Abstract Art: a definition

abstract oil painting, cobalt teal blue, debiriley.com

Are you Intrigued by Abstracts?  Have you been wondering….”What is an abstract!?”

Would you like to know What are the differences between an abstract,  a semi-abstract, an Impressionist painting?


abstract oil painting, cobalt teal blue, debiriley.com
Abstract Oil #1 painting, cobalt teal blue, debiriley.com


Abstract Paintings  Described

How would I briefly, summarise them, define and describe them?


My version how I see Abstract paintings…..

I call them “non representational” art images.

They are abstractions.

They do not represent any particular object or group of objects.



If I can tell it is a ‘bowl’ or a ‘boat’ or a ‘flower’ …. then,  I’d class it either semi-abstract or Impressionist. Depending on the work.





Abstract paintings are very different from   Impressionism.


In Impressionism we can very clearly identify there is a tree, boat, sky, people, flower, etc. but with a vague and soft approach.

As though looking through a foggy mirror perhaps. The edges are softer and blurred.


watercolours The Wharf impressionistic painting debiriley.com
Watercolours The Wharf impressionistic on site painting debiriley.com


debi riley art, daisies by white cottage fence, watercolor painting, debiriley.com
Shasta Daisies watercolor


watercolour bouquet debiriley.com
Bright and Joyful Mother’s Day – a Watercolour Bouquet debiriley.com


Photo Realism 

Abstracts are so different to photo realism in which we will be  intensely aware of every micron of detail that exists within that scene and subject. Almost hyper realism.  Its a case of “It is a replica – of the photograph.”

Not my cup of tea.  But, it is most certainly my brother’s.



Semi Abstract

A Semi – Abstract painting has a dominance of abstract qualities. But, with just a little  more form and detail that strongly and clearly suggests a particular object or scene.

craggy tactile texture in watercolour using molding paste, debiriley.com
Watercolour Craggy Mountain


zen of colour: forest in cobalt teal blue pg50, debiriley.com
Zen of Colour: Forest

Maybe sky, mountain, ocean, rocks and boulders in a rushing river (as in Green, May your River Run. Below.)

oil landscape abstract painting, debiriley.com
Abstract Landscape in Oils debiriley.com



An Abstract painting doesn’t have clearly identifiable elements.

It is open for the viewer to interpret as they will.

As Their fancy takes them!

colors of the ocean, abstract oil painting, debi riley
Ocean Colors, Oil Abstract #2,  debiriley.com


This style of painting appeals to me most of all.


I like the idea that viewers are actively engaged within the artwork, using their creativity. Using their imaginations.


That really pleases me,  when I am able to stir and inspire someone’s imagination to take flight!!






Abstract Artists to look at

Some of my favorite artists are and were abstract specialists.

So many world class artists have painted in the Abstract genre.


These people are Brilliant!


Wassily Kandinsky

Georgia O’Keefe

John Olsen 

Franz Kline

Robert Motherwell

Mark Rothko

Paul Klee

Paul Jenkins

Paul Jenkins colorfilled abstracts, debiriley.com
Paul Jenkins

Bridget Riley


Toko Shinoda

Toko Shinoda, Japanese wabi sabi, debiriley.com
Toko Shinoda, brushstroke mastery




There are other types of art:  botanical, illustrative, graphic design, and more,  that I didn’t cover.

I really just wanted to focus on the 3-4  types of art that might get confused most often by the beginner artist. For now.


Defining Abstract Art is personal and subjective to a certain extent; but one can say that Abstract paintings are  “Non – Representational” art.




Published by debiriley

The act of creation, in any media is a fascinating and magical process. I simply love to create. Expressing in color, line, tone, texture - as if, they were words upon a page. Creating a uniquely me, interpretation. Enjoy More of my "one-of-a-kind" expressive art at society6.com/debiriley and, redbubble.com/people/debijriley/shop

62 thoughts on “Abstract Art: a definition

  1. It’s good to have these terms and know how these different “styles” of art differ from one another. The list of artists you’ve provided will also be helpful for anyone who’s interested in learning more. I really love your “Zen Forest”. The abstract landscape is also another favorite. Each time I visit your site, I come away with new knowledge and a greater appreciation for color.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. many thanks Judith! (I’m quite fond of Zen Forest too)
      I’m so pleased that there was plenty of useful bits of info here today for you! I hope that some of those artists, can illustrate other ways to interpret abstracts 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Once you stop tying yourself down to a “subject” it’s almost overwhelming how many options you have. When I first starting painting abstracts I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to accomplish, but the beauty of abstracts is that it puts that burden on the viewer as well.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. yes! it is fun and freeing for both the artist and the viewers.
      great comment! thank you for sharing your thoughts 🙂 cheers, Debi


