Abstract art people can agree on
This abstract painting hangs in my dining room. My three-year-old son tells me that he sees monsters in it, and then he’ll look me in the eye and say, “I scared.” (For further effect, sometimes he’ll wrap his arms around his little body.) Is this a painting that screams scary? When I look at the piece, the bright colours project light and happiness.
I suspect there will be no agreement between my son and me regarding this painting unless he grows out of his love of monsters, or I grow out of my love of the big, bold, and sometimes garish.
With many abstract paintings, like the one pictured above, people will see different things and emotions swirling on the canvas. However, recent research[1, 2] by a team at the University of Trento showed that some abstract works consistently project the same emotion to different people.
One study in this project used 500 abstract works from the MART museum in Rovereto, Italy. The works were composed between 1913 and 2008 by European and American artists including Aldo Schmid and Luigi Verones — all of whom consciously attempted to project emotion through precise manipulation of line, texture, shape, and/or colour in their artworks.
For some abstract pieces, one person would indicate that a piece projected extremely negative emotion, another person would indicate that it was emotionally neutral, etc. As with my son and me, a piece of art spoke differently to different people. Interestingly, some art consistently projected the same emotion to people, and these pieces shared commonalities. The works that radiated negative, grim feelings had dark and irregular marks, which looked like chaotic texture. On the other hand, artworks that projected positive, feel-good emotions had bright colours in combination with simple, continuous, and regular forms.
In a further study, peoples’ eye-movements were tracked while examining abstract pieces that contained a mix of emotional elements. People tended to focus on bright colours and smooth line patches more than dark, random line patches in three-quarters of the art pieces. Even in paintings that were overall classified as negative, people searched out the positive aspects.
What’s the takeaway for our everyday?
Apparently, art is not always subjective. If you want to create an emotional piece of abstract art that consistently projects a negative or positive emotion, you now know what to paint, doodle, or draw. Go! Enjoy the process of being a genius.
1 Melcher, D. & Bacci F. (2013). Perception of emotion in abstract artworks: A multidisciplinary approach. Progress in Brain Research, 204:191-216.
2 Yanulevskaya, V., Uijlings, J., Bruni, E., Sartori, A., Zamboni, E., Bacci, F., Melcher, D., Sebe, N. (2012). In the Eye of the Beholder: Employing Statistical Analysis and Eye Tracking for Analyzing Abstract Paintings, In Proceedings of the 20th ACM International Conference on Multimedia, ACM, New York, NY.
Abstract Painting: Lj. Velisavljevic