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What is abstract painting?

An abstract painting is simply a painting that does not depict reality directly. A painting of a bowl filled with fruit is representational, while a red painting covered in jagged white lines is abstract.

by Davide Zappia

A year ago

willem_de_kooning_untitled-abstract-artWillem de Kooning


Have you ever wondered why abstract paintings are so expensive?

What is the Abstract Art and what is it that people find so amazing about it?

If you're asking yourself these and other questions around Abstract Art, you're in the right place.

My name is Davide Zappia and I am an Italian abstract painter and this is my personal portfolio

In this article, I decided to go through some of the questions I get asked more frequently, such as:

- What is abstract painting?
- Why are abstract paintings so expensive?
- What is Minimal Art
- What is Geometric abstraction
- What is Islamic Art
- What is Op Art

Abstract Art Definition

The term “abstract art” covers a wide variety of styles and movements, but they all share one thing: they do not try to directly depict reality. This ends up including everything from beautiful carpets to paintings.

What does ‘abstract painting’ mean?

An abstract painting is simply a painting that does not depict reality directly. A painting of a bowl filled with fruit is representational, while a red painting covered in jagged white lines is abstract. It can be difficult to understand abstract art when you first encounter it. But the more you understand its history and the major achievements in it, you will come to appreciate the developing conversation going on in the abstract art world. Artists work off of one another, each responding in their own way.

But as you might have guessed, abstract art often has abstract meanings, above and beyond responding to other art. Many artists in the field utilize color theory, psychology, and optics to construct their work. Some even go so far as to branch off into philosophy, e.g. Mark Rothko’s The Artist’s Reality: Philosophies of Art.

Characteristics of Abstract Art

Abstract art often uses shape, line, color, and texture to communicate emotions, ideas, or simply carry through an intuition.

Types of Abstract Art

Abstract art encompasses many genres, including minimalism, abstract expressionism, Islamic art, certain forms of futurism, op art, etc. Many forms also include some level of abstraction, like surrealism or the works of M.C. Escher.

Helen Frankenthaler | First CreaturesHelen Frankenthaler | First Creatures (1959)

Abstract Art History

Abstract art arose at the turn of the 20th century. The impressionists lit a fire in the art world by introducing a wide range of new techniques in their representational art that were not strictly representational (e.g. pointillism). Later artists working in surrealism and related schools began implementing these strange styles, moving further away from direct depiction.

The 20th century saw constant development of what we call abstract art, but art historians will be quick to point out that many cultures around the world developed abstract art long ago. Take the geometric tapestries of mosques or the designs of American Indian tribes in the American Southwest.

Abstract Art Movement

Abstract Expressionism

Abstract expressionism is a kind of abstract art focusing on showing (or expressing) human experience. One of the most popular abstract expressionists is Jackson Pollock, famous for his technique of flinging paint. But Mark Rothko, for instance, was an abstract expressionist who painted large blocks of single colors. Two very different painters — one school. 

Minimal Art

The Minimal Art is a painting and abstract sculpture school where every kind of personal expression is reduced to the minimum, in order to give the artwork a fully objective appearance without any possibility of interpretation.
The resulting work is characterised by an extreme shapes simplicity and deliberate lack of expressive content.

Minimal Art rose as a tendency in the late 50s and flourished in the 60s and 70s, from the impersonality, the emotional coldness, the emphasis on objectivity and physicality of the artwork, until the reduction of simple geometric structures.
The Minimal Art is an artistic movement characterised by an extreme simplicity in shapes.

Geometric abstraction

Geometric abstraction is a form of abstract art based on the use of geometric forms sometimes, though not always, placed in non-illusionistic space and combined into non-objective (non-representational) compositions.

Although this genre was popularised by avant-garde artists in the early twentieth century, similar motifs have been used in art since ancient times.
Geometric abstraction is present among many cultures throughout history both as decorative motifs and as art pieces themselves.

