Understanding Abstract Art


understanding abstract art Beechhouse media 

If there ever was an artistic style which divides opinion in art, surely it has to be that of abstract art. For the artist it is perhaps one of the most difficult artistic styles to get right, for the uninitiated viewer, understanding abstract art is often even more difficult.

A majority of my formal arts education was spent studying abstracts but even when I was studying them, I didn’t always get it. 

It wasn’t until I started to paint abstracts that I had any real understanding of them, and even now after painting them for the best part of twenty or so years I still find them incredibly difficult to do. I enjoy creating abstracts more than I do anything else, and yet I don’t create nearly as many of them as I would like, so I decided yesterday that I would start working on more of them. 

Some people say that abstract art isn’t real art and often those are the people who also say that digital art isn’t real art too, but what would happen if we took away digital art and abstract art, what would we be left with? Abstract and digital have both disrupted the art world, and abstracts have been with us for longer than most people would think. 

I must be one of those people’s worst nightmares because I transitioned from purely being a traditional abstract/landscape painter with brush and canvas to a digital abstract/landscape painter with stylus and tablet. I broke the rules I guess, and that's essentially what abstracts have done and continue to do. 

I often speak to people when I visit galleries, I love to find out what they think of specific paintings, and over the years I seemed to have mastered the art of striking up a random conversation with a stranger in a gallery or on the street, in a restaurant, you name it, I can chat with pretty much anyone. Sometimes they even answer me too. 

I had one such conversation a couple of years ago whilst visiting the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. I can’t recall the exact work I was viewing but I remember asking another person in the same tour group what she thought of it.

I remember the conversation going something along the lines of “my two-year old could have painted that, I really love art but this just isn’t art”. It was one of those moments when you think for the love of God woman, this piece is hanging on the wall in one of the best museums in the world and you’re saying it’s not art. 

It kind of riled me a little and even today I recall that conversation. But I get it, I love abstracts, the more non-representational the better for me, but for others I have heard the ‘my X year old niece could do better than that’ time and time again. I really get it, some people love abstracts others don’t. Art is after all subjective. 

Abstract art can be confusing. In the case of non-representational art it becomes even more confusing, it took me a while to work out too and admittedly I was one of the original 'I could do that' kind of people in my non-abstract days, and I probably could until I tried. 

Often, abstracts are a representation even if they are non-representational. They can be a pictorial snapshot of what’s going on in the inside rather that what’s going on outside. For artists it is perhaps one of the most difficult skills to master and a really good understanding of lines, composition, and colour is needed.

But how do you begin to understand the artwork when there is nothing necessarily recognisable and there’s nothing to grasp and hold on to? It appears to be random, it doesn’t contain anything, but in reality, abstract shows much more than nothing. You have to be able to find the part of you that does recognise something within it.


Black Square by Kazimir Malevich is perhaps a good place to start when looking at understanding abstract works.

black square abstract painting by Kazimir Malevich 

Black Square By Kazimir Malevich - Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31011870

Often said to be the first ever painting that wasn’t a painting of anything, it was an introduction to a new world of shapes and forms. Malevich wanted to completely abandon reality and he wanted to introduce a new world of shapes and forms that belonged exclusively in the realm of art for art’s sake.

It introduced us to suprematism which was the name he gave to the abstract art he developed from 1913 and which was characterised by basic geometric forms, such as circles, squares, lines and rectangles, painted in a limited range of colours. 

Black Square represents a beginning, but I can see how just casually glancing at it you could be forgiven for thinking your ‘X year old niece could have at least added a bit of colour to it’.

Yet suprematism was one of the key movements of modern art in Russia and closely associated with the Revolution. Time hasn’t been good to Black Square, today it looks like a cracked pavement rather than the original blackness, whilst that detracts from the original meaning of the piece, some will undoubtedly prefer the aged look. 

Abstract gives the person viewing the work freedom in deciding how the work should be interpreted and that is another reason why people tend to not get it, but it is also why so many people love it. Maybe there is an expectation that art should be easy and it should tell you without any effort what it’s about. 

The viewer of the work or rather the viewer’s mind is stirred into feeling the painting, its emotions, and its energy. When I look back to the time when I first started studying abstract I think my mind was closed firmly shut and I was just too lazy to open it up. 


Wassily Kandinsky has been credited as the first artist to introduce what we know today as abstracts. His art explored a relationship between colour and form yet there was something much deeper going on. 

1913 Wassily Kandinsky abstract art 

 1913 by Wassily Kandinsky via Wikimedia Commons Licence

Kandinsky had an interest in psychology and he also had a condition called synaesthesia, a neurological condition which stimulates one sense and produces a reaction in another. 

Kandinsky could ‘see’ sound and 'hear' colour. He once claimed that he could hear the hissing of colours whilst he mixed them. He wanted to recreate a painterly symphony which evoked sound through sight, a pictorial form of music. 

Whilst Kandinsky was said to have introduced us to abstracts, the reality is that ever since humans could make a mark on a rock abstracts have existed, but abstract art as we know it today, well that was definitely Kandinsky. 


Jackson Pollock presented the world with another form of abstract, the drip painting. Even his studio floor could be said to be a work of art. 

Jackson Pollock studio floor is a work of art


By Rhododendrites - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44204609 

Pollock had a formal arts training but became influenced by the unconscious mind and started to develop his own methods to produce something disruptive and away from his previous and more traditional works. 

Many of his later works seem chaotic and random, but there is something scientific behind them too. Mathematicians have suggested that we adore Pollock’s work because they contain fractals, ratios, and the structures found in nature. Myself I love Pollock's work because it broke all the rules. 

In his latter works you are able to see much more complexity within the patterns created. So many people really do cast aside Pollock’s works often dismissing them as nothing more than random scribble, yet he is also one of the most copied artists.

His work titled ‘Number 5’, produced in 1948 sold in 2006 at auction for £83 million ($107m US approx.) so it is little wonder that the market for his works encourages so many fakes, some of which have even fooled the experts.


Abstract Expressionism emerged during the 1940s and applied the principles of expressionism to abstract. Ernest Cheseneau an art critic had written back in 1864 ‘that if the trend the impressionists were setting continued, paintings would consist of nothing but two broadly brushed areas of colour’. So what would he have thought of the untitled 1956 fake Rothko (little more than two broad brush strokes of colour!) and which resulted in a legal process which will one day I am sure, be made into a film.

So how can we better appreciate the nuances of abstraction and learn to understand the art form? 

For me it was opening my mind a little more, it was also having a go at it. I’m not entirely sure that writing a dissertation on the subject helped me one way or the other to understand abstract art better, it was just something I eventually learned to appreciate and grew to love.

Abstracts don’t necessarily have to guide the viewer in any particular direction, often it is left to the viewer to derive the meaning, and that can often mean that the work is seen as having no depth.

One person might view Malevich’s Black Square as portraying loneliness, others might see that it is the beginning of something new, and yet some might see it as nothing more than a black square or a cracked pavement. 

Sometimes abstract art is not just about the artist and their emotional state when they created it, sometimes it allows you to see yourself. 

That is how and when you start to understand abstract art, it doesn’t have to be beautiful, it doesn’t have to be realistic, but you need an open mind and be willing to explore yourself too. Only then will you truly understand what abstract art is really about.

Are you an abstract aficionado or do you prefer the more traditional arts? Have you ever created an abstract simply to experiment? If so, please do leave a comment and let us know if you found creating abstracts a pleasure or just hard work!


abstract art by Mark A Taylor London and Gas Station 

Both 'London' and 'Gas Station' are abstracts I created in 2016. 'London' denotes the vibrancy of the British capital city, but also the chaos and street art which can be found throughout the city. 

'Gas Station' is created in a similar style, although I wanted to capture a retro feel, depicting old fashioned fuel pumps which were once found in many gas stations around the world. The idea for this image came to me when I visited a town in the West Midlands region of the UK, and discovered a gas station which had been abandoned many years before. The structures and the pumps still standing, but graffiti had been sprayed on almost every wall of the building and the grounds were overgrown. 

Both are available through my portfolio on Fine Art America which you can see here: http://10-mark-taylor.fineartamerica.com/ or from my Pixels portfolio site here: http://10-Mark-taylor.pixels.com 

You can also view and purchase my works through this site. Once you chose a work and add it to your shopping cart you will be transferred to a secure portal within Fine Art America to complete the buying process. 

All orders from Fine Art America and Pixels are fulfilled in a Fine Art America print centre closest to your location which results in lower shipping costs. In addition, you can choose from a range of supports, frames, and mats, and from a wider range of products on my Pixels site including home decor, clothing, phone cases, and more. You will also receive a 30-day money back guarantee! 

I have produced many abstract works over the last few years and you will be able to view those too, alongside my landscapes and other artworks. 


I have been super busy lately researching the best ways to create an artist statement that actually works! It's a really important part of the process needed to display and sell art, yet it's possibly the one thing most artists find that they don't like doing! 

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Mark A. Taylor is a UK based artist who specialises in traditional/digital abstracts, landscapes, and surrealist art. You can view his work at http://10-mark-taylor.pixels.com or in more than 150 retail locations across the USA and Canada, including The Great Frame Up, Framing and Art Centre, and Deck the Walls. 

Recently Mark has been thinking about these new people who call themselves thought leaders and wonders who thought that idea was even a starter. What even is a thought leader?


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