Making Sense of Abstract Art by Rebecca Stern

“Art is not always about pretty things. It’s about who we are, what happened to us, and how our lives are affected”

-Elizabeth Broun

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Something you may not know about me is that I’m not just an artist, I’m an art teacher as well. I teach middle school art in Greenwich CT. I talk to my students a lot about art and show them many contemporary artists, albeit mostly abstract artists because that’s what I’m interested in. The comment I hear most often about abstract art is “But I could do that, why is it art?” It occured to me that not everyone “gets” abstract artwork. I’m not here to make you fall in love with it like I am, but rather shed some light on what’s behind it from an artists perspective.

Sometimes abstract work is purely about aesthetics, but more often than not there’s something deeper than just a pretty picture. That’s where being able to allow your own experience to be seen in the painting comes in. Every single element of a piece of artwork serves a purpose, both visually and symbolically to convey meaning.

For me, each painting comes together in parts and each part speaks a different word of the “sentence” I’m trying to relay. The first wash of color is the opening words, setting the tone. From there bold contrasting colors transport the eye around the surface to a visual roadblock (usually added texture of harder edged shapes) which acts as a visual obstacle much like how negative thoughts or experiences impact our path. Embroidery adds punctuation to the sentence, making everything flow together.


When looking at abstract artwork, I like to first assess how it makes me feel. Do I have a recognizable emotional reaction to the piece? Does the artwork bring questions to mind like why did the artist do that or how did the artist do that? I like to look at the painting up close, and from far away. Look at the edges of the painting, if it’s unframed, as they can often tell an interesting story.

I think the biggest thing that I can stress, is that there is no right or wrong answer when looking at abstract work. Allow the work to speak to you in whatever way your mind interprets it because more often than not, that’s what the artist wanted you to do. If you’re really curious about the artists intent, and this is a very personal choice, I suggest reading the artist statement or reading the title of the work which can often give a clue as to what the artists intended meaning was. On the flip side, if the piece doesn’t do anything for you, so be it and that’s okay too.

Interested to learn more about what’s behind my work? This video may help!

A Beautiful Mess of Details by Rebecca Stern

This post is sponsored by Blurb

My work begs for a closer look. While compelling from a distance, the real meat is in the details. The way marks overlap or one color is placed against another. Stitches that don't quite line up. A collage piece that creates tension with another shape. Sometimes these specific elements can get lost in the expanse of the larger work. To draw viewers attention to these finer details, I've created a Blurb book.

Blurb is an independent, creative book-making and self-publishing platform. With easy to use software and thoughtfully curated details, it was the perfect option to create and publish my book.


I chose to make a Large Landscape Photo Book to zoom in even further on the finer points of my work. At 13”x 11” it’s a good sized book and a standard size for many art books. The Oatmeal colored  Cover Linen from Blurb’s ProLine mirrors the color of my canvases. Blurbs BookWright free software made it super easy to layout my book. As a tech savvy person I was admittedly hesitant at first, thinking the program would not have the sophistication I needed.  However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that BookWright was not only easy to use, it allowed me plenty of customizable options. I was able to create a professional looking photo book with ease. My book felt original and true to my aesthetic.


When my book arrived in the mail I was so excited to open it and flip through the pages. Seeing my work in print was extremely satisfying and holding the book in my hands and looking at the intimate details of my work was and continues to be a special experience.

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As a painter, color is extremely important to my work. I was nervous about the print quality and how colors might translate from my computer screen to print, but when I saw the book for the first time next to my paintings, I was truly impressed. The colors were crisp, clear, and printed accurately!

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I’m super excited that now I have this gorgeous way to display the details of my work that often get lost and that I can share that with you! Blurb allows all book-makers to sell their book on Blurb, and better yet they don’t take a cut!

Interested in purchasing my book? Here’s where you can find it!

On Process: The How and Why by Rebecca Stern



People often ask me about my process - how do I begin a painting, where do I get my inspiration and how do I know when to continue or when to stop. When I work, I’m not thinking about process so it’s always hard to translate into words. I purposely avoid planning my compositions beforehand as it interrupts my spontaneous creativity and inserts a judgemental voice.



I know that my first marks are my favorite. They’re free, refreshing, a release.  Done quickly from a territory deep inside me. I’ll pour, scrape, drip or use a large brush to apply the first colors to form large gestural movements that often determine the form of the painting. These marks are in control of where the painting goes, serving as a roadmap.


Then I begin to play with negative space, depth, movement, and tension. I juggle many paintings at once, leaving time between to let the works marinate. I allow my workflow to be a turn towards observation. I want to understand what each unique work is trying to say. Over time each painting takes on a life of its own and leads me in a process in which I am an active observer. This contemplative space informs the next marks, as I play with balance - pushing the viewer's eye to take a specific path through the work.


A painting is complete when there is nothing else that needs to be added. Marks left are traces of an experience, a struggle, an idea, a feeling. There’s balance between pushing, pulling and release. The viewer’s eye takes a path throughout the work and gets lost in a beautiful mess of details. The piece speaks the things that I don’t want to.



See more of my new work here.

Reflections on Change by Rebecca Stern

2018 has been a difficult year thus far.

Losing my father turned my world upside down and backwards and affected me in ways I never would have imagined. I now think about death and life much more than I ever did before. This major life change altered my work in the studio.

January 22, 2018

January 22, 2018

I spent most of January dragging myself to the studio every day and making work that truly felt like someone else made it. Odd shapes, colors that weren’t mine, everything felt foreign. My normal reaction to this would be frustration and self-doubt.  Instead of fighting this new territory, I decided to ride the wave.


After many destroyed canvases, and paintings on paper that got torn up to repurpose into collages, my work and the world started to make sense to me again. It was a slow transition to this point, but once I got there it was pure bliss. A feeling in which nothing else mattered except my present interaction with the materials and the confidence that whatever I did was the right thing. And if it didn’t turn into a masterpiece, it was okay because it was an experience to create it. And that experience, would inform the next piece I made and so on in a never ending cycle of influence.


This new work was pouring out of me, like I couldn’t put paint to canvas fast enough.

Through creating, through thinking, through feeling, through attention and presence it became clear to me what brings me back to the studio. This experience pushed me to write a new artist statement, a task which I dislike greatly but as with my painting, this time it flowed.

"I externalize my internal monologue into a visual narrative. In the studio, I am in control. Regardless of what else might be going on in my life or the world,  I paint, collage, stitch, and construct materials. My aim is to understand the relationship between my existence and the events that take place around me. I create a “mental landscape” to explore themes of intrinsic motivation, control, chance, change, and balance.  Gestural marks produce a visual depiction of thought patterns illustrated through repetition, texture, juxtaposition, color and negative space. Manipulating materials in my studio assists me in mitigating the fact that I can’t control what goes on in the day to day. I’m on a journey towards accepting what is.   It is this fact that brings me back to the studio again and again."


"Where I Was Standing" - Acrylic, ink, stitching and paper on paper - 2018

"Where I Was Standing" - Acrylic, ink, stitching and paper on paper - 2018

See more from the new series title Remnant, here.