Abstract Art for Amateurs and Novices

Abstract art is my favorite kind of art to not only produce but also to consume.  There’s something so raw and primal in it. It’s like peering directly into the mind and soul of the artist and exploring the mess of humanity that can be found inside. Abstract art is powerful, emotional, and awe-inspiring.

One of my passion fire goals is to create a masterpiece of abstraction. Wouldn’t it be great to have a cozy little studio in Manhattan and be able to spend the day throwing paint on canvas because someone wants to pay you millions of dollars to showcase the mess that’s inside your mind with colors?

What Does Abstract Mean in Art?

Abstract is hard to define. Unlike realism, it doesn’t represent anything that you would find in the world. It’s not a recognizable image. You don’t look at an abstract piece and think, “oh, that’s a beautiful landscape,” or “what a lovely portrait.” Abstract art isn’t representative of what the world around us looks like, unlike many other forms of art.

Abstract art guide

Abstract is wild, imaginative, and passionate. It’s using colors, shapes, lines, textures, and values in ways that you wouldn’t expect. It can be random and patternless, colorful and shapeless, or a combination of all of these things. An abstract might be nothing but swirls and dribbles, splashes, and sprays.

Although abstract art isn’t immediately recognizable as in images in the world, it can still be representative.

What Kind of Art is Abstract?

As hard as abstract is to define, it’s even harder to explain what kinds of art are abstract. Abstract is basically any kind of art that doesn’t fit easily into other categories. It’s neither realism nor impressionism, neoclassicism nor classicism. It’s easier to go through a few famous abstract artists and showcase why their style can be considered abstract.

Famous Abstract Artists

Jackson Pollack

Jackson Pollack is arguably the most famous abstract expressionist, and one of the most famous painters of all time. His drip paintings are almost synonymous with abstract at this point. Pollock’s style was unique at the time. He’d lay out a canvas and fling and drip paint across it, resulting in fabulous lines of fluid movement across the space. His works are messy and unpredictable.

Pollack is the first abstract artist that I discovered, and it was love at first sight. I loved how it didn’t represent anything reminiscent of real life. It was like a peek into his very essence – his mind and soul, and thus the mind and soul of humanity. Our lives and thoughts and ideas and feelings are messy, convoluted, and often confusing. His artwork represents that in a very visceral way.

Mark Rothko

Rothko is one of my favorite artists, and not because his art is spectacular. It’s because, in my opinion, it’s not. The man really just painted a canvas red, then painted some rough black squares on it, and is celebrated as one of the great abstract artists of the 20th century. If he could make a living selling art, anyone can.

To be fair, his works are influential because he was the first one to do it. He was the first to explore the relationship between shape and color alone in abstraction. Though some of his works have clearer subjects, he is most renowned for painting bold, irregular rectangles and squares on a field of color.

Willem De Kooning

Willem De Kooning, along with Pollack, was a member of the New York School of abstract expressionism. He is known primarily for his black and white paintings, which were a departure from what many of his contemporaries were producing. Abstract paintings were known to celebrate the boldness and richness of color, but the black and whites forced the viewer to focus on the geometric shapes that became apparent in the work.


De Kooning’s color paintings are also well known as important pieces in the action painting style. In addition, he dabbled in sculpture and form, using Picasso as an inspiration for some of his pieces. He married a fellow abstract artist, Elaine De Kooning.

Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso is not generally associated with abstract painting. He’s often celebrated as the creator of cubism, a painting style in which the subject matter was broken down into “cubes” that celebrated the two-dimensional space of the canvas more so than the subject itself. Picasso is known for paintings where the geometric features of a subject don’t line up with what you would expect.

 Early cubist paintings had fairly clear subject matters, but in the twentieth century, cubism could be said to evolve into geometric abstraction. This style was the precursor to modern abstraction, which is why Picasso is so relevant to the movement.

Joan Miro

Joan Miro can be thought of as a surrealist rather than an abstract painter, but he did dabble in abstraction later in his career. As a contemporary of Picasso, he was influenced by the two major post-impressionist painters, Cézanne and Van Gogh. He is important to the abstract movement because his works bridged the gap between those post-impressionistic paintings and modern-day abstraction.

Are There Rules in Abstract Art?

My favorite thing about abstract art is the complete lack of rules. Maybe folks who study art, live it, breathe it, and nitpick it to place it in the correct art movement might have something different to say, but as a normal person who loves to paint and consume pure abstraction, the idea of this style of art being beyond the rules is what makes it so appealing to me.

With abstract, you don’t have to be a talented painter. You don’t have to be concerned about figure and form, color and value. Your painting doesn’t have to be perfect and representational; it doesn’t even have to be anything at all. It can be wild, representative, messy, and impure, just like our real-life thoughts and emotions.


But it can also have structure if you so choose. Many abstract artists rely on geometric shapes to convey certain emotions and ideas, and that’s okay. Some even use realism as a base – our normal art writer, B. Gill, claims that abstraction is nothing more than realism in disguise. He says that you can’t have abstracts without realism, and most abstracts have their beginning in the realistic. He does have a point. I’ve found amazing parts of nature on my daily walks that I’ve started photographing; tiny slices of the natural world that speak to me in wild ways. These will be the inspiration for my newest series of abstract works.

All of that and more can be true with abstract art, and that’s why I love it so much. The viewer gets to decide how to think and feel about it. The subject matter is secondary to the emotion that it conveys.

The Elements to Abstract Art

The elements in abstract art are the same as the elements in most other styles of art. There are six main elements to consider when constructing art, and those are line, texture, shape, form, color, and value. However, with most painting techniques, these six elements need to come together for a specific purpose, to create a recognizable image. In abstract, these elements are expressive. An abstract piece can contain all of these things or be made up of just one. A fun thing about abstract art is playing with these elements in new and unique ways. What happens if you take the form out of an image and try to create a formless painting? How can we remove color and create a black and white abstract, a la Kooning? 

The lack of structure and the ability to use these elements in your own way without a rigid process is my favorite thing about abstract art.

How to Paint an Abstract Piece

Did I convince you to try creating your own abstract masterpiece? It’s pretty easy to get started. You will just need a few supplies. First, get out your easel and canvases. Then, decide whether you want to use acrylic, watercolor, or oil paint. Acrylic dries quickly, and there are a ton of different mediums you can add to it to create fun textures, but oil is higher quality and better for blending.  Watercolor is fun but is harder to use than the other two and requires special paper.

 Next, get various brushes and other items that can be used to transfer paint to canvas (I’ve used sponges, air, rags, stamps – it’s fun to experiment!).

Once you have all this stuff ready – start experimenting! Throw paint on that canvas! Use color theory to determine which colors will look best (or worst) together, play with different combinations of mixes and mediums.

Most of all – have fun. Abstract art is about being creative and exploring the vivid color combinations that you can create, exploring how the six elements of shape, form, texture, value, lines, and color interact, intermingle, and complement one another. Embrace the wildness of having no rules to follow and create your masterpiece!