Your Definitive Guide To Reading A Piece Of Abstract Art


Abstract art can be a doozy. We’d be lying if we said we’ve never approached a daunting canvas buzzing with indiscernible colors, shapes and stripes and, on the verge of a panic attack, grasped for the nearest museum guide.

It’s hard to shake the nagging desire to solve the puzzle at hand, parse through the images and figure out what it all means. But, in our hearts, we know abstract art is no Sunday morning crossword puzzle, and should not be treated as such. On that note, we’re diving in.

Abstract art is a beast all its own, and as such requires our utmost attention, patience and imagination. “Abstraction is staggeringly radical, circumvents language, and sidesteps naming or mere description,” Jerry Saltz writes in his wonderful manifesto on abstraction. “It disenchants, re-enchants, detoxifies, destabilizes, resists closure, slows perception, and increases our grasp of the world.” And so it may, but how do we actually engage with it?

We’re taking it slow and attempting to navigate the perilous waters of abstract art one step at a time. Consider this a beginner’s guide to a lifelong relationship between, you, art, and your spirit guide Jerry Saltz. Here are nine things to consider next time you approach a seemingly impenetrable work of abstract art.

There’s no code to crack.

As human beings, we take pleasure in solving problems. While this is useful in many aspects of life, the realm of abstract art is not one of them. Take a deep breath and let go of the desire to align every brushstroke to a symbolic meaning, every color to an aspect of the artist’s biography. While “getting” an artwork brings a momentary feeling of victory, bathing in its mystery brings enjoyment for far longer.

Don’t look at the clock.

How long should you take to digest and fully experience a work of art? While the average time spent in front a museum artwork is around 30 seconds, truly taking in an artwork can take years. (Remember when Saltz said abstraction slowed perception?) Kitty Scott, director of visual arts at the Banff Centre, likened learning an artist’s visual language to learning a new written one. “Over the years, you may see 20 works, and then you start to understand their language and what their subject is,“ she explained.

Read the full article at HuffPost