Defining Meanings From Abstract Paintings

Defining Abstract Paintings
Abstract paintings are like a musical composition. Like musical notes, figures, textures, and colors on a canvas combine and swirl, build and wane. They may appear to the untrained observer to be just a random assembly, but like a composed tune, there are, in fact, rules that govern (or at least inform) how those shapes and colors are used for the desired effect. Whether abstractions are actually valuable contributions to the world, or merely a mishmash of nonsense is a question that is likely to persist for quite some time. For my purpose here, I take the position that abstract paintings can be both accidental or deliberate, depending on who is behind the brush.

The Meaning Of Abstract Paintings
The first thing to note about defining meaning is that often times it is the observer that has the ultimate and final say as to what it is, at least for them. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is probably a pretty accurate way of looking at this. What one finds meaningful, another may not. Again, music offers a parallel. If listening to a Vivaldi piece makes emotion well up in my eyes, and moves my heart to a loftier place, that’s my experience. Should I be irritated or frustrated that it doesn’t appear to have the same effect on my companions? Of course not. The meaning is something for me to define for myself. They get to do the same thing for themselves.

So, abstract paintings mean different things to different people, and that’s okay. Some people find meaning in the way the piece is composed. They look for principles and archetypes in the art, or they make conclusions about how “correct” the painting is based on the rules of composition.

Others are looking to find or experience the emotion they may find in abstractions. Maybe it’s a particularly deep texture in the paint, or a rough stroke or cut, that reveals some happiness or pain that interests these people. For others, it might be the very absence of some shape, color, or texture that gives meaning. Since abstract paintings are, by their very nature, not meant to realistically portray the world around us, the artist must rely on subtler tools and techniques to communicate any intended message. But one of the nice things about abstract paintings is that even if an artist blows it, the meaning can still by found by the observer.

Where To Go From Here
Abstract paintings are not something to be taken lightly, nor are they something to over-complicate. You don’t want to understate a painting, nor do you want to overstate it. What’s important is to recognize that there is much more going on than an artist merely throwing paint at a canvas. There are rules and guidelines that true abstract artists follow. But, like in music, those rules can be bent and adjusted to various degrees to suit the purposes of the artist. And, at the end of the day, it is we lowly viewers who end up having all the power to determine meaning for us. What a beautiful thing that is!

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