What is an Abstract Painting?

IrisThere seems to be a lot of confusion about what the word ‘abstract’ means when it comes to painting. Here’s how I like to understand it.

On the one end of a scale is realism. You are looking at the painting and really not sure if it might be a photograph. On the other end is pure abstract, also called nonrepresentational – colours, shapes, lines, but no recognisable subject in the painting. Now here’s the key: inbetween those 2 extremes are a whole lot of painting styles that are not realistic, but do still have a recognisable subject. These are generally known as, for example, abstract landscapes, or abstract florals – or any other subject that is being more freely interpreted. This is a large general group.

Like many things about art, there is no right or wrong about which types of art you enjoy and which you don’t. Fact is there are some terrific realistic paintings, and awful realistic paintings. There are some terrific abstract paintings, and some awful abstract paintings. It is the skill of the artist that matters, and not the classification of the style of art.