Unpacking the Abstract: Emotion and Reaction

Curated by Elizabeth Mangone

Summer 2020 Curatorial Intern

Questions to consider while viewing abstract art: 

  • What mood do you think this piece evokes?
  • How did the artist make this piece?
  • Do you like this piece? Dislike it? Why do you think it makes you feel that way?
  • Does anyone else in your group feel differently about this piece than you? Why?
  • What are some other questions you think are worth considering while looking at abstract art?

The history of abstract art begins in Europe in the early 20th century, but it did not come into style in the United States until the 1940s. Abstraction began as a rejection of classical techniques and institutionalized artistic styles, and it has grown to encompass a diverse group of styles, movements, and artists. Since abstract artists create less representational art, meaning their art does not look like the real world, they have greater freedom to exaggerate colors, shapes, and forms than artists working in more representational styles. For this reason, the messages or ideas of the art are often communicated through intuition or emotion rather than a clearly defined image.

Abstract art has always elicited strong reactions, both positive and negative. When looking at the art in this room, try to embrace and explore your reaction…whatever it may be. Ask why the piece evokes such feelings. Artists use many different methods to communicate concepts, experiences, and emotions through their art. Asking questions about art is the best way to figure out what an artist’s message may be. Some artists may also want viewers to find their own meaning for the piece, so that each person’s understanding is unique.

Will Henry Stevens, Abstraction – Geological Section, undated, pastel on paper. Donated by Dr. and Mrs. Paul J. Payne [1991.014.007]

Abstract Art

James Welling, F29, 1986, acrylic on canvas. Donated by Thea Westreich and Ethan Wagner [1994.006.009]

Lucio Pozzi, Cadence, 1981, oil on canvas. Donated by Louis K. and Susan P. Meisel [1995.003.015]