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  • Writer's picturecarolyn land

Creative Spirit Blog March 16, 2023, Is Abstract Art Misunderstood?


Running Rapids Mixed Media


“To abstract is to draw out the essence of a matter. To abstract in art is to separate certain fundamentals from irrelevant material which surround them. Ben Shawn


I was asked why so many people have a difficult time understanding abstract art? Let me start with the term “Abstract Art”. It alone is misrepresented. Abstraction occurs when the intent of the artist is to create an altered depiction of a subject or concept. But over the years it has become an "umbrella term" for anything that is not pure realism. Under this umbrella are all other kinds of art: Fauvism, Expressionism, Cubism, Futurism, Dadaism, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, Non-Objective art, etc. So, a more realistic question would be: Why does “Modern Art” not appeal to a large segment of the population?


When the art does not have a recognizable subject and there is nothing for the viewer to grasp or hold onto, viewers often walk away and say, “I don’t get it!" If they don't get it, it is hard for them to like it. Art that does not have a recognizable subject at first viewing, can be very confusing, even threatening to some who are not used to assigning their own meaning to what they see before them. They are used to living in a very orchestrated environment.


Modern art which began in the mid-19th century, in its many movements, is preferred over representational art among individuals who can enjoy novelty, ambiguity, dissonance, and are openminded, independent thinkers. They don’t have a strong need for simple order.


Modern art involves expertise by the artist not only in the application of the medium they choose but in their own vision. Since many people do not understand the vision of other people or are not open to different ideas, it has been dubbed the most misunderstood form of art. However, many people who are not fans of the modern movement can be drawn to the colors used by the artist and react to the lines, shapes, or textures that are used. They may never relate to the artists deep meaning, but they may enjoy the basic elements that are used.

Abstract and other types of Modern Art do encourage our brain to respond in a less restrictive and stereotypical manner. It helps viewers, if they’re open to it, to explore new associations, activate alternative paths for emotions, and form new possibly creative links in the brain.


Of all the movements in the modern art period Abstract Expressionism is probably the one that is most accepted because in its true form it does have a recognizable subject or concept. Picasso gives us a window into abstract art when he said, “Good abstract art has a message, a concept, a something.” Even though the technique may seem simple and haphazard, it emerges from a real subject. It is the other movements under the "Umbrella of Abstract Art” that viewers have more difficulty with.


Viewers are an interesting study. They all bring a different set of baggage. They are all looking for different things because of what makes them tick, where they come from, and what their needs are. Even when we as artists, open minded creative people, become the viewers, we have our likes and dislikes. We have our favorite periods of art. We are just more accepting of the right to free expression than the average viewer.


A big part of this lack of understanding is due to our educational system. We keep pulling the fine arts out of the curriculum. We are not educating our children to learn about and appreciate the fine arts. To understand that there is real meaning behind the painting, that there is deep feeling and messages in the music we listen to, and that dance is more than rhythm...it i story.


Looking for the meaning takes a special kind of person. Do people dislike the modern movement, or do they not understand it? Carolyn







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