10 Reasons Why Abstract Art is Considered Not to Be Art

Is abstract art really art? This question has plagued academics and critics since 1911 when Wassily Kandinsky produced the first abstract painting. If abstract art has survived for so long, why don’t some people consider it to be “real art?”

If you’re trying to decide whether or not to consider abstract works as art, you’ve come to the right place. Below we will lay out the 10 biggest reasons some experts don’t consider abstract pieces as works of art.

Further, we’ll provide you with the counterarguments from abstract aficionados and what has been made of them so you can make up your own mind.

Why is Abstract Art Different Than Other Art?

When people question whether or not a piece should really be considered art, 9 times out of 10, the work they’re discussing is abstract. What exactly is it about abstract art that draws the skepticism of not only laymen but other artists and critics as well?

Abstract art is often called into question because of the way it differs from other forms. It isn’t always attempting to convey any idea or concept in and of itself; rather, meaning is found solely in one’s reaction to it. Further, it doesn’t require knowledge of traditional art techniques

The purpose of abstract art is more about the private experience one has when viewing it than contributing to a larger conversation on a specific issue. Critics use this to argue that, unlike other art, abstract art doesn’t really express the human experience. 

Abstract Art Doesn’t Require Conventional Skills

Amongst laypeople, it is said that abstract art is just a way for someone with no talent to draw attention to themselves. Of course, the actual experts (at least the ones who don’t consider the abstract real art) usually aren’t quite as harsh.

Instead, they point out that a major part of art is the craft. Whether it’s the careful process of getting the dimensions and lighting right in a piece of realism or knowing what pieces to chip away at a stone to make a sculpture, there is a great deal of skill required to practice most artistic “crafts.”  

Abstract art, on the other hand, can be done with no other traditional art skills. Many people who get into abstract art do it more to exercise and/or express feelings–both negative and positive.

Oftentimes there is no logical planning for the painting, and there are very few standards as to what counts as good or bad that can be explained in a purely analytical way. 

Instead, quality is often determined by an individual’s feelings upon seeing the piece. Those who don’t see the abstract as art point out that this makes any claims on the value of a piece superior at best.

In that view, for something to be art, there must be some standards of how the craft is done, or literally, anything can be considered art. 

What Do Abstract Artists Say?

To give you a more balanced view, let’s briefly look at what proponents of abstract art have had to say on the matter. Two major arguments are worth highlighting here.

Take these with a grain of salt, as we are not trying to convince you that abstract works are art but rather give you enough information to make up your own mind on what you think. 

Some will argue that you don’t need special credentials to make art. Art is instead about expression. Some art forms happen to be more accessible than others.

In the case of abstract art, it can be done satisfactorily by almost anyone who wants to do it (of course, it can also be made better by practice). This gives it a similar quality to other “folk” arts.

Others focus more on the fact that while abstract doesn’t require you to have traditional art skills, it does require skills of its own.

Whether learned intuitively or through study, knowing how to use space, color and form can play a big role in how desirable your work is. Practitioners point out that these skills develop with time and effort as they produce more works.

Abstract Art Doesn’t Convey Ideas the Same Way

There is a commonly cited definition of art that inherently requires it to be conveying an idea–however subtly—that generally speaks of the human condition—anything from rapturous joy to deep sorrow. 

That contrasts with abstract art, where the entirety of the meaning is meant to come from the viewer’s reaction to experiencing it.

It’s not what the piece projects to the viewer, but rather what the viewer projects on the piece. While there is an element of this in all art, it is the core of abstract.

There usually isn’t a fixed idea that is supposed to emanate directly from the piece itself. Instead of adding to one large critical or academic conversation, its meaning is mostly self-contained and totally different from one person to the next. In this way, it can’t generate the same level of coherent discourse that traditional art pieces can. 

What Do Abstract Artists Say?

Those in favor of viewing the abstract as the art will argue that the ambiguity of the pieces is in and of itself an idea that is being conveyed. Part of the point is to tell people they should be looking inward for answers. 

Further, they argue that while some clear themes and ideas come from other art forms, there is also a significant degree of interpretation that is inevitable.

If anything, the highly interpretative aspects of art pieces are the most stimulating for academic discussion. 

Abstract Art Does Not Have a Clear Purpose

In the same way, abstract art doesn’t contain solid ideas; it also doesn’t have a real purpose. The imagery is often expected to be interpreted completely differently from person to person.

