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Abstract Art: Definition

on April 01, 2024

I talk a lot about abstract art here, especially Abstract Expressionism, so I thought I'd get back to the basics with a definition of abstract art.

So, what is abstract art? Well, simply put, it's a genre of visual art that emphasizes shapes, colors, forms, and gestural marks over realistic depiction. Unlike representational art, which portrays recognizable objects or scenes, abstract art focuses on elements of art itself—such as line, shape, texture, and color—to convey emotions, ideas, or purely aesthetic qualities.

abstract artist piet mondrian

'Tableau No. 2, Composition VII' by Piet Mondrian, 1913.

The origin of abstract art can goes back to the early 20th century, with pioneers like Wassily Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian (above) who broke away from representational traditions. These early abstract artists explored the expressive potential of non-representational forms. Kandinsky, for example, believed that colors and shapes could evoke spiritual experiences and emotions independent of visual references.

abstract expressionist artist elaine dekooning

'The Bull' by Elaine DeKooning, 1959.

As abstract art evolved, it began to encompass a wide range of styles, from geometric abstraction to gestural abstraction, where artists emphasize spontaneous and expressive brushwork, which is what we see in a lot of Abstract Expressionism (see Elaine DeKooning's example above). 

Because it's not representational, abstract art invites us to interpret and engage with art on a personal level, encouraging subjective responses and diverse interpretations. 


Pete Stein
Founder, Galerie Stein

Galerie Stein will be presenting several contemporary Abstract Expressionist artists both virtually at and in our gallery in Montreal in 2024.
Contact: Pete Stein at