What Qualifies As Abstract Art?

Abstract art, a term that often sparks curiosity and confusion, has been a significant part of the art world for over a century. It is a style that breaks away from traditional representation of physical objects and explores the relationships between shapes, colors, and textures. But what exactly qualifies as abstract art? Is it simply the absence of recognizable subject matter, or is there more to it than meets the eye? In this blog post, we will delve into the world of abstraction and explore its various forms and characteristics.

What qualifies as abstract art
Source: Artland Magazine

The Birth of Abstraction: What is it and Where did it Start?

The roots of abstract art can be traced back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries when artists like Wassily Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich, and Piet Mondrian began to experiment with non-representational forms. These pioneers sought to create art that was free from the constraints of traditional representation and focused on expressing emotions, ideas, or spiritual experiences.

Kandinsky’s work is often considered the first truly abstract painting – his 1910 piece “Composition VII” features swirling lines, colors, and shapes that bear no resemblance to any recognizable object. This groundbreaking piece paved the way for future artists to explore abstraction in their own unique ways.

What qualifies as abstract art
Source: Guggenheim

Characteristics of Abstract Art

While there are many different styles within abstract art, there are some common characteristics that help define this genre:

  • Non-representational: Abstract art does not depict recognizable scenes or objects. Instead, it focuses on elements such as color, shape, line, texture, and composition.
  • Emotional expression: Many abstract artists aim to convey emotions or evoke feelings through their work. This can be achieved through bold use of color or dynamic compositions.
  • Experimentation: Abstract artists often push boundaries by experimenting with new techniques or materials. This can result in innovative works that challenge traditional notions of what constitutes “art.”
  • Subjectivity: Abstract art is often open to interpretation, allowing viewers to bring their own experiences and emotions to the artwork. This can create a deeply personal connection between the viewer and the piece.
Abstract art by Piet Mondrian
Abstract art by Piet Mondrian

Types of Abstract Art

Abstract art can be divided into several subcategories, each with its own unique characteristics:

  • Geometric abstraction: This style focuses on the use of geometric shapes and lines, often in repetitive patterns or arrangements. Artists like Piet Mondrian and Kazimir Malevich are known for their geometric abstract works.
  • Abstract expressionism: This movement emerged in the 1940s and 1950s, characterized by spontaneous brushwork, bold colors, and large-scale compositions. Jackson Pollock’s “drip paintings” are a prime example of abstract expressionism.
  • Color field painting: A subset of abstract expressionism, color field painting emphasizes large areas of solid color with minimal detail or texture. Mark Rothko’s work exemplifies this style.
  • Lyrical abstraction: This style is characterized by fluid shapes, lines, and colors that evoke a sense of movement or rhythm. Wassily Kandinsky’s early abstract work falls into this category.
  • Abstract Explorations: While some perceive abstract paintings solely as non-objective creations, there exists a significant number who embrace the idea that abstract art can encompass landscapes, figures, still life, and more. By capturing the essence of familiar subjects and exploring their natural appearances, these loose interpretations manifest as captivating abstract artworks. Embracing such creative expressions not only qualifies as abstract art but also offers an immensely enjoyable experience throughout the artistic journey.
Abstract Painting by Robert Joyner
Arrangement by Robert Joyner

Appreciating Abstract Art

Abstract art can sometimes be challenging to appreciate or understand due to its non-representational nature. However, it is important to remember that abstraction is not about decoding hidden meanings or identifying specific objects – it is about experiencing the artwork on an emotional level.

When viewing an abstract piece, consider how it makes you feel or what emotions it evokes. Pay attention to the colors, shapes, and textures – how do they interact with one another? What kind of energy does the composition create? By focusing on these elements rather than searching for recognizable subject matter, you can begin to appreciate the beauty and complexity of abstract art.

Abstract Painting by Joan Mitchell
Source: Joan Mitchell


In conclusion, abstract art encompasses a wide range of styles and techniques that break away from traditional representation. It is characterized by its focus on color, shape, and composition, as well as its ability to evoke emotions and encourage personal interpretation. By understanding the origins and characteristics of abstract art, we can better appreciate its unique beauty and significance in the world of art.