Let me preface this lesson by disclosing I’m not an art historian; I’m People looking at artjust a writer and painter. I mainly paint non-objective abstracts (that means they don’t look like anything recognizable) and I’ve noticed a considerable number of people are baffled by abstract art. Some people don’t know what they’re “supposed” to think about it.

Now, this could turn into an art history lesson – but I’ll do my best to spare you. I’m not an art history teacher and have no desire to overwhelm or confuse you. Okay, I like to confuse you a bit, but overwhelm, no. My main objective is to engage your curiosity and get you to perhaps look a bit longer, think a bit more openly and try to see art with your heart.

While abstract art has been around for centuries, the formal movement sprung from the movements of Romanticism, Impressionism and Expressionism. Basically, the Church was the largest art collector of the day and they began to tighten the purse strings. Artists had to appeal more to private collectors and also got that itch, as they always do, to express themselves. So, rather than work within the confines of the church and society, these crazy artists began to colour outside the lines. They were scoffed at and considered renegades – in today’s terms – we would call them “fresh” and they would be highly desirable. So, I guess you could say, they peaked early, or they were before their time.

We all have our preferences for the types of art we like, but consider, when it comes to abstract art, you might be over looking some interesting, exceptional art under the guise of “not getting it.” Abstract art appreciation does not reflect your level of sophistication – but it does reflect your level of experience. In other words, you might have to look at a LOT of abstract art to recognize a good piece – but like wine – if you like it, that’s good enough. Appreciating abstract art is about pleasuring your eyes. (click to tweet)

There are many types of abstract art, but let’s break it down into two camps:

Abstract Art and Non-Objective Abstract Art

Regular abstract art will have recognizable elements in it. You might see figures, or trees, or a landscape…but you see things your eye recognizes from the real world. The artist works with these objects and “abstracts” them so you can still recognize them, but they really work them over and make them their own.

Non-objective abstract art does not include any representational elements. You don’t see any obvious person, dog or anything. You might see shapes that remind you of such things – like when you look at clouds in the sky or the shapes on the ceiling of the gynecologist’s office – too much? Anyhou, non-objective work relies highly on color, line, shape, size, space, texture and value – the elements of design.

So, how should we approach such art?

When I look at abstract art, I approach it without expectation. I pay attention to how the art makes me feel. I let the colour, the composition and the texture move me. Sometimes, a piece will pique my curiosity. A good abstract will pull the viewer in and make them want to study it further. It may remind us of an experience, a place or a time in our lives. Abstract art is to the eye what music is to the ear. (click to Tweet)

If you expect a non-objective abstract painting to tell you its meaning, you’ll be disappointed. The painting will mean something different to each person – or it may not strike you with any meaning at all. It’s intensely personal. It’s JUST. FOR. YOU. Non-representational abstract work does not so much tell a story to us; it reminds us of our own stories, so you can’t be wrong. There’s so much freedom and permission in that!

I realize I’m going a bit long on this post, so let’s get straight to the exercise. With a true, non-objective painting, you should be able to turn it any direction. I sometimes don’t sign my work until it’s purchased for that very reason. I know the collector will have a preference and since the work speaks to them, they should decide which “side is up,” so to speak.

So, here’s a piece I finished in my studio today. I apologize that it’s not professionally photographed, so you might not see all the nuances of the work. It’s 100% non-objective. I call it, “You’ve Got Some Nerve.” I’m going to post this painting in all four directions. You decide the way it should hang. Below the pictures are some references of famous non-objective artists. I hope you’ve enjoyed Abstract Art 101 A ½ . Feel free to leave a comment. There’s much to be said about the subject.

Non-Objective Abstract Art

“You’ve Got Some Nerve 1”

You've Got Some Nerve 2

“You’ve Got Some Nerve 2”

You've Got Some Nerve 3

“You’ve Got Some Nerve 3”

You've Got Some Nerve 4

“You’ve Got Some Nerve 4”









How would you hang this painting?

[Tweet “Everyone wants to understand art. Why not try to understand the song of a bird? – Pablo Picasso”]

Some resources for you:

Wassily Kandinsky 

Robert Motherwell

Helen Frankenthaler 

Jackson Pollack 

Paul Klee 

Famous Abstract Painters 

Books about abstract art 

Enjoy Exploring New Things,



Michelle Andres is a writer and artist who cultivates her own Well Lived Life by drinking in the beauty around her, following her passion, respecting others and owning her own dookie.

Writer, Artist, Coach

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