Good Abstract Art and How to Identify It

Abstract art is like an uncharted territory for many, evoking feelings of intrigue, confusion, and even intimidation. Some adore its ambiguity and depth, while others find it bewildering or without aesthetic merit. But there’s no denying that abstract art holds a prominent place in the world of fine art and interior design. Today, let’s explore the nuanced world of “good abstract art” vs “bad abstract art”, taking a close look at what makes abstract art good, and what distinguishes good abstract art examples from less impressive ones.

Abstract Art: Defying Conventional Boundaries

At its core, abstract art rejects the need to represent the visual world as we know it. It can take us into an exploration of colour, shape, and texture, or delve into the artist’s emotions or ideas that aren’t easily put into words. It can challenge us, move us, and inspire us in ways other art forms might not. So, what differentiates “good abstract art” from “bad abstract art”?

The Soul of Good Abstract Art

One of the most revered abstract artists of all time, Wassily Kandinsky, once said,

“Colour is a power which directly influences the soul.”

This sentiment rings true when exploring the distinction between good and bad abstract art. Great abstract art transcends the canvas and stirs something within the viewer. It is less about the depiction and more about the evocation. This can be achieved through the artist’s masterful handling of elements such as colour, form, composition, and texture.

One of Kandinsky’s own pieces, ‘Composition VII’ below, serves as a prime example of good abstract art. It is often regarded as one of his most important works, showcasing a riot of colours and shapes that reflect a sense of controlled chaos. Composition VII exhibits a profound level of complexity, a thoughtful layering of shapes and colour choices that pull the viewer in. Each element seems deliberately placed and carries its own weight in the composition, demanding attention and exploration.


The Pitfall of Mass-Produced Abstract Art

In contrast, the world of home decor has seen a surge of mass-produced “abstract art” pieces, which often lack the depth and soul that makes abstract art resonate. Let’s take the generic beach abstract painting below (fig. 1) as an example. While it may not be unpleasant to look at, it lacks the personal touch, the intricate layers, the depth, and the tension that good abstract art often presents. It seems designed to ‘fit’ into a preconceived aesthetic rather than to challenge, provoke, or inspire. It might not detract from a room’s overall aesthetic, but it’s unlikely to be a standout feature.

Fine art is very subjective, so there is no set of hard rules to categorise a piece as “bad abstract art”. However, there are markers to look for that can help. It’s important to remember that these markers are not absolute. They serve as guidelines, helping us discern and appreciate the complexity and subtlety of good abstract art.

1. Lack of Originality

The essence of abstract art lies in its originality and uniqueness. Mass-produced pieces can often lack this essential characteristic. Many such pieces are manufactured keeping in mind popular trends and colour schemes rather than being an authentic expression of the artist’s ideas or feelings.

If the art piece feels like it’s something you’ve seen before, or if it seems to mirror popular design themes without contributing anything new or unique, it might be a red flag.

2. Absence of Depth or Complexity

Good abstract art has depth—both in the literal sense of technique and layering of media, and in the figurative sense of conveying emotional or conceptual depth. If an abstract art piece seems flat, without layers, complexity, or a sense of dynamic tension, it might be lacking.

Consider a piece where the colours seem arbitrarily chosen, the elements thrown together without any discernible thought or intent. This might be another marker of “bad” abstract art.

3. No Emotional Resonance

As previously discussed, one of the markers of good abstract art is its ability to resonate with the viewer—to stir emotions or provoke thought. If an art print piece leaves you feeling indifferent or unengaged, it might lack the emotional depth that good abstract art conveys.

4. Over-Reliance on Trends

Abstract art that leans heavily on current trends can be a red flag. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with being influenced by trends, they shouldn’t dictate the entire composition or concept of the artwork.

If an abstract piece seems to echo the latest design fads without any unique interpretation or original thought, it might lack the lasting appeal of good abstract art.

5. Lack of Craftsmanship

Even in its most non-representational forms, good abstract art reflects the skill and craftsmanship of the artist. This can be seen in the thoughtful composition, the careful balance of elements, the subtle use of colour, and the effective use of the chosen medium.

If an abstract piece seems carelessly executed—whether in its composition, colour harmony, or the handling of the medium—it might fall short of the mark.

In conclusion, what makes abstract art “bad” often lies in its failure to engage the viewer, be it through a lack of originality, depth, resonance, or craftsmanship. By being aware of these markers, you can refine your taste and understanding of abstract art, allowing you to select pieces that truly enhance and complement your interior spaces.

Distilling The Essence of Good Abstract Art

Understanding what makes abstract art good can often be distilled down to a few key factors: intention, complexity, and resonance.

1. Intention: Good abstract art isn’t random. There’s intention behind every stroke, every shape, every colour choice. The intention might be to evoke a certain emotion, depict an abstract concept, or simply explore the possibilities of a particular medium. In either case, this intention lends the piece depth and purpose. Take, for instance, Mark Rothko’s ‘No. 61 (Rust and Blue)‘ pictured below. Rothko’s colour field paintings, characterised by large blocks of colour, seem simple on the surface. However, they’re charged with intention—every colour, every gradient is meant to immerse the viewer in a deeply emotional experience.


2. Complexity: This is not about how ‘busy’ a piece is, but rather how the elements of the artwork interact and harmonise. Consider Jackson Pollock’s ‘No. 5, 1948’. Pollock’s work might seem chaotic at first glance, but closer inspection reveals a dance of colour, rhythm, and movement that’s both intricate and deliberate.


3. Resonance: Good abstract art resonates with its viewers. It stirs emotions, sparks thought, or elicits a strong reaction. Joan Miro’s “Bleu II” below, a minimalist abstract piece, has a haunting tranquility that leaves a lasting impression long after you’ve walked away.

Bleu II in Detail Joan Miro

As we navigate the fluid and often subjective realm of “good abstract art vs bad”, the bottom line is this: trust your instincts. If a piece speaks to you, moves you, or simply complements your space in a way that feels right, then it’s good art for you. Abstract art, after all, is a personal journey—one that’s as unique as the individual embarking upon it.


Cover Artwork: Joy of Life (Bonheur de Vivre), 1905 by Henri Matisse

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *