How to Appreciate Abstract Art

Are you not among the folks who 'get' abstract art? Would you rather see in a painting a boat, or a tree, or a napping kitten? Maybe...and I get it. I still and always will adore Degas' ballerinas and Cezanne's oranges. In fact studying Degas and Cezanne helped me launch into a love affair with abstract art. Do you know why? Because it's not the ballerinas or the oranges that we love. We respond to the arrangement of shapes -- the strong composition -- whether we know it or not, and these guys were brilliant at this.

 From my little book, "Treasures of 19th and 20th Century Painting - The Art Institute of Chicago."

From my little book, "Treasures of 19th and 20th Century Painting - The Art Institute of Chicago."


Now that I paint pure abstracts and love them, I would like to help you appreciate this kind of art, too. I used to think abstract art is just chaos, but it's not. It's a controlled rhythm of color shapes. As an artist you want to arrange those color shapes into a beautiful pattern to create a great painting! Someone will connect with and love the colors and patterns you create. It's all about balance, order, rhythm and unity. Those are your arranging tools. I always flip my canvas around multiple times to help me see what is balanced and what isn't. Balance can be among big and small shapes, or color, or texture, or space. Quiet areas against busy areas. Loud color complements calm color. 

 "Let Go of Perfect" by Heidi Harner 2017

"Let Go of Perfect" by Heidi Harner 2017

The Elements and Principles of Design are the foundation of all painting whether it is highly realistic or purely abstract (I will expound on the elements and principles in future posts). If you boil down a good representational painting to the bones you will see a basic value pattern (a dark and light pattern of shapes). This abstract pattern holds the power in the painting, not the details and all that. The people at Zoe Bios Creative penned it perfectly, "Abstract art is typically about color and form. It can calm and inspire the mind because it doesn't attach to memory the way figural or representational works can." I couldn't have said it better. 

Who are your favorite artists and why?