What is abstract art?

For some people, the classification of a piece is irrelevant. If you love a piece, they argue, does it really matter if it’s abstract art or expressionist art or impressionist art or something else entirely? Fair point.

But on the other hand, knowing different types of painting styles can be helpful when you are searching for art for your home, especially if you are shopping for art online. Searching for “art” will yield a dizzying number of disparate results. But searching for abstract art will flood your screen with a very specific style of work, all with a similar “vibe.” If you vibe with that vibe, you know what to look for when shopping for art online (or mention it when shopping at our gallery, which is opening soon!).

How to Define Abstract Art

The definition of abstract art is harder to pin down than most people want it to be. There really is no universally accepted definition of abstract art. Just knowing there is ambiguity about the definition of abstract art, actually gets you halfway to an understanding of the discipline of abstract art.

For the average art-buyer, think of abstract art generally as art that doesn’t aim to literally depict a tangible thing. It is non-representational– centered around an idea more than a thing. It has little or no reference to the real world. It’s not a painting of a woman surrounded by flowers. It’s a painting of what it might feel like to be a woman surrounded by flowers.

Modern abstract art was born in the early 20th century. Russian painter Vasily Kandinsky is widely credited as being the father of the movement. Even if you think you don’t know who he is, it’s very likely you’ve seen his work. And if you liked it, you might be a fan of abstract art.

Abstract Artist Vasily Kandinsky Composition 8
Kandinsky: Composition 8


Abstract Art by Kandinsky
Kandinsksy: Color study with squares and concentric circles

There are many examples of abstract art that you can find on the Springboard Arts Chicago online store. Here’s three Springboard artists to know if you are drawn to abstract art.

Tom Flanagan

There are many subsets of the discipline of abstract art. Tom Flanagn probably falls into the category of geometric abstract art. When you read Flanagan’s artist bio, his words sound like those of an abstract artist. He says he values improvisation. He says his “paintings are more about listening than seeing.” Finally, he says he is interested in “how sensations and sensibilities guide visual experience.” Though his paintings are often titled after things (such as the acrylic on canvas painting “Mountain”) you don’t see an actual mountain there. Flanagan says the titles are “a way in and offer a kind of narrative tone that touches on sensation and memory.” So maybe you will have the sensation of being on a mountain after you stare at it for a while. Who knows? If you like Flanagan, take a look at Springboard artist JT Thompson. Though he defines his work as geometric surrealism, he says he “abstracts physical spaces,” so you may find his Labyrinth series appeals to a love of abstract art.

Jessica Matier

Like Flanagan, Jessica Matier seeks to depict concepts rather than things, such as “the preordinance of human existence versus free will, and the knowledge of wisdom in man.” And like Thompson, she uses the word “abstraction” in her statement. Her pieces feature strong brush strokes and bold color. Like any good abstract art, a viewer can stare at a Matier piece for a long time and their imagination will take hold. She says “This series intends to provide a deeply personal and unique experience while simultaneously building a feeling of inclusivity to the human race.” If you like Matier, consider also looking at pieces from Jason Hackenwerth.

Kathy Blankley Roman

The earth tones in Kathy Blankely Roman’s pieces suggest they are inspired by nature. When you look at her pieces, you might see hints of a reed on a pond and a cloudy sky.  Or maybe you won’t? And that is part of the beauty of abstract art, and why it remains popular more than one hundred years after Kandinsky started the movement. The interpretation of it is in the viewer’s hands. Each Blankely Roman piece explores texture, color and light. As is the case with most art, when you see them in person, they are even more impressive. Blankely Roman says she is “driven by a sense of play and an exploration of the materials as much as by intuition and an emotional response to the evolving painting.” If you like her work, take a look at the work of Springboard Arts artist Jane Michalski.

Whether or not you think classifying art is necessary, we’re sure you’ll find art you love in our online shop and in our gallery. Abstract or not, we promise to have art you love.

Black & white oil painting on canvas by artist Ed Hinkley

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 Painting by Ed Hinkley: Zaira (After Calvino)


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