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 realizing 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 recognize. 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.

Things You'll Need

  • Samples of realistic art
  • Samples of abstract art
  • Paint
  • Paintbrushes
  • Paper
  • 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 recognize. 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 recognize them.

  • Direct students to paint or draw a “realist” picture. Students might paint or draw a picture of their families, homes, pets, jungle animals or favorite cartoon characters. Reemphasize that realist pictures are images of real things that are easy to recognize.

  • 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 colors 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 or draw a work of abstract art. Tell them to think about what they are going to draw and consider what colors 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 work of art.


  • Photo Credit Monkey Business Images Ltd/Monkey Business/Getty Images
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