    1. Laura, thank you! Glad it helped.
      I was hoping that this would help a bit, to clarify somewhat the differences.
      Its not ‘in depth’ analysis; lol, but it will do 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. thanks!
      I’ve had quite a few questions now about the confusing issue of abstract or impressionism…. thought I’d share my views today! 🙂


    1. thank you so much Jodi, I’m really glad that you found the post info useful today and like these wild abstracts. (and, I DID have an inkling, you liked some of my work…. Charlie TOLD me!!!!) lol

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Very helpful, I wasn’t even aware of my confusion until you helped me on my way. Things are clearer now and at least, I will know what I’m looking at or experimenting with. Love all your impressionistic art and the movement captured in “Abstract Landscape in Oils”.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Your abstract work is beautiful – I love the freshness of the strokes and the life in the pieces. I really enjoy viewing abstract art, but I find it very challenging to do. What I struggle with the most is knowing when to stop. I will look at a piece at various points and try to respond to what’s already going on it it, to see what it needs next and sometimes this helps, but not always. I feel like it is really easy to push it too far and overwork it. Is there any advice you have that speaks to the question of ‘how do you know when your abstract piece is finished?’

    Liked by 2 people

    1. thank you so much! I’m happy to help! what works, sort of, for me, may not for everyone!
      my analogy is odd: I take the roast out of the oven before its burnt. I like medium rare. so, I take the roast out at rare and let it ‘cook’ on the counter for the 15 minutes til its right.
      this same Guideline applies to paintings.
      STOP!!!! When it is just underdone.
      come back to it in 2 – 5 days with an objective eye. it works.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Dear Debi, today I saved at least 10,00 Euros for going to a museum. Thanks for showing us a large variety of your wonderful art and of other wonderful arts. Cheers Mitza

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I shared this on my blog…. with my own thoughts–that started as a comment here, but proved far too long!
    This was a good post–with great examples. Thanks you, as always!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. hi Jacob! Thanks! I just ran over to your place! its a great article you’ve written! loved the last 2 lines… equilibrium!


  7. I like all art but abstract is the one I come back to time and again. One question – do you mean abstract is non-representational for the creator or the viewer? Whenever I create something that I think is abstract people seem to find images and meanings in the piece that I didn’t see. Maybe that’s what humans do – find meaning in random images.
    Thank you for making me think some more about these names :o)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. humans are programmed, to try to alter what the mind perceives as disorder, into order. Viewers – will do that. I know that and now, think its a good thing. It just means, they become MORE Engaged, in my artwork. And, abstracts being Non Representation – is more …for the creator, but… still this is ‘fluid’!!! For, we may have something in our inner minds and hearts, we are thinking of at the time!


      1. People can express themselves with words but abstract art allows them to express their ideas in ways that are impossible with words alone. It brings out ideas that can’t be verbalised. It brings out ideas and thoughts that can’t be given images that look like anything in the “real” world.
        Ironic really that I don’t think I’m putting my thoughts down very clearly, but maybe you get the gist of what I’m trying to say.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. yes! well, in my mind I do!
        I see it like …… abstract paintings are emotional responses made visual.
        and I completely agree about how some thoughts can’t really adequately be verbalized

        Liked by 1 person

    1. yes ma’am!!! put on a piece of gessoed masonite, with palette knife. willy nilly.
      no idea of what…. what going to happen.
      it was a lovely surprise. (I did 10 at the same time, 5×7 sizes) sheer fun!

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Always fun to come back and re-read one of your posts and then to have something jump out more than the first time….your abstracts and Paul Jenkins. I looked him up and wow….love his work! By the way, how did you do “watercolor craggy mountain”? and how large?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. craggy mt. was with watercolor; molding paste put randomly – onto masonite board and let it dry. then ‘wash’ wc over those textures! so fun, so exciting… must do more.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. thank you! Freedom of Expression is the best application of art. (imo) Yes!! where else, can we do and create, with such utter abandon and passion! I tell my grandchildren, yes, the sky CAN be green. or striped. or blue. you CAN paint outside those lines, Please Do!! call me a rebel… i think, i am LOL Thank you, for stopping in and for taking the time, to comment. I appreciate it! Cheers, Debi

      Liked by 1 person

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