What is Abstract Art?

by Christie Cluett 5. December 2014 08:24


Abstract art – or Abstract Expressionism, as the movement is officially known – was conceived in New York, after the Second World War.

The term ‘abstract expressionism’ was first used to describe American art by the art critic Robert Coates in 1946, although it was first used in 1919 in Germany to describe German Expressionism.  


When was the abstract art movement?

Abstract art has its roots in some of the early Expressionist paintings of the 1900s – particularly in the work of Kandinsky – but the movement truly began to flourish in 1940s New York after the Second World War.


What are the hallmarks of abstract art?

The distinctive feature of abstract art is that it has no recognisable subject. It’s a visual language that uses form, colour, line and shape to create an image that has a certain degree of independence from anything in the identifiable world.   

Several abstract artists had their own theories of how certain shapes and colours were influenced by emotions and moods.

Contrary to popular belief, many of their seemingly random – yet vibrant and colourful – splashes and daubs, were planned to the minutest detail.

Others, however, attacked the canvas with a free-flowing, energetic impulsiveness in an attempt to capture subconscious thoughts and emotions.   


Examples of abstract art

Composition II in Red, Blue and Yellow (Piet Mondrian)

Mondrian was an abstract master of geometric shapes and precision. In this iconic work, he creates a sense of balance through primary colours, white spaces and straight black lines. He went on to adapt the same style for a range of other pictures. 

White Center: Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose (Mark Rothko)

Using large blocks of colour, Mark Rothko created several paintings such as this one. They usually consisted of a border with the edges of the blocks blurred together. It was up to the spectator to make their own interpretations, and Rothko imposed no intention or meaning himself.  Simple, effective, and expensive – in 2007 it sold for £72m.

No. 5 1948 (Jackson Pollock)

One of the most famous of all abstract expressionists, Jackson Pollock had his own distinctive artistic voice, and his style was later referred to as Action Painting. His No.5 1948 – which sold for a staggering $140m in 2006 – creates a vibrant weave of textures and colours, with drizzled brown and yellow paint.


Famous abstract artists

Willem de Kooning

A Dutch artist who became part of the New York Abstract Expressionist movement, his most famous painting is Woman III, which sold for over $137m in 2006.

Franz Kline

Generally regarded as an Action Painter like Jackson Pollock, Kline was an American painter, primarily known for his black and white paintings.

Wassily Kandinsky

Widely considered as the father of abstract painting, Kandinsky strived to capture motion and sound in his art and created some of the first abstract pieces.

Piet Mondrian

Mondrian defined his own approach to painting as ‘The Style’, utilizing abstract techniques which involved coloured rectangles and straight lines.

Jackson Pollock

Creating paintings without using brush strokes, his style would later become defined as Action Painting – he covered large canvases with dribbles, flecks and splashes of paint.  

Mark Rothko

Rothko’s paintings are distinctive in their large, vibrant blocks of colour. 


Did you know? Four interesting facts about abstract art:

· Before the Second World War, Paris had been the epicentre of the prevailing art trends, but was quickly superseded by New York, which emerged as the major hub for artists.    

· Futurism – a movement which has a lot in common with Abstract art – began in the early 1900s in Italy. Giacomo Balla was one of its leading exponents.

· An off-shoot of abstract art – and one of its most extreme styles – was Suprematism. Kasimir Malevich was a Russian artist who painted in this style, simply a white square painted onto a white background.     

· Renowned abstract artist, William de Kooning, arrived in America as a stowaway on a boat, initially earning a living as a house painter.  


At ArtGallery.co.uk, we have a fantastic range of affordable, original abstract art by talented British and international artists – and we're guaranteed to have a piece that will pique your imagination. 


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