What Qualifies as an Abstract Image?

Summary – There is general agreement  as to what qualifies as an abstract image – but, as the saying goes, the devil is in the details. This post looks at some of those details.


The question, What is an Abstract?,

Is moot if you shoot for yourself

But what if you plan to enter an exhibit?

There is no standard accepted definition



Strange New Worlds

I believe this would qualify as an abstract just about anywhere

One of my favorite “found abstracts”

Normal tonal & color contrast adjustments

Otherwise a macro from my camera


If you plan to enter an abstract image in

Competitions or Exhibits

You need to know the event’s definition for abstract

They vary

Even when a definition is stated

It’s subject to interpretation

Both yours and the exhibit’s juror(s)

Beauty Abstract is in the eyes of the beholder”


Some generally accepted art definitions –

Abstract –

Geometric, formalized, or otherwise non-representational qualities


Natural objects are not represented realistically

Another word for abstract

Objects do not resemble those known in physical nature

Art without recognizable objects


Based on images found in the objective world

that can be named or recognized

Definition from a popular annual abstract exhibit

….abstracts are non-representational and do not rely upon recognizable subject matter, but rather consist of colors, tones, shapes and textures.  If the image has an obvious subject, it is not an abstract.  


If you interpret the final item above

Both on its own merits as well as the

Three dictionary citations that precede it

You might think that you have a good handle on

What qualifies and what doesn’t

And – you might be surprised

Obviously, interpretations are largely subjective

Ultimately it comes down to the juror

When I asked a juror for his opinion,

He said the right-hand image below

 Conforms to the above exhibit’s definition

“….Weston’s pepper is not immediately recognizable, at least it’s not like any pepper I have known”

9-2-2013 11-53-42 AM

BUT – the left did not (same juror)

” image has an obvious subject”

Say what?

An iris petal is recognizable, but not Edward Weston’s pepper??

This demonstrates “different strokes for different folks”


Your selection of potential exhibit entries depends on

The rules & definitions of a specific exhibit

Definitions & more importantly interpretations abound

The interpretations are largely subjective

Ultimately it comes down to the juror(s)

As illustrated above

Bending over backwards to stay well within

Boundaries of the exhibit’s definition of abstract

May negate the pleasure of shooting for yourself

I knew the left image above was “iffy”

Too close to the boundaries of “recognizable subject”

BUT – I never would have guessed that Weston’s complied

This conflict – my style versus a judge’s expectations

Is why I no longer compete in any form of competition

There are other reasons for my personal decision as well

Like photography versus digital art

Which I’ll save for a later post

Being true to yourself can bring satisfaction

Shooting for a judge may not

(Even if you think you know what the judge expects 😦 )


Subscribe (see sidebar). New posts daily.

  • No sidebar? Click here or the blog title at the top of this page.

Another option – Click on the “Follow” button at the bottom right of the screen.

  • Or – “Follow” in your admin bar, displayed at the top of the screen, for logged-in WordPress.com users.


2 thoughts on “What Qualifies as an Abstract Image?

  1. “…is moot if you shoot for yourself”. I agree. Be it photography, music or just about anything artistic, classification is always a topic. Competitions are one thing, but I don’t think terms like abstract or surreal should matter a lot outside of one’s own realm of thought.

Comments are closed.