Abstract Painting- 🙄Don’t Care About It? Maybe you SHOULD! 🎨

Okay, so what’s the big deal about Abstract Painting?! These paintings “aren’t about anything”…

It seems like a big ole mess on the canvas! Why should I even care? 🙄

I think this is how a lot of people feel  when they look at an abstract painting…Maybe even with you.

If you’re a painter I’m here to tell you why you SHOULD care about abstract painting…at least long enough to wrap your mind around it’s concepts for a few paintings of your own.

Why?  Because abstract painting is the quickest way to cement your understanding and mastery of the elements and principles of design.

Why should you care about understanding design?  Because a well designed, well composed painting is the foundation of a successful  painting.  Whether you’re painting a portrait, a barn, or the wildest abstract you can imagine, design provides an essential foundation.

It’s like having good bone structure.  A fashion model can have just about anything draped on her frame and it will look good.  Composition and design provide that same kind of foundation for strong paintings. And who doesn’t want to make strong paintings?!


“But I like the Impressionists”…

I didn’t go to art school. I don’t even claim to know that much about the art history. I’m just a girl who fell in love with watercolor painting in midlife. If you’re like me, you began painting flowers, landscapes, and pretty things that caught your eye and made your heart happy.  Painting for me has often been pure celebration of beauty. I don’t apologize for that, and I don’t think I’m that unusual.

I love to go to museums. My favorite exhibits are the impressionists/early modern painters. Love them!  Painters like Monet, Picasso, Matisse, VanGogh, Manet, Renoir, Pisarro, Whistler, Prendergast, Sargent, Homer, Sarolla…the list is long, but these artists MOVE me.

When I’ve gone to museums like MOMA, and other contemporary exhibits, sometimes I feel as if I’m being asked to care about nonsense. There will be canvases of one color, maybe three colors, and I have no idea what its all about. The bottom line is, some modern art can leave me cold.  But…

Other times, there’s something mysteriously wonderful about looking at an abstract piece. Often I can’t even describe why I like the painting in front of me.  It may be the texture, it may be an interesting brush stroke or combination of colors. Something draws me in.  I connect on an intuitive level.  Sometimes abstract art can simply make me happy.

Interestingly enough, the paintings I seem to be able to live with most easily in my home, are nonobjective or abstract.  Representational art can sometimes get tiresome…I might get bored looking at that particular group of flowers or barn after a while.

Somehow my abstract paintings seem to have more shelf life.

When I walk past an abstract on any given day, they might jump out at me in a different way and say something new.  It’s interesting how my mood seems to determine the meaning of an abstract painting.

For me, this is the essential difference between representational art and abstract.  With representational art, the artist has spelled it out for me.  The story is there and it’s simply a matter of reading it. A good painting, like a good book,  will often have a little extra meaning hidden between the lines.

In abstract, there is no meaning beyond what the viewer brings brings to the painting.  It really doesn’t matter what the artist intended..it’s up to YOU to give meaning to those patches of color and that collection of shapes.

As an art viewer, you have to be willing to participate actively when viewing abstract art.  Otherwise, it will be meaningless. Often, the interpretation comes from something buried in our own subconscious minds. Non-representational art can be like a Rohrshach test in that way.  

Modern Art and Modern Psychology: A Link?

Speaking of which, isn’t it a coincidence that the modern non-objective art movement really came to the forefront during the century when modern psychology began to explore the unconscious?  I think most would agree that an abstract painting gives you a peek into the interior world of its creator.  Not only that, if you connect with an abstract painting, it also will possibly reveal something about you.  In my mind, it requires psychological projection.  There is no story until you make one up. 

There are lots of trade secrets that artists play upon to capture the viewer’s attention.  I think that’s why I find it fascinating to study how to paint abstractly…it’s almost like learning to be a puppeteer.  A viewer’s emotions and there eyes can be manipulated if you know how, even if your painting is without a subject.

For example, did you know that I can MAKE YOU LOOK where I want you to look in my paintings?  There are ways to make that happen.  You just have to know how… 😉🎨

In fact, it’s our job as artists to master the methods so we can capture an audience.  Like puppet masters, artists should strive to dance the eyes of our viewers eyes through our paintings, and send them where we want them to go.  I learned to do this by painting abstractly.  How? By mastering my tools.