One person can look at a piece and feel at ease with it, while another will get a little rush of anxiety. 

The tone, positioning, and general structure of other works of art have clear purposes. Though there’s always some room for interpretation, other high art forms at least present a thread that should run through what everyone experiences. 

What Do the Abstract Artists Say?

Some may argue back that defining art as something requiring a clear purpose is too limiting. The abstract allows access to a different human experience that is no less valuable, though impossible to encapsulate entirely with words.  

Of course, skeptics would point out that if you can’t express the purpose of a piece, it effectively doesn’t have one beyond your subjective experience. There is no way to measure, understand or even share the subjective experience.

Abstract Art Doesn’t Have as Rich a History

Abstract art arose during the modernist movement, with many of its practitioners experimenting in odd new ways with color, light, and perception.

Over the centuries, producing, selling, and trading abstract pieces has become a multi-billion dollar industry. Still, during its rise and currently, in its reign, its legitimacy has faced skepticism. 

While abstract art has existed since 1911, it hasn’t been around as long as other forms like realism. With a relatively short lifespan in the grand scheme of things, it isn’t clear how long abstract art will play a major role in the art world.

Some might even suggest that it is only kept relevant because of the money made from it. 

What Do Abstract Artists Say?

Some proponents of abstract art have expanded its definition to include works that go all the way back to the stone age.

They say that even many cave paintings are akin to abstract art. They argue it has existed since the beginning of art itself, and it will always exist in some form. 

Skeptics may say that even if we decide to label things proto-abstract art, it doesn’t eliminate the inherent issue in the form itself. It would lack the same purpose and ideas, whether it’s the distant future or the far past. 

Abstract Art Doesn’t Intuitively Feel Like Art 

Abstract art has been the butt of jokes and one-liners on everything from late-night TV to the stages of academic conferences.

A potential reason why the humor lands with regular people is that most of us may intuitively feel that abstract art is different from art with a capital A. 

When an intuition seems to be shared across the board–from art academics and experts to Joe Shmoe down the street–there’s a good chance it exists for a reason.

This is the first indication that points people towards the lack of purpose and information in much of abstract art.  

What Do Abstract Artists Say

The main comeback to this, which may or may not hold water to you, is our intuitions are wrong. Perhaps it’s its novelty compared to other more structured art forms that give people a false impression.

Or maybe it’s just because most people don’t stop consciously thinking out how they personally define art. 

Abstract Art Avoids Artistic Risk 

One of the strongest arguments against abstract art is that there aren’t really clear criteria on what makes some pieces great and others terrible. While proponents of abstract art maintain ways to tell quality, critics say those ways are inconsistent at best. 

Because much of abstract art requires little to no traditional art technique to create, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to have a set of standards to judge it by. Therefore any failure can be brushed off. 

What Do Abstract Artists Say?

Abstract artists could argue that there is an artistic risk to abstract artwork, but it’s just not the same. The risk they would say is whether or not the piece will elicit an emotional response from many people who view it. 

Due to a lack of standards in technique, the people judging the abstract art may not clearly explain why they don’t like a given piece. Still, if enough people don’t enjoy or get anything out of it either, they can be sure there is something wrong. 

Abstract Art Can Be a Scam 

There is an industry around high-end art in general known for driving up the value of individual pieces in a shady way. The most infamous of these pieces tend to be abstract works. Perhaps because so many people hold the intuition that abstract art is not real art. 

In his article titled Why is Art Expensive, writer and critic Alex Mayyasi suggests that while some art pieces can gain value on their artistic merits, many pieces end up highly valued simply because art dealers and investors in the game decide to make them that way. 

They can make financial success indistinguishable from quality by selling at a really high price within a small network of wealthy participants.

At least they can pull that on enough people that the result is the same. Even if a given piece is mediocre at best, it can sell as an absolute masterpiece. 

What Do Abstract Artists Say?

Proponents of abstract works of art would quickly point out that just because there are scams around some abstract art doesn’t mean all of it is invalid.

There is a real market for it, and most of the stuff you’re likely to come across is legitimate. A set selection of high-dollar pieces that have had their value artificially inflated doesn’t change that fact. 

Further, while abstract art may be the style that springs to mind most people when they think of art scams, it’s far from the only style to suffer from that problem.

You can find overvalued art in virtually every form that exists. Abstract advocates would point out those who don’t see abstract works as art because some of it is a scam, don’t levy that same criticism at overvalued realism.

Abstract Art Can Add to Elitism and Classism 

Hand in hand with the previous point about wealthy art investors who inflate value is the fact that collecting “quality” abstract art is a hobby relegated to the rich and well-connected.

Abstract art is often hailed as something you can only understand if you’re an individual of taste. Expensive taste is really what people mean when they say that. 

Art is supposed to be something that expresses universal meaning and human truth. It’s not supposed to be a badge you hang up on a wall in your office to let clients know you have a lot of money and can “think outside the box.”

The general snobbery around who can and cannot appreciate abstract pieces, coupled with so many of them being prohibitively expensive, hint at a real elitism and classism problem.

Many critics have therefore concluded that abstract pieces exist more as socioeconomic indicators than real works of art. All they have to say is, “my owner has money.” 

What Do Abstract Artists Say? 

The argument against abstract art being a mere wealth indicator is made by pointing out all of the abstract art made by small creators and independent artists.

Abstract Art is a Feature of Pseudo-Intellectualism 

Pseudo-intellectualism is when you try to dress up and push plain (often false) ideas in all the superficial trimmings of intellectualism. It can be ambiguous because you actually have nothing to say or use fancy-schmancy-sounding words to describe and elevate your work. 

Usually, pseudo-intellectualism is used to either sell something or otherwise elevate a.person’s status. This is also a big part of what feeds into the potential scamming and elitism we discussed previously. 

Founder and Chairman of the Art Renewal Center, Fred Ross, gives a powerful example of this kind of fake depth in action.

In his article titled Abstract Art is Not Art, And Definitely Not Abstract, Ross points out that “saying a painting is about paint is like saying a poem is about the alphabet.” He highlights abstract artists who say the paint is the purpose of their painting. 

What Do Abstract Artists Say? 

Those who support abstract work as art could argue that there are more abstract works than mere paintings about paint. Many of them contain deep significance to the people who enjoy them. 

It could even be argued that it’s actually its own kind of elitism to decide what kinds of ideas are allowed to be expressed through art.

Not everything abstract art stands for is just pseudo-intellectualism. It can actually provide a break from intellectualism itself and have a sort of meditative quality to it. 

Abstract Art Lacks the Universality of Real Art

While reading a painting or other work of art properly takes time and practice, anyone can enjoy the more immediate aspects.

A sort of universal language comes from art and allows even the least artistically inclined person to recognize when work requires great skill. 

With abstract art, on the other hand, it’s the opposite reaction that seems to occur from a large swath of the population. 

The biggest cliche in the book on abstract art is that it’s for people who have no talent but still want the spotlight. While we think you don’t really need to go that far in your assessment, the fact that many people do calls into question the universality of abstract art. 

It seems that abstract art is mainly for niche groups. If it only speaks to small-time art shows in college towns or big art investors trying to buy, sell and make money, then is it really something that’s moving or just something that’s novel?

What Do Abstract Artists Say?

A more charitable interpretation of why so many people think abstract art requires no talent and isn’t “real art” is simply because they’re unfamiliar with it and don’t realize to do it well takes skill.

Even if it’s not the same as traditional techniques, one must learn to effectively use complex shapes, colors, lighting, and focus. 

If Abstract isn’t Art, What is it? 

If we, for a moment, accept all the above arguments that abstract works aren’t art, we’re left with a lingering question; what is it then? 

The least charitable definition would be that it is essentially meaningless entertainment. Others who are sympathetic to the form but don’t consider it art may be likely to say abstract works are simple expressions of the intangible.  

Some have even gone as far as to lump abstract art with other controversial art forms.

For example, non-objective art–a form where the artist doesn’t depict anything from reality–is considered the same category as abstract art–whether you label that category real art or something else. 

So, This is Where the Conclusion Goes?

At the end of the day, there isn’t—and never will be— a definitive answer as to whether or not abstract works are art. This is because the problem isn’t with the pieces themselves but rather how we define art.

Some definitions prohibit it from being taken seriously by the conditions they categorize works as art or non-art. Broader definitions, however, do include abstract. 

The narrower definitions that prohibit the abstract from being considered art are more useful because they are more precise and less subjective.

On the other hand, you could also argue that a broader definition is superior because it will allow a platform for more diverse works to be appreciated. The real question is, which definition do you agree with?

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