When Does It Stop Being Art?

Here’s a question for you. When does abstract art stop being art? Maybe that sounds like a silly question, but I’d love to hear your thoughts. We’ve previously wrestled around a bit with how and why abstract art can be real art — which I now agree it can be — but do we ever need to draw a line and say, “Sorry, but no, this is not art”…?

A couple days ago I mentioned doing a background for an abstract painting I was getting ready to do. I finished the painting later that day. I do like a lot about it. I love the colors. It feels hopeful in some way. I titled it “I Believe I Can Fly”, because that’s what the painting made me think about, sort of like Peter Pan taking Wendy’s hand and leading her into the unknown.

I can see a lot of things in this abstract painting — or whatever we choose to call it. I can see people, I can see flying, I can see dancing. I can see armies, I can see dragons, I can see disembodied heads! Who knows what you might see in these colorful splatters of paint.

But, that’s the problem. This isn’t really a painting. It’s just splatters of paint, one of the different abstract “techniques” I’m exploring.

You might recall my previous frustrations with creating abstract art, that feeling of wanting to express myself, but not knowing how to do it. Now, I’m learning lots of “how-to” tricks to create abstract art, and while it’s lots of fun, and while I have come away with a few abstracts I like, the experience has led to a new question:


After preparing my background — brown, green, and black — and allowing it to dry, I created this work by simply putting thin acrylic paint in a cup, putting the canvas on the floor of the studio, and then pouring the paint from several feet above, just letting it splatter here and there. I splattered a pale blue first, then repeated the process with white.

All the while I stood there thinking, “This isn’t art. I’m not doing anything. I’m just pouring paint out of a cup.” I actually felt a little silly about the whole technique, or silly, at least, for considering it as art. I did try to “be artistic” in my choice of colors and I did try to think a little about “design principles”, but does that really matter?

I picked up a cup of paint and spilled it onto a canvas, dropping it a distance of several feet so that I would get lots of splatters. Is that really art? I don’t think so. Not really.

So, even as I’m having fun playing with paints and trying various “abstract expression techniques”, I’ve come back around full circle to the conclusion that — and this is going to sound weird — while everything can be art, not everything really is, nor should it be.

Poop in a can, anyone? A banana taped to the wall? A solid blue canvas?

It’s good to have a voice as an artist, but shouldn’t we also have something to say?



  1. It entirely depends on your definition of “What is art?” I, and I think many people would/do, have a very hard time coming up with a definitive answer to that question. I am an abstract painter & believe what I do is art. For me, a question I think about often is: what makes something art rather than a craft?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, yes, there’s such a “fine line” between art and craft. Some of the members of one art club I belong to are happy to embrace “craftier” forms of art, like carving gourds or doing origami. The members of another club are aghast at the very mention of “crafts”. They’re always saying, “No, we are a fine arts club. We can’t get too crafty.” So, yes, definitions are in play here, and no one can every truly define what art “is” or what it “isn’t” — except for ourselves.

      Liked by 1 person

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