A Lesson in Abstract Art

A Lesson in Abstract Art

I will confess to being one of those people to label abstract art paintings as absolute nonsense, or as we refer to meaningless scribbles in Nigeria, jaga-jaga. At first glance, to the untrained and uninformed eyes, the vague strokes that come together to build a picture of abstract thought can often seem rather random and often pointless. And like that wasn’t enough, there is the stress of understanding. In this modern age with ever shrinking attention spans, staring at a painting to decode its meaning can feel rather tiresome after about three seconds.


Scream by Edward Munch

Artists like the renowned Edward Munch from Norway and Vincent van Gogh from the Netherlands, arguably represent the transition point from the impressionism movement to the expressionism movement. Before this time, art was focused more on the outside world being captured in paintings, with little or no emphasis on the human emotional state. This can be seen in the romanticism, impressionism, and post-impressionism movement, which even though entertained the use of abstract shapes, still focused on capturing the external world.

Through expressionist paintings like The Scream (1893) by Edward Munch and

Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh

Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh

Starry Night (1889) by Vincent van Gogh, art began to attempt to reflect the human condition and feelings through depictions of scenes that evoke certain emotions. It was only a matter of time till artists like Cy Twombly thought to completely cut out the image of scenery and go directly for the depictions of thoughts and emotions on the canvas. And this was the birth of abstract art, a movement that will later lead us to modern and contemporary art.

As it is to be expected, human emotions aren’t exactly the easiest things to explain. Even language often falls short of allowing us express our thoughts to the perfect understanding of others, so naturally, comprehending emotions conveyed by abstract art can pose a problem. One may even go as far as arguing that a certain level of self-knowledge is needed to enable us make any sense of abstract paintings.

Rage II by Gerry Nnubia

Gerry Nnubia, Rage II, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 90x90cm

With this in mind, the question to be asked when looking at an abstract piece of art is not how beautiful is this piece, but rather, we must ask ourselves, what emotion does this bring to mind? Understanding that the goal of an abstract artist is to paint an expression of human emotion is the first step towards understanding the concept behind abstract art.



William Ifeanyi Moore is a prolific writer, poet, and spoken word artist, with a keen interest in exploring how different artistic media influence cultures and societies. He holds a Master’s degree in Pharmacy from the University of Portsmouth.


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