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How to Interpret and Understand Abstract Artworks?

Updated on January 12, 2015

This article contains some things you should know about abstract art and abstraction which include the basic definition of abstract in art. Also, this will give you a general overview on how to create your own abstract and how to interpret abstract elements. In short, this article will teach you how to appreciate abstract even more.

Vendetta by John Patrick Ong
Vendetta by John Patrick Ong

Famous Abstract Artists

This is a partial list retrieved from The Origins of Abstraction:

  • Frantisek Kupka (1871-1957)
  • Robert Delaunay (1885-1941)
  • Piet Mondrian (1872-1944)
  • Wassily Kandinsky (1872-1944)

World of Abstraction

Understanding Abstract Art and Abstraction

Abstract art is a genre of art wherein there is no subject that is easily identified with (Boddy-Evans, n.d.). Objects are simplified, if not distorted, to deviate away from what is real. The intention of abstraction is to strengthen the power of the image, and to make the essence of the subject/object float.

"In a way it is synthetical purification and intensification of colours, forms and ideas that leads to creation of artwork that either resembles a direct print of a soul that refused to undergo rational filters of mind and cognizance, or a quasi-scientific, almost mathematical picture that looks so rational it's difficult to believe how irrational it actually is (The Origins of Abstraction, n.d.)."

Brief Origin of Abstract

Abstract art emerged during the 19th Century wherein Impressionism, neo-Impressionism, and post-Impressionism were at their peak. It was during this time that the importance of creative process of painting was highlighted. Hence, this era was overwhelmed by the logic of perspectives with the goal of capturing the reality with symbolic illusions known as abstracts.

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Interpret Artworks in Three Ways:

  • Interpret literally.
    What you see is what you get.
  • Interpret freely.
    What you want is what you get.
  • Interpret professionally.
    What should be is what you get.

These are not mutually exclusive. You may use all three of these in coming up with your interpretation.

How to Interpret and Understand Abstracts?

Abstract artworks may indeed appear bizarre, ambiguous and sometimes rather strange that you end up saying "What the heck is this?". It is undeniable that this is a familiar scenario for all of us. But, really, abstract art may take some time before we start figuring out what they are trying to depict.

Now, here are some ways on how you could interpret abstract artworks, which is practically the same as interpreting any other art.

  1. Interpret as it is (literally). This is one of the most convenient ways to interpret albeit shallow. However, this may come handy for you. Some aspects of the art are truly interpreted as they are. Hence, it is not completely wrong to do so.
  2. Interpret freely. The best thing about art is it's basically everything. And that we can never constrain the scope and meaning of art; and hence, we are free to interpret them the way we want to, or the way we can relate to. Art is freedom. Your interpretation may differ from mine, but that's the most fascinating thing about art. However, some may argue that this may not be a fundamentally and essentially strong interpretation because of the possible (total) deviation from what the artists truly want to reveal. Hence, it is still advisable for the viewers to see the art based on what it is supposed to portray.
  3. Interpret each element and the way they are grouped and presented. Now, this may be claimed as one of the best ways to interpret artworks -- seeing the art the way the artist saw it. However, this is also one of the hardest. It necessitates prior knowledge about the fundamentals and elements of an artwork. You must understand the meaning and symbolism of the medium, the strokes, the colors, the materials used, the texture, the subject etc.

Creating Your Own Abstract Art

There are cool hubs out there that will guide you in making your own abstract art. Hence, I will just lay the basics and the fundamentals. In other words, the guide here will be far more general, just to give you the "feel" of it.

  • Identify and visualize your theme. Since you're doing an abstract, you might say that it is difficult to identify what you want to achieve. However, this is a wrong perception about abstract. Abstract is not purely random; it encompasses something deeper. Hence, as an artist you should already have an idea of what you want as an outcome. This will influence the way you dab paints (the heaviness), the strokes you use, the direction of your strokes, etc. Now, it is your duty to make the concept manifest in your artwork.
  • Choose your medium wisely. This is the basic, you need to identify the best medium that can represent what you have in mind. Paints (or painting) are usually one of the strongest medium due to its thick consistency. Watercolor usually radiates a softer characteristic.
  • Select your colors and palette. Colors are truly symbolical. Each color represents a specific emotion, mood and feeling. Hence, this will affect how people will interpret your abstract. What you want to achieve is for people to interpret your art the way you want them to.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The Anatomy by Troy James PalancaDeparture by John Patrick OngMother and Child by Renz Kristofer ChengEmancipation by John Patrick Ong
The Anatomy by Troy James Palanca
The Anatomy by Troy James Palanca
Departure by John Patrick Ong
Departure by John Patrick Ong
Mother and Child by Renz Kristofer Cheng
Mother and Child by Renz Kristofer Cheng
Emancipation by John Patrick Ong
Emancipation by John Patrick Ong

Featuring My Own Pseudo-Abstract Artworks

I,including two of my friends, tried working on some of crafted artworks. In our works, we used poster paint and strings:

  • We first dabbed the strings into the different colors of poster paint.
  • Next, we placed the soaked strings inside a folded paper, and then pressed the sheets together.
  • The finale was pulling the strings out, and voila! We came up with abstract artworks!

This method is highly popular and has been featured in many art shows such as the Art Attack. It has gained popularity because it is one of the easy ways to come up with an artwork. Plus, the outcome will be pretty much attractive.

Betrayal by Renz Kristofer Cheng. This is a product of my creativity, imagination and emotions. A preponderantly red abstract.
Betrayal by Renz Kristofer Cheng. This is a product of my creativity, imagination and emotions. A preponderantly red abstract.


Boddy-Evans, M. (n.d.). Abstract Art: An Introduction. Retrieved April 1, 2012 from


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