Defining the Meaning of an Abstract Painting


Defining and realizing the meaning of abstract painting is a task that is best left to the observer. Like listening to music, everyone gets their own experience.

Defining an Abstract Painting

Abstract painting like a musical composition. Like musical notes, numbers, textures, and colors on a canvas combine and rotate, build and wander. They may appear to an untrained observer as simply a random assembly, but as tones are composed, there are, in fact, rules that govern (or at least inform) how those shapes and colors are used for the desired effect. Whether abstraction is actually a valuable contribution to the world, or just a nonsense mishmash is a question that tends to persist for some time. For my purposes here, I’m taking the position that abstract painting can be accidental or intentional, depending on who is behind the brush.

Meaning of Abstract Painting

The first thing to note about defining meaning is that often it is the observer who has the end to say what it is like, at least to them. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is probably a pretty accurate way of looking at this. What one person finds meaningful, another may not. Again, music offers parallels. If listening to Vivaldi’s piece puts good emotions in my eyes, and moves my heart to a nobler place, that is my experience. Should I be irritated or frustrated that it doesn’t seem to have the same effect on my friends? Of course not. The meaning is something for me to define for myself. They can do the same for themselves.

So, abstract painting means different things to different people, and that’s okay. Some people find meaning in the way the pieces are arranged. They look for principles and archetypes in art, or they make inferences about how “correct” paintings are based on the rules of composition.

Other people seek or experience emotions that they may find in the abstraction. Maybe it was a very deep texture in the paint, or a rough stroke or wound, that revealed some joy or pain that caught these guys interest. For others, there may not be some form, color, or texture that conveys meaning. Since abstract painting, by its very nature, is not intended to realistically depict the world around us, artists must rely on more refined tools and techniques to communicate the intended message. But one of the great things about abstract painting is that even if an artist blows on it, the meaning can still be found by the observer.

Where To Go From Here

Abstract painting is not something that should be taken lightly, nor is it something too complicated. You don’t want to belittle the painting, nor do you want to exaggerate it. What’s important is recognizing that there’s a lot more going on than an artist just throwing paint on a canvas. There are rules and guidelines that true abstract artists follow. But, as in music, the rules can be bent and adjusted to varying degrees to suit the artist’s goals. And, in the end, we are lowly viewers who end up having all the power to determine meaning to us. What a beautiful thing!