Perhaps you've looked at a painting in a gallery and tilted your head from side to side, but no matter which way you looked, you couldn’t single out a realistic-looking subject. That puzzling work was likely abstract art. Abstract art, by definition, does not attempt to replicate realistic forms, and it features non-representational shapes, lines, colors, and textures.
While many professional artists make abstract art for a living, anyone can create a piece in this style. It doesn't matter if it's a basic doodle in a student's sketchbook, or a famous painting by Piet Mondrian—both are examples of abstract art.
The ways to make abstract art are just as intriguing as the finished results, and the creative (and often unconventional) approaches to the method are numerous. Splatter painting, an action painting technique where you drop and splash paint onto a canvas, was made famous by artist Jackson Pollock. If you're ready to try creating abstract art for the first time, replicating Pollock's approach can be a simple (and fun) way to get started. A few more technique examples include:
- Painting with random objects like twigs, broom bristles, sponges, rags, and plastic bags
- Stenciling or stamping, often in repetition
- Using organic or geometric shapes to create collages
- Animals can make abstract art, too. The New Mexico Biopark Society features colorful abstract paintings by elephants, alligators, orangutans, and more.
Great abstract artists like Mark Rothko and David Hockney approach their creative process with a certain mindset—they wanted to communicate and provoke emotion. They knew that if a deep feeling inspired their work, that same mood would likely be experienced by the end viewer.
You can also apply this approach to your art-making. Try drawing when you're angry, then again when you feel content—see if you can notice a difference. If you're able to convey your emotion on a canvas, it often results in some of the most compelling pieces. Your color choices are another consideration—we often associate different hues with feelings, most commonly: red for anger, blue for sadness, green for jealousy, and yellow for happiness.
There is one general rule to abstract art: If you can make a mark with it, then you can use it to create. Digital drawings can work too, and so do scraps of paper, leaves, plastic cut-outs, or even your fingers. Essentially, any medium that can be preserved in a visual layout can be used in making an abstract composition.
Abstract art is just like any other type of art—it’s made with the viewer in mind. In some different varieties of art, such as portraiture, artists use realistic techniques to capture people’s likenesses. With abstract art, there's more space for the onlooker to interpret the meaning since it does not feature recognizable objects. It can, however, evoke an idea or feeling, or even inspire questions and conversation.
Creating abstract art is often therapeutic for the artist. It can be liberating to make art that doesn’t have to look like anything in particular. Regardless of how you produce it, it can be one of the most freeing ways to express yourself. If you choose to start creating abstracts, you might find that you get hooked, and then you're en route to a fulfilling journey of creating art.