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A Study in the Identification of the Meaning behind Abstract Art

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Understanding abstract art can be challenging to do. You can stand and look at a painting for hours and still be unsure or what it’s trying to say. With that being said, without being familiar with Piet Mondrian’s earlier work, and without knowing a bit about his artistic goals, you will not be able to understand his paintings. If you look at Mondrian’s painting Apple Tree in Flower, you might not be able to “get” the painting, or even know what the painting is trying to depict. Unless you were familiar with his work Red Tree or Grey Tree, you would be unaware that Mondrian began with a recognizable red tree, but was drawn to the spaces between the branches, and began to develop his work based on the spaces, instead of the tree itself. In Mondrian’s earlier work, he was drawn to purity, whether that be purity of form, purity of line, or the purity of color. The purest colors for him were red, yellow and blue, and pure lines were straight. Mondrian began to eliminate elements from his art that did not fit his idea of purity. After DADA and Surrealism developed, Mondrian began to reduce the amount of information he put on his canvas. Unless you were aware of his previous work, a painting shown to you of his might have been abstracted so much that it’s no longer recognizable and non-representational.

We are, to some degree, at a disadvantage when it comes to appreciating Mondrian’s art if we are not familiar with his artistic goals and have a knowledge of what kind of paintings he produced before his mature style. One of his later pieces of art, Composition II with Red, Yellow, and Blue may come off to a viewer as just a canvas of the simplest colors, hardly ever suspecting that they are seeing the artist’s determination to depict the underlying structure of reality; that is if they are unfamiliar with his goals and earlier work. Mondrian’s earlier work held a variety of contemporary styles, such as, Impressionism, Neo-Impressionism, and Symbolism. He combined his development of an abstract style with his interests in philosophy, spirituality, and his confidence in evolution of abstraction was sign of humanity’s progress. As Mondrian’s art developed he began to reduce his shapes to lines and rectangles, and chose to distill his representations of the world to their basic vertical and horizontal elements. Without being familiar with his goals and knowledge of paintings he produced, one might look passed the meaning of his work. Mondrian’s vision for modern art is easily demonstrated in the progression of his artistic style from traditional to complete abstraction.

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Looking at a piece of art can be overwhelming, and even confuse you; but I don’t believe that It’s meant to be easy to figure out and easy to understand. Someone like Mondrian uses artistic expression to put their values and beliefs into an arrangement of some form. For the most part, they are putting a master piece together that means something; they’re not just throwing something together that looks nice. If every piece of Mondrian’s art work, or any art work for that matter, had a sign next to it with an explanation of the work and the history leading up to it, I believe that it would take away from the piece. If a viewer wants to really appreciate a particular artist’s work, it is their responsibility to become informed. If they’re not interested enough in digging deeper, they have the choice to look at the piece with no bias, and make meaning of their own. I don’t think that doing their research and learning more about the piece of art and the artist is asking too much, because I think doing so will make them appreciate the work of art more. Taking the time to learn how the artist has developed their work, and how the piece of art you’re looking at now has evolved can make them experience more of the work of art. With any art you need to be informed to really “get it”.


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