Making sense of abstract art

I never took any art appreciation courses in school, and perhaps that’s why I can never understand the finer points of modern abstract art.  No one would need a course to appreciate the Mona Lisa or Monet’s Water Lilies.  Even Fauvism and Expressionism are intelligible to me.  But what exactly are these abstract artists painting?  Can someone translate?


I have two interpretations of this painting:

1.  The artist spilled a  palette full of colors on a canvas. He tried to mop them up as best as he could, and sold the results as a work of art.

2.  The artist is a four year old child playing with colors.

I like #2 best.  What do you think? What do you think this painting is trying to convey?


32 thoughts on “Making sense of abstract art

    • If at all I see anything in this, it’s like the face of someone wearing multi-colored sunglasses (one lens white, one purple) and having a blue nose. I suppose interpreting this could be some kind of Rorschach test.

      • Jokes aside, I agree with km. There is much to abstract art than meets the eye. It departs from realism and invokes the curiosity in the beholder. Art is aimed at rekindling your curiosity and lets you interpret it whichever way you want. Hence most modern art is titled, Untitled because the artist doesn’t want to impose his vision on your interpretation. As long as it gets you to react even if negatively then it succeeds, however success is defined. The worst insult you can bestow on a modern artist is by saying, nope, meh! I don’t feel anything when I see your work.

    • No, it wasn’t in moderation. I checked (a few pages of) spam, but given there are 400+ spam comments, I gave up. Please repost without trigger words 🙂

  1. There’s this British artist named Damien Hirst whose “art” includes things like dead animals preserved in formaldehyde. He’s also the richest living artist. Lots of WTF.

    I have a few collector friends who spend fancy sums on artists, mostly Indian, based solely on their investment value. A number ot these are bizzarre beyond belief

    • Even worse than Hirst is this piece of “art” that the Tate bought. To be fair, the “artist” himself was mocking the art world and didn’t really think his work was art..

      Buying paintings solely for their investment value of paintings is something I’ve long heard 🙂 Art markets apparently have their own greater fool theory.

  2. I am assuming you are at least partly serious? 🙂

    You probably know all this, but at the heart of Modern Art – of which the “Abstract” movement is a part – is a strong distaste for “meaning” and “interpretation”. So the question “what does it mean” is not just irrelevant, but essentially futile.

    What does Mona Lisa “mean”? Nothing, of course. What we respond to in the “Mona Lisa” painting is Form and a tradition that has conditioned us to see that painting as “beautiful”. (Have you seen the masses in front of that painting in Louvre?) That conditioning is what Modern Art tried – and still tries – to destroy.

    No one would need a course to appreciate the Mona Lisa or Monet’s Water Lilies

    I can introduce you to a half a dozen people who are baffled by Impressionism. So, no, some people do need a course to appreciate “Water lilies” or Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” 🙂

    • I’m serious 🙂 I do think Abstract Art, or okay, some Abstract artists, take it to a point at which it is no longer art. It’s like saying, I want to rebel against the conventions of music, so my songs will be tuneless and my lyrics will be a series of random words picked by a parrot. I will call my work “Parrot Song” and sell it as music. To me, that’s not music.

      (Although, even as I write it, this sounds like a great idea, so I am copyrighting this idea in case no one has already tried this).

      Granted, though, that the Mona Lisa is over-hyped and there are many paintings just as beautiful that are painted by say, little known Flemish artists.

      • I want to rebel against the conventions of music, so my songs will be tuneless and my lyrics will be a series of random words picked by a parrot.

        Then you should definitely read up on the experimental music movement of the 1940s and 1950s(Cage, Stockhausen et al) or the atonal music movement of the early 20th century. A *lot* of rules of music were broken. (And I am not even going into the rules broken by rock ‘n roll or rap or punk….)

        Anyway, my point is, rules in Art are merely accepted conventions. That does not mean make them the truth. We respond to Art when it speaks to us and not because it observes (or rejects) some imaginary aesthetic.

      • Ah, so it’s been done already. I knew it was too good an idea to not have been 😛

        I agree about responding to Art because it speaks to us in some way. My point is very similar – rebelling for the sake of rebelling does not make good Art unless the work is also, in some way, appealing and/or beautiful. Even in Abstract Art, for instance, I love Mondrian.

  3. Abstract art is always difficult for me. I will never get it. That explains why they cost millions of dollars ! I am not going to get that either !


    • Scarcity and hype, I guess. If, for some reason, the artist falls out of fashion, the price will rapidly drop too, so the ‘intrinsic value’ is not what it gets sold for..

  4. Some of it does evoke strong emotions. Try looking at Picasso’s Guernica.
    I may be a weirdo, I don’t know much about art, but there is loads of abstract stuff that I do like.

    • I don’t have a problem with Picasso’s Cubism; I think his paintings are great. Which is my point – ‘Guernica’ tries to depict something, and what it depicts and the artist’s reaction are what make it so powerful. Abstract art usually doesn’t even try to depict anything.

      I guess I wasn’t clear in my post, but I’m not talking about all forms of Modern Art, it’s just Abstract Modern Art that I don’t understand 🙂

  5. When mohammedeans and christian missionaries came to India, they saw people worshiping murtis. Unable to understand the concept of murtis, they condemned the people as rock worshippers and went on to massacre/convert them, as per their ‘belief system’.

    If a person is unable to understand what an artist means to convey, it does not necessarily make the artist guilty of anything.

    Is it the imbibing of western values that forces indians to view things from one perspective alone, and to condemn what s/he fails to understand, like the mohammedeans and christian missionaries and unlike indians of old ?

  6. I think you have it all wrong. This picture, if done a vertical and horizontal tranposition to the tune of 90 degrees each- strictly in that order, followed by colour inversion in the visible and extra visible ranges, and seen in neutral light frequencies, will bring you to conclude, provided that the parallax is in subtle tolerance range, that the picture is of a grain of wheat, taken under a high power microscope…!!!

  7. I think the pic has been captured upside down. I could see a person holding the steering wheel trying to steer the vehicle away from an approaching storm ! 🙂

    • Now that you mention it – I can see that too! Are those vertical black lines (near the bottom) electric poles seen through the dashboard then?

  8. Although I make my living as an abstract artist, I have to say that this picture does resemble a doodle that you might find on the back of a toilet cubicle door ;-)))


    Col 🙂

  9. Hello, just looked at the painting and I do understand the frustration..I was feeling like this myself many years ago. I started to read, kept looking and finally got it.. you dont seek an answer to interpretting a wonderful piece of music…..or why the grand cayon is so moving….or what you feel when you see an amazing sunset.. It is what it is, and maybe you want too much?
    I was lucky enough to visit the National Gallery recently and I saw a Van Gogh that moved me to tears.. during the same trip I was also fortunate to see two paintings by Rothco.. these were paintings that appeared to be one solid darkish brown in reproductions in books.. They were enormous pictures some twenty feet high, the works were hung in a slightly dull soft light and there was a haunting humming sound that could be heard. The paintings themselves were multi layered and many tones.. they were breathtaking and very moving.. like frightening and moving at the same time.. I found it very hard to move away.. breathtaking I dont know why? but perhaps I dont need to. I do know that Mark Rothco killed himself a little later in his life and I think that these paintings have something to do with this.. yes i know that we can joke that, “if I had painted those I would have killed myself “!! and so on, but you would not joke if you had seen these… they were breathtaking.

    I do not have the answers but these people are not pissing about.. I am convinced that some are riding on the backs of others with real talent.. but i think I can now tell the difference and I think you can if you give it a try.. I rest my of luck..Guy.


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