Understanding Abstract Painting: A Beginner’s Guide

A Beginner's Guide to Reading an Abstract Acrylic Painting
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Understanding Abstract Painting: A Beginner's Guide

Oftentimes, people misunderstand abstract painting as they are looking for something concrete and real with which they can identify. It is quite natural to try to make sense of what we perceive and experience in the world, so abstract art with its unrecognizable subject matter and unpredictable colours, shapes, and lines have proven quite challenging to understand. Moreover, many people fail to differentiate the art of a toddler and the art of a professional abstract painter, thus making it more difficult to find meaning in it.

Having said that, understanding abstract art is not that difficult for many people as it involves an open mind and a big imagination. Many also believe that there is no particular right or wrong approach to understanding this art. It is open to interpretation, and that is one of the most beautiful things about it you won’t find it jumping out and screaming, “this is what I am all about”; rather, abstract art needs you to have an open inquiring mind for that you must enter the painting and see where it takes you. Also, it will give you the freedom to explore the artwork and make you understand its own meaning to the piece. Thus, the intensely personal process enhances a viewer’s experience of colorful abstract art.

Let us first begin by understanding a few of the things you should know about abstract painting:

Things to Know Before You Read an Abstract Painting

1. Recognize the Difference Between Children’s Art and Abstract Art

It might look like there are no similarities between art made by a professional abstract artist and a mark made by children, but these similarities are quite superficial. A professional work involves thought, understanding, and planning of the visual elements and principles of the art. The understanding gives the professional work a greater complexity and the visible structure that even known artists often understand.

Primarily, abstract art is about the formal elements of design, instead of recognizable images; it is significant how the artist uses the art elements to express certain principles of art, as it is exactly what gives the painting its meaning and feeling.

2. Be Familiar With Past Work, Culture, and Time Period

Professional abstract art is not limited to what you see on the surface of the canvas. It also involves the process itself; the artist might have used some kind of symbolism or reduced something visible to its abstract essence. Thus, if you are familiar with the whole body of the artist’s work — their oeuvre, it helps significantly in understanding the art. This way, you will understand that paintings have preceded the one you are witnessing, which will definitely add up in making sense.

3. Take considerable time for absorbing the abstract art

Oftentimes people expect to understand the painting immediately and don’t give sufficient time to sit with it and absorb it. So when you are looking at abstract art, take ample time to absorb the meaning and emotion behind it. It is then that you can truly understand the purpose of the art and what it makes you feel.

Now that we know the above let us see how to draw an analysis of the art.

How to Analyze Abstract Art?

Typically, there are three basic steps when you analyze any colorful abstract painting:

1. Description

The first thing to consider is what do you see in the painting? After stating the obvious, dig deeper into the picture; you can identify the elements and principles of design that the artist has used. Some of them are

  • What’s the colour of the painting? warm or cool; saturated or unsaturated
  • What types of lines are used?
  • What shapes are used in the painting?
  • Are the used shapes visually balanced?
  • Does the used shape have symmetrical or asymmetrical balance?
  • Is there any repetition of some elements?
  • Ask these questions while looking at the picture. This is how you can easily describe a painting.
2. Interpretation

After you have described the painting in your mind, you must now interpret it. A few of the questions that are needed to be asked while interpreting the picture are:

  • Is the artwork conveying anything?
  • How do the things you see and describe resonate with the message it is trying to convey?
  • How does the painting make you feel?
  • Is there rhythm or movement?
  • Do these movements make you feel any particular emotion?
  • Is it trying to convey energy or express a sense of stillness and peace?

If you are unable to get a clear picture of it, read the painting’s title. It sure will give you an insight into its meaning or intent.

3. Evaluation

Not all paintings will speak to every person, which is why you should ask the following questions:

  • Does the painting work?
  • Does it move you in any way?
  • Can you understand the artist’s intent?
  • Does it convey anything to you?

These are the basic steps that you must follow while analyzing an art.


You must be already aware that almost all art begins with a common human experience. So, spend some time with the painting if you want to discover or uncover what exactly it is and whether it means anything to you. A painting is an actual representation of a distinct conversation between a particular viewer and the artist. Though you don’t necessarily have to know about the artist to get moved by an abstract painting, the viewer with a good amount of knowledge about the abstract artist and their background will understand and appreciate the artwork in a better way than others.

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