Abstract Art and the Brain: Why Do We Care About It?

Unlike any other forms of art, the abstract genre has an unerring ability to make us feel uncomfortable. Or confused. Or… in love? It is something different to each and every person, and that makes it unique in the art world. In fact, our opinions are so divided on abstract art that they form a single consistency: abstract art makes us feel something. It’s powerful and emotional – but why?

Finding Simplicity in the Complex

Abstract Art and the Brain: Why Do We Care About It?


Human beings are used to understanding the world around them. You might not know how your smartphone works, but you know how to use WhatsApp, post on Instagram and so on. The apps are logical and we’re fairly attuned to their use. We have a similar relationship with popular music, or some forms of art – but abstract art is, well, abstract.

When you look at a piece of work and don’t understand it, that should be normal. There is no single response to a piece of art which is correct. The artist themselves may not have a clear understanding of the production, but don’t be fooled, they are masters of their craft.

A master abstract artist could probably turn their brush to portraiture or landscape art with exceptional results, but they don’t. They choose to funnel their talents into something less tangible; less obvious. Once you let go of that belief that there’s a hard-edged, factual depiction contained within that frame, you’ll be able to enjoy the piece for what it truly is: an expression of emotion, crafted with masterful skill.

An Emotional Appreciation of Art

It’s well-known that artwork by true masters can evoke a strong emotional response. This is no different with abstract art. Even when you don’t understand what a piece means, you can feel the emotional nature of every brushstroke. Number 5, 1948 by Jackson Pollock may be seen as a garish mish-mash of colours to some, but there’s a reason his work sells for hundreds of millions of dollars – it awakens something inside of an art lover.

Collectors aren’t privy to some secret, a technique in appreciating abstract art which is hidden from the rest of us – the reason they buy and appreciate art is that they simply open their minds and let the work speak to them. You may find a piece intimidating, sorrowful or joyous, and these responses are all valid reasons to love it.

Everybody Loves Rule-Breaker

Abstract Art and the Brain: Why Do We Care About It?


Abstract art is like that kid in school who left the uniform at home and wore their spiked blond hair exactly how they liked it. It breaks all the rules and makes no apologies for it. For many artists, creating these impressionist pieces is a depiction of their emotions inside, not the physical constructs that we see on the outside.

An American artist named David Kessler put it brilliantly, stating that when it comes to abstract art, “the work has to engage the viewer, and let the viewer determine what they see”. It’s a two-way street. It’s probably the most liberating expression of emotion or that can be made by human hands, and it is totally unbound and unconstrained.

As David sees it, abstract art also challenges us intellectually. This is what motivates some art collectors – they want to get a glimpse into the artist’s mind-set and intentions, to find the meaning behind the paint. This is different from what the painting means, and that distinction should always be noted.

In its own way, purchasing a piece of abstract art – with its colours, shapes and ideas flowing freely – is like buying a blank canvas: it can be anything you want it to be, and only you can truly understand what you’re looking at.


Related Posts