Representational versus Abstract Art

Galactic Beginning by Bettina Madini was selected as a top 150 in the 1st NOAPS Online International

Galactic Beginning by Bettina Madini was selected as a top 150 in the 1st NOAPS Online International

So much has been written about Representational Art versus Abstract Art that I hesitate to even start; however, the truth is that people and art organizations preach and live under this separation each attesting to the virtues of the type of art they support.

With NOAPS 23rd ‘Best of America’ Exhibit deadline fast approaching, many questions were received regarding the acceptance of Abstract Art in the competition; therefore, discussing this subject is not only important but also illuminating.

After much debate, we can at least probably agree that Representational Art depicts a recognizable subject matter.  Within Representational Art there are many sub-categories such as Impressionism, Realism, Stylization, and much more. All these sub-categories have different degrees towards abstraction. In all its different forms, Representational Art is the oldest one dating to the first art expressions manifested by human hands. And, in a statement subject to controversy, it is presumably the most viewers friendly or with greater public acceptance if consideration is given to the fact that humans are compelled to understand things. Not to mention the fact of a long tradition of Representational Art in most world cultures.

Autumn Wheat Harvest by Walt Curlee received the Trendsetter Award in the 1st NOAPS Online International

Autumn Wheat Harvest by Walt Curlee received the Trendsetter Award in the 1st NOAPS Online International

Abstract Art, on the other hand, is fairly recent with its origins at the end of the 19th century.  We can almost say that Impressionism was one of the first attempt of abstraction eventually evolving into unidentifiable subjects free to viewers’ interpretation. Abstract Art being non-objective is produced for aesthetic reasons and its goal is to be visually stimulating. It is as hard to achieve the visual stimulation in Abstract as it is in Representational Art. Many basic elements and principles must be present and perfectly executed.

Let us now consider these Elements and Principles of Art. The Elements are: Line, Shape, Color, Value, Space, Form, and Texture. The different ways these elements are arranged or composed form the composition. The principles of Art are: Balance, Proportion, Unity, Harmony, Variety, Emphasis, Rhythm, and Movement. It is important to notice that the subject matter is not mentioned as an Element of Art or as a Principle of Art.

Earthbound by Terry Zarate represents abstract members within NOAPS

Earthbound by Terry Zarate represents abstract members within NOAPS

Based on the premises above, the difference between Representational and Abstract Art is the Subject of the art work and we know that subject is a matter of choice. Supporters of Representational Art, while still holding some internal preferences, would not totally discard the choice of a landscape as a subject versus a figurative work or a still life. So, why would we discard a different choice of subject, a non-objective one, as long as the Elements of Art and the Principles of Art are executed with mastery?

Representational and Abstract Art do not exclude each other. They both present the basic properties of a work of art to be perceived through our senses. There is plenty of bad art in both category and there are unconscious biases that each of us has based on the instructors and the training we have received, the art circles we attend, or simply our own preferences.   The key for acceptance, admiration, and success of either art is not in the subject matter but in the mastery of the elements and principles of art. It is in the way the particular piece of art visually stimulates the senses of the viewer and strikes a high enough cord to achieve the judges’ appreciation.

About the Author:

NOAPS Publicity Director and editor of this blog, Hebe Brooks, wrote this article. She has a first Bachelor of Art degree from the Universidad del Comahue and a second degree in Fine Arts-Studio Painting and Art History from the University of Houston. As an artist, she appreciates both Representational and Abstract Art and even though she paints realism, she sometimes incorporates abstract elements in her work.

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6 Responses to Representational versus Abstract Art

  1. Irais says:

    Great article! Thanks!

  2. Claude says:

    “So, why would we discard a different choice of subject, a non-objective one, as long as the Elements of Art and the Principles of Art are executed with mastery?”

    Because they usually are not.

    And frankly, once a work is divorced from representation, how does was actually determine if “Balance, Proportion, Unity, Harmony, Variety, Emphasis, Rhythm, and Movement” except in abstracted to the point of meaningless, subjective generalizations?

    Further, the list of principles ignores the very purpose of art: communication. But without a clear message, any attempt at communication simply cacophony. Pure abstraction abandons clarity – “it means what you think it means” – and prevents communication.

    The difference between Representational and Abstract Art is not subject – for by definition, abstract art has no concrete subject, it is about what each individual viewer perceives. The difference between representational and abstract art is the willingness to communicate – which abstract art rejects as unnecessary.

    • noapsociety says:

      I really like your answer and being a representational artist myself it is hard to argue against it. However, my abstract friends will respond that Abstract art has the elements of art in harmony of color, balance between complementaries or in the shapes and forms. It has movement that makes the viewer look at the painting in certain way and so on.
      Regarding Communication, again my abstract friends will tell you that abstract communicates from the soul and to the soul.
      I know, this is a battle that can never be won between representational and abstract. I paint representational so I understand your points, but once in a while I look at an abstract and its beauty strikes me, it touches my heart, and I want to keep looking at it…….. so I think there must be something that can touch the viewers soul whether representational or abstract and that is the key to a master piece.
      Thank you so much for your comment. I really appreciate it

      • Carol says:

        I am new to the painting world and have recently just dived in very green, no experience. Now reading this, I paint Abstract and Representational, I don’t even think of all the “points”, not having known them. Both types seem to attract good attention and crit from established artists and gallery owners in my area. When I paint abstract it is almost as if I am taken over but someone else and I know instinctively when to stop. There is always something to see in the picture when its finished and most often, I do not see it until a good while after or till someone points it out. They do touch the soul of many folk and for different reasons. They are hard to let go of because they are ultimately “me”. Just my naive thoughts 🙂

  3. Rohelendus says:

    If ‘art’ needs the artist there to explain it, then it not art. If it meant as a peice of work to be viewed and interpreted IF it has an affect on one, then it is merely self indulgence for a possible profit. Or is is merely the daubs of a child of so young an age that it is merely pretty patterns in colour that grown up ‘art lovers’ think they have to interpret as art.

    Bite on that!

  4. cdilemma says:

    Even abstract art looks like something that could exist, so in the end all visual art is representational.

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