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How to Explain Abstract Art to Children

Children can grasp the concept of abstract art when explained in simple terms and illustrated with visuals. Abstract art lends itself well to lessons, since kids often create abstract art without realising it. In simple terms, abstraction in art is a non-lifelike portrayal of real world objects, people and scenes that are usually difficult for other people to recognise (See Reference 1). Children's attempts to copy what they see onto paper often results in art that looks little like the original and is therefore unidentifiable to others, though the child can explain it easily enough.

Explain what abstract art is not, by showing examples of realistic or naturalist art. These art pieces look like replicas of their subject matter and are easy to recognise. Use paintings of fruit, a house or some other object children can easily identify. Ask students to call out the objects in each painting or drawing as soon as they recognise them.

Direct students to paint a "realist" picture.

Show several abstract works of art, one at a time, and ask the students to identify the subject matter. Students should be slower in responding to this question due to the obscurity of the art pieces. Ask students what colours and shapes they see in the painting. Ask them what emotions they feel while looking at each painting.

Define abstract art in terms they can understand. Explain that abstract art portrays what an artist feels and thinks, rather than what he or she sees. An abstract artist uses colours and shapes to express his or her emotions and ideas. Just as we do not know other people's thoughts, we do not always know what abstract art portrays but if you ask the artist, he or she can explain the painting to you.

Instruct students to paint a work of abstract art. Tell them to think about what they are going to draw and consider what colours and shapes will express their emotions and thoughts. Have students discuss one another's paintings, saying what they think each art work is about. The artist can then explain his or her painting.

Things You'll Need

  • Samples of realistic art
  • Samples of abstract art
  • Paint
  • Paintbrushes
  • Paper
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About the Author

Nadine Smith has been writing since 2010. She teaches college writing and ESL courses and has several years experience tutoring all ages in English, ESL and literature. Nadine holds a Master of Arts in English language and literature from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, where she led seminars as a teaching assistant.