Colour And Line

I wonder what first springs to mind when you think about abstract art? For me, it would be Mondrian’s clear, ordered colour grids. But this “geometric” style is only one side of abstract art. Other, non-geometric abstraction covers diverse styles, from Pollock’s drip paintings to the work of Barnett Newman, Jasper Johns or Robert Delaunay. And obviously abstract art is still emerging in the present day.

Photo by Fiona Art on

The main question I’m exploring here is how abstract art could prove particularly mindful and boost mental wellbeing. Time and again, people experiencing mental health issues say they feel stuck, trapped, mired, overwhelmed by obsessive & intrusive thoughts or by fear or loneliness. This can span different mental health conditions, from OCD to depression, agoraphobia to anxiety. Abstract art grew up as a movement for change, and can be seen as deeply freeing and liberating. Unlike figurative art, which focuses on representing the world around us, abstract art casts aside limits. By reducing – or changing – its focus to colour and line, abstract art is all about experimenting and exploring. So I wonder if looking at abstract art, or trying abstract art yourself, could be helpful for people, opening up new and freer ways of thinking and being.

Maybe experimenting with abstraction for yourself could lift mood and wellbeing. Trying a drip painting or drawing a colour grid could become mindfulness in action. Clearing the mind by setting aside representation could be helpful and positive, for example playing around with colours to express mood.

Moreover, as it is non-representational, abstract art is further removed from everyday life and the world at large. So while all art can be a haven and a refufe away from whatever issues people may have in their lives at the time, maybe abstract art can be a particular refuge. Interacting with colour and line, not with figures or scenes, there may be less likelihood of triggering.

But abstract art as a movement developed its roots firmly in lived experience. While it truly is aout colour and line, on another level many abstract artworks explore actual themes like exile, war and conflict. Abstract art grew and expanded during the 1940s, particularly amidst refugees who’d left Europe for the USA.

Maybe it’s also important to look at abstraction’s first beginnings: gradually developing from other movements like Post-Impressionism, Fauvism and Cubism. Little by little it became ever more experimental and less conventional. Was this a longing for freedom and self-expression? Was it rebellion, or a need to find new art forms?

In some ways Abstract Expressionism was itself used to focus thought and enotion. Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko used colour planes to encourage viewers to think deeply about their own emotional response to particular colours. So abstract art is not about shutting out thought: by eliminating the figurative, maybe it draws on mood all the more.

Try looking at a Rothko or Newman painting, or try your own drip painting or colour patterns – and think what impact it has on you. It would be great to hear any responses in Medley’s Facebook group Thank you!

Published by medleyisobel

My name is Isobel and I run Medley, an online initiative sharing art, nature and music for health and wellbeing.

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