How to Fake It: What to say about Abstract Art

In our How to Fake it series, we seek to simplify art topics into bite-sized nuggets to enable you with the tools to be an art conversationalist.

Henri Matisse, La danse (I) c. 1909 To the untrained eye, it looks as though a child created this. Image from

Henri Matisse, La danse (I) c. 1909

Image from

In the first of this series, we take a jump into one of the biggest curiosities of the art world: Abstract Art. Seemingly easy to create, many abstract works might look as though a toddler had been the maker. Let’s delve a little deeper and give you some tips on what to say when talking about Abstract Art:

  1. What is Abstract Art?

With Abstract Art constantly being thrown around as a movement or medium, it is easy to lose sight of its meaning. At first glance, what we often experience are vibrant images of lines and blobs of paint on canvases. As a starting point, we should first define “abstract” as a verb: “to consider something theoretically or separately from (something else)” or “to extract or remove (something)”.

Abstract Art is created when an artist moves away from depicting the real world by simplifying or reducing their visual imagery to the bare necessities. As an example, Piet Mondrian’s Avond; Red Tree (1908) can be easily identified as a tree. As compared to his later work, Flowering Apple Tree (1912), the image of a tree has been reduced to mere lines and colours.

Pablo Picasso, Three Musicians c. 1921 Image from

Pablo Picasso, Three Musicians c. 1921

Image from

  1. A different perspective

We often seek comfort in the familiar. It is difficult to understand works that are so removed from the world we know and experience daily. It’s made worse when some abstract artists claim that their works have no relation to reality, suggesting they have created their own sense of reality. Stripping ourselves of the reality we know might make it easier to embrace and open one’s mind to the possibilities the artwork can offer.

Michelangelo, David c. 1501 - 1504 Image from

Michelangelo, David c. 1501 – 1504

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3.“But, isn’t all contemporary art abstract?”

No matter how realistic, every piece of art work eventually departs in some ways from reality. Take a look at Michelangelo’s “David”, who was seen as the idealised man, and sculpted in the most favourable light. In doing so, he departed, albeit slightly, from reality, by combining abstracted “ideal” features from multiple people.

Mark Rothko, Four darks in red, c. 1958 Image from

Mark Rothko, Four darks in red, c. 1958

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4. All Abstract Art starts from somewhere.

Pablo Picasso said, “There is no abstract art. You must always start with something. Afterward you can remove all traces of reality.” This goes to show that Abstract Art isn’t just about blobs and dashes of paint or merely created from nothing. All abstract artists will try to create from something – an idea, an image, an emotion. Mark Rothko, well-known for moving people to tears through his abstract works, captures basic human emotions such as tragedy, gloom and ecstasy in them. Through the use of colours and compositions of his works, he reaches out to people intuitively, causing them to break down when confronted by his works.

5. Famous Abstract Art and their artists

Jackson Pollock, Convergence, c. 1952 Image from

Jackson Pollock, Convergence, c. 1952

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 Jackson Pollock

Pollock is known for developing one of the most radical abstract styles in the history of modern art. On top of his “drip and splash” style, he also favoured an “all-over” method – an art form that shuns clear and distinct points of interest or any distinguishable parts on the canvas.

Wassily Kandinsky, Composition VII c. 1915 Image from

Wassily Kandinsky, Composition VII c. 1915

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Wassily Kandinsky

Kandinsky suffered from an unusual sensitivity to sound known as “synthesia” that enabled him to literally “hear” colours. This was a boost for the art world when he created works such as Composition VII (1915) and Composition VIII (1923).

Piet Mondrian

One of his most famous works, Tableau 1 (1921), has inspired many other creations in everyday – most notably Yves Saint Laurent’s Mondrian day dress in 1965.

We hope these five pointers have helped you to better understand and engage in conversation about Abstract Art. Check out the abstract works we have up on our site, now that you can see them in a different light.

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