abstract vs representational art

what is representational art

Representational art, or figurative art, shows things from the real world. It includes art that people can recognize. For example, John Singer Sargent’s “White Ox at Siena” shows a real ox.

Joaquín Sorolla’s “Fishermen from Valencia” shows people in nature. Even with some abstract touches, Paul Cézanne’s “Four Apples” is about visible things. This is different from abstract art, like Wassily Kandinsky’s “On White II”. That art doesn’t show real-world things.

However, some works, like Kandinsky’s “The Rider”, blur these lines. They make us think about the difference between real and abstract art.

Key Takeaways

  • Representational art depicts recognizable elements from the real world.
  • It includes both paintings and sculptures with identifiable subjects.
  • Examples range from literal depictions, like Sargent’s “White Ox at Siena,” to somewhat abstracted forms, like Cézanne’s “Four Apples.”
  • Distinct from non-representational or abstract art, which focuses on shapes and forms unrelated to visible reality.
  • The line between representational and non-representational art can be nuanced, as seen in Kandinsky’s “The Rider.”

Understanding Representational Art

Representational art, known too as figurative art, shows real things in a way we can recognize. Unlike abstract art, it is clear and mirrors the real world. This art type includes both what we see and deeper meanings, appealing to many people.

Definition and Characteristics

Representational art is art that people can recognize, even when the style changes. It ranges from very detailed to slightly abstract but still shows real things. It is different from abstract art, which doesn’t focus on real, tangible things. Through well-known images, representational art shares deeper messages.

Historical Context

Representational art has a long history. For example, Eismann’s “Meerhaven” from the 17th century shows real things accurately. But the 19th century brought big changes. Movements like Romanticism and Impressionism made this art more personal and emotional. This led to more talks on abstract vs representational art and affected modern art.

Styles and Movements in Representational Art

Representational art involves many art styles and art periods. These styles have changed over time. They show conversations between artists and what they draw or paint. From the detailed realism in art to bright impressionist paintings, and expressionist artwork full of feeling, every movement shows a special way to see the world.

art styles


Realism shows life as it really is. It looks at ordinary life details very closely. Artists like Gustave Courbet and Jean-François Millet aimed to show the world truly. They avoided adding extra beauty or interpretation. This art style started in the mid-19th century. It was different from the ideal and perfect images of earlier times.


Impressionism changed how artists saw moments. It uses bright colors, quick brush strokes, and captures light changes. This style shows the feeling of a scene more than small details. Claude Monet’s painting, “Waterloo Bridge, Sunlight Effect”, is a perfect example. It shows how this movement changed our view of the world.


Expressionism began in the early 20th century. It moves away from showing things exactly as they are. Instead, it focuses on what the artist feels and sees inside. The art has twisted shapes and very bright colors to show emotions and atmosphere. Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” really shows this movement’s intense feelings and worries. It expands the ways art can tell us about human feelings.

What is Representational Art in Modern Context

Today, representational art still matters a lot in the world of modern art. It shows us how art thoughts and looks are changing. For example, modern figurative art mixes old realism with new ways to show real life.

This art keeps things we can recognize but adds new abstract ideas. Artists might change shapes or colors to show deeper feelings or meanings. This shows how art rules have changed to include both real and imagined elements. Pablo Picasso’s work is a great example of this mix.

Art that doesn’t try to show real things is called ‘non-representational’ or abstract art. Even though abstract art is popular, representational art is still key. It keeps changing by adding new ideas and methods. This makes sure it stays fresh and meaningful in the fast-moving art world.


What is representational art?

Representational art is art that shows things from the real world. It includes paintings and sculptures with subjects people can recognize.

What are some examples of representational art?

Some examples are John Singer Sargent’s “White Ox at Siena” and Joaquín Sorolla’s “Fishermen from Valencia.” Even with some abstraction, like Paul