Frank StellaFrank Stella

Islamic Art

Islamic art, in its prohibition of depicting religious figures, is a first example of this geometric pattern-based art, which existed centuries before the movement in Europe and in many ways influenced this Western school.

Aligned with and often used in the architecture of Islamic civilations spanning the 7th century-20th century, geometric patterns were used to visually connect spirituality with science and art, both of which were key to Islamic thought of the time.

Op art

The main objective in the Op Art is to mainly provoke optical illusions in the viewer, typically with the impression of movement, through the use of special abstract subjects juxtaposition or particular colours.

The Op Art is a particular kind of artistic school which is often included in the wider Kinetic Art movement, from which it focuses on the two-dimensional illusion examination.

Victor VasarelyVictor Vasarely

What makes abstract paintings great?

Abstract paintings are free to explore any idea, technique, color, or shape without constraint. For this reason, abstract paintings do things that you won’t find in any other style.

For instance, while some representational art might use the color orange to great effect, an abstract artist is able to focus entirely on the character and nature of orange itself. That profound simplicity and precision in purpose leads to experiences a viewer won’t find anywhere else.

Are abstract paintings necessary?

More than any other form of art perhaps, abstract art provokes the public. It challenges our ideas of what art is. Its rise makes many people doubt the sanity of the art world altogether. But that misunderstanding doesn’t mean that abstract paintings are less important than representational ones.

What are the most famous abstract paintings? What are the best abstract paintings of all time?

While fame is perhaps more easily measured than quality, these two questions are closely linked. Below are only a handful great abstract paintings to check out:

Who are the best abstract artists?

There are too many wonderful abstract artists to list them all here. But if you are interested in getting started, below are a few artists who will captivate and inspire you, a mix of classic and contemporary:

  • Wassily Kandinsky
  • Elaine de Kooning
  • Sam Gilliam

Abstract Painting Ideas That Look Totally Awesome

If you are curious to explore abstract painting yourself, it might be a good idea to emulate some of the best. With that in mind, here are some ideas to get you started:

What is your favorite color? Paint an entire canvas that color. Then, block off sections of that canvas and fill them in with different shades and hues of the same color. Finally, block off a section and fill it with the complementary color. (Complementary colors appear on opposite sides of the color wheel from each other.)

What is your favorite shape? Try repeatedly painting the shape in a grid pattern on your canvas, varying the style, line thickness, and color.

Cy TwomblyCy Twombly

Abstract Painting Techniques

Abstract artists use much the same techniques as any one else working in the same medium. Painting abstract art is still applying paint to a canvas. But some techniques stand out: extensive color layering, strong lines, and a variety of paint application methods.

Is abstract painting hard?

A common refrain you will hear from gallery goers and museum visitors when contemplating abstract art is, “I could do that.” Not so fast.

While some abstract art is simpler to create than representational art, others require incredible technical skill. But more than that, if we consider art’s object as creating an emotion inside the viewer, then the difficulty of realizing an idea is less important than the impact of that work on the viewer. Thus, the abstract artist has to discover new and interesting things to do in the abstract realm, something people haven’t seen a hundred times, something that will make an impact. 

    mark-rothko-abstract-artMark Rothko

    Why are abstract paintings so expensive?

    People are surprised to find out how much some abstract paintings sell for. For instance, one minimalist, all-white painting was auctioned off for a cool $20.6 million.

    Abstract painting is not alone in this trend. Auction houses and galleries regularly sell paintings of many styles for high prices. The combination of artist notoriety, desirability of the painting, and likelihood that the painting will appreciate in value over time all influence the price tag.

    Where can I find contemporary abstract art for sale?

    Abstract art is everywhere. If you are looking to purchase some, you can always begin by visiting the art galleries in your area. And like everything else nowadays, you can also purchase work online. If you use social media, consider following artists that you like. Some artists, especially ones just starting out, will sell their work directly.

    I have been doing this myself too since I started: you can browse my portfolio and see which painting are still on-sale.

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