What Makes Good Abstract Art?

What Makes Good Abstract Art?

The abstract art revolution transformed the art world to its very core. The modernist movement that steamrolled through the 20th century took the traditional elements of art and threw them out the window.

All of a sudden, new forms sprung up all over the world each with an eclectic style that had its quirks. Instead of lavish portraits, we saw all sorts of different shapes, colour combinations each conveying a unique message. This has made abstract wall art a much-discussed topic both within art critic circles and the general public.

Guernica by Picasso

Source: pablopicasso.org

The Meaning Behind Abstract Art

There is always one element that shines in any abstract art piece: there is always a meaning. It may not be obvious at first especially if all you see is a bunch of distorted colours or strange shapes. It causes you to think about the piece and just what it is trying to convey. 

Take Picasso for example. The master of cubism transcended pop culture with his deliberately fractured pieces that made no sense to the untrained eye. Yet, if you look carefully, there is a whole story behind each piece. For example, his classic 1937 piece Guernica is full of hidden meanings about the brutality of wartime casualties. In this famous black and white abstract art piece, you still see Picasso’s fragmentation of a town yet you can see examples of people’s suffering as the bombing raid is carried out. This painting, which was his depiction of a Nazi bombing campaign on a Spanish village during the Spanish Civil War, is an anti-war painting thanks to the scene of real horror. By diving into the meaning of such pieces, it gives you a much greater appreciation for a skill of an artist and the processes they went through to extract meaning in an unconventional style.

Composition with Red Blue and Yellow

Source: Wikipedia

Consistency of Good Abstract Paintings

It is not just the meaning behind a piece that makes an artist a master of their craft. For someone to truly be considered a great artist, there needs to be a particular consistency throughout all of their works. Having this calling card lets you automatically recognize who a particular piece is by and build a connection to the piece.

Look at the works of the a geometric abstract artist Piet Mondrian. The Dutchman was known for painting pieces that were assembled lines and blocks of colour. However, Mondrian was extremely particular about how he placed all of his lines to form all the different block segments. If you look carefully at several of Mondrian’s pieces, you can see how much attention is paid to the geometry of each piece with no two pieces having the same number of blocks or line thickness.

Whilst each piece may have varied in terms of colour schemes and overall layout, the same characteristics were always there to see. You have the divided lines, the exact rectangle shapes all mixed with just a handful of different colours within the piece. By adding these together, you could tell straight away what was a Mondrian piece and what was a knockoff. It’s this level of consistency that makes an abstract art style stand the test of colour.

Andy Warhol, Marilyn Monroe

Source: The Guardian

Don’t Forget the Colour

If there’s one thing for certain, it’s that a successful abstract art piece needs the right blend of colours to succeed as a significant work. The idea of just slapping random colours together to form an “artwork” is anything but true. Indeed, artists would have taken deliberate choices to focus on the colours that they have used and fused them to bring their creation to life. It is that very intention that helped pop art become one of the leading abstract forms in the second half of the 20th century.

Pop artist Andy Warhol didn’t get famous only because he painted ordinary items. Warhol became famous because he was able to masterfully blend colours in a way that made them stand out to the naked eye. Take Warhol’s Marilyn Diptych as an example of his genius. There were plenty of glamorous and outstanding pictures of Marilyn Monroe but the original image was taken from the 1953 film Niagara. Warhol replicated the single image it 50 times – each with a slight variation in tone and colour.

The varying changes in each of the Marilyn images brings the entire piece to life and shows how one image can be manipulated in so many different forms to create a singular work that takes time to appreciate its full glory. It was this experimentation with colour and form that allowed many of Warhol’s pieces to become such iconic mementoes from the past 100 years.

Walking That Fine Line

Not all forms of abstract art will be to everyone’s taste and purist art fans will always take that bit more convincing. Whilst traditional styles are still very much appreciated, the lure and gaze of abstract artwork is now much easier to appreciate. If you see a piece of artwork that looks uneven and off-balanced without any real symmetry, then that isn’t a classic abstract piece.

Finding pieces by artists that are random for the sake of being random won’t win any awards or last long in the memory. Instead, the best abstract paintings are those that have that unique identity even if something doesn’t seem obvious at first. Whilst titles may seem strange or weird, don’t let that be the deal-breaker.

Have a long look at the paintings and any accompanying notes and see if you can get what the artist was trying to depict. Once you have deciphered the meaning, take a look at other pieces by the same artist and look for the consistent features and patterns that make them relate to one another. Once you put the two links together, that is how you get a greater understanding of abstract art and why it has been so influential over the last 100 years.