Rules and Tools

Abstract painting forced me to learn all I could about my tools.  The elements of design are an artist’s tools. These are line, shape, color, space, form,  texture and value.

In abstract paintings, your tools become your subject.

These tools can be manipulated to MAKE YOU LOOK.  An understanding of composition and the principles of design is what helps you use these tools effectively. They are the like the laws that govern tool use.

In art and in life, if you follow the rules of law, you’re more likely to stay out of trouble. Even though sometimes you can get away with breaking the rules…it’s always best to KNOW THEM first. That way you’ll be more likely to take educated risks rather than suicidal leaps. 

Most of my students who come to art late in life are painting without really knowing much about their tools, or about the laws that govern their use.  I did the same thing.  I just dove into the deep end and painted a lot of very mediochre paintings.  It’s like jumping from a window and hoping that the ground below will be soft, or that a mattress will suddenly appear to break your fall. Sometimes, it will.  But when you hit hard, you’ll find yourself wishing you knew how to jump safely.

My experience-A small step studying Abstract Design created a Giant Leap Forward!

After I studied abstract painting and learned the rules and the tools of design, I really saw my paintings take a giant leap forward. Even my representational work got better!  That was an unexpected bonus.  By understanding how to make good shapes and interesting color, I was able to improve those elements in all my work.  The rules apply to both realistic and non-realistic painting.  That understanding was a real breakthrough in my development!

Whether or not you study with me this week, I hope you’ll consider what I’ve shared here today.  Get yourself some understanding of design!  Learn more about how you can manipulate design tools.  Paint some abstract paintings using that understanding and I predict ALL your work will benefit.  ❤️

Love and Light,



Interested in a last minute seat in this week’s Amazing Abstract workshop?

I’m kind of over-the-top enthusiastic about the course I’m teaching this week!  Those of you who know me have seen me geek out over topics I’m excited about.  Abstract design definitely has me in full geek-out mode! 🤓🎨😍

If I am enthusiastic, it’s only because your small step in the direction of this material might just be the giant leap you’re looking for in your artistic development. That’s certainly going to be my goal for you!

Normally design is a VERY DRY subject that can seem boring.  I would never want to teach a course strictly on design for that reason. However, if you can learn it, and then immediately apply what you’ve learned in a fun project…there’s something MAGIC about that kind of learning experience!  ✨ That’s the kind of course I hope to give. I expect some great work will come out of this week’s efforts. Past courses have yielded some amazing outcomes even an award winner!  Hopefully you’ll be able to see some of the results very soon.

This workshop will be Monday-Friday July 31-Aug 4, 2017. 9A-4P, with 1.5 hr break for lunch at noon. Cost $300. Sign up via this link or reply to this email: https://calendly.com/rzdybel

Author Rebecca Zdybel

Artist, Instructor, Art-Travel Instructor - Spread Light, Share Love, DO Art! Rebecca Z Artist (Rebecca Zdybel) is an artist and instructor in Myrtle Beach, SC. She blogs and teaches locally and internationally. Sign up for her blog, classes, workshops, art travel tours, or see her work at RebeccaZArtist.com.

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Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Haley says:

    I love reading this! Such a passionate post. Makes me wish I could take it!

    • Wouldn’t that be fun? I am pretty enthusiastic about this topic, but only because it really was a game changer for me when I wrapped my head around these concepts. I like to think that maybe I can help my students get better faster. This course is one of the projects that taught me things I might not ever have taken the time to read about. Fundamental things that I now use in every painting. Good stuff! Thanks for checking in Haley. ❤️

  • holly humphrey says:

    Wow! Rebecca, sounds like you are on your way! I KNOW you are an excellent teacher and your passion for art, and now especially the abstract component of art, will enable you to pass on to others the excitement and fun associated with that particular segment. I’m sure your lessons will be fabulous and I am jealous of those who are able to participate. Great blog, by the way.

    Have some wonderful classes and the very best of luck to you!

    • I always love hearing from you, Holly! Given your success with abstracts in my classes, I bet you’d hit a home run with this course! The method I’m teaching is very similar to the one I showed you and Virginia a couple of years ago. Cant wait to spend the week exp!oring abstract design. Are you keeping your brushes wet? Hope so! xo❤️

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