Abstracting Sadness

Artists like to attempt to catch moods in their work, to show viewers a new perspective on something considered common and known. One way of doing this is in use of color. Color gathers up emotional associations for humans and those associations are brought to how works of art are viewed. For instance, blue has a long association with sadness and depression, perhaps because it is a color we connect to darkness and shadow. We “sing the blues” when we’re feeling down.

Being Blue With Picasso

Pablo Picasso went through a “Blue Period”, where most of the works he produced were dominated by tones of blue and blue-green. Reportedly, the period was triggered by the suicide of a friend of his, #, but whatever the cause, the dominance of blue in Picasso’s work coincides with a long-term bout of depression.

"The Old Guitarist" by Pablo Picasso

“The Old Guitarist” by Pablo Picasso


Picasso’s work “The Old Guitarist” conveys the sense of depression and despair. The old man’s head bends forward, below the level of his left shoulder. His right hand strums the strings of the instrument unenthusiastically. He sits cross-legged in a corner, as blue and dejected as the world around him. For the viewer, the painting has drawn out the essence of sadness and melancholy, of music lost, of a dying heart.

Sadness in Abstract

But painting all in blue is not the only way to capture that slow-moving emotion of sadness.

"Tristesse" by Diana Hobson

“Tristesse” by Diana Hobson

Diana Hobson has titled this work “Tristesse,” the French word for sadness.  Instead of overwhelming us with blue the way Picasso does, she has puts dark colors in contrast with brighter ones. In the center, she has a swoop of blackness covering the warmer red and lighter yellow. This can speak to how depression can cut across vital aspects of life. She then counters the blocks of color with a strand of brighter blue that springs across the upper portion of the piece and then dribbles down the right half of the painting. Not all “tristesse” need be cool and still. She gives us a new way of considering the emotion of sadness.

Diana Hobson’s fine art studio can be found at 1316 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Upstairs Suite, in Venice, California.


“The Old Guitarist” by Pablo Picasso, 1903-04, Art Institute of Chicago. Public domain.

“Tristesse” by Diana Hobson, copyright Diana Hobson. Used by permission.


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