technique, intention, and execution when collecting abstract art.

Here’s a brief overview of market dynamics:

FactorDescriptionImpact on Collectability
Artist ReputationRecognition and historical importance of the artist’s workPositive
Rarity and ExclusivityUniqueness and availability of the artworkPositive
ProvenanceDocumentation of the artwork’s historyPositive
Market TrendsCurrent demands and styles preferred by the marketVariable
Quality of WorkThe intrinsic properties of the artwork, including technique and skillPositive

Collectors may face challenges in discerning quality in a genre where stylistic expression is highly subjective. Despite this, the potential of abstract art as a component of both cultural significance and financial investment remains a driving force in its collectability.

Abstract Art – Some Final Words

Discerning the quality of abstract art is a pretty nuanced process that hinges on the emotional and intellectual resonance it creates with its viewers.

Throughout this post, we’ve explored some abstract pieces, assessing the feelings they may evoke as well as a set of reflective questions to aid in your own personal evaluation.

Good abstract art is marked by the artist’s authentic intention, its capacity to evoke feelings, and its originality within the historical context. It transcends mere aesthetics, with technique, composition, and presentation shaping its perception and worth.

Whether it’s through structured composition or the suggestion of figures and clear lines, what draws you in—the colors, forms, or textures—can be quite revealing. Look for a sense of intentionality and innovation, and whenever possible, experience the art firsthand to fully appreciate its impact.

Hope this has been insightful and thanks for reading – Zack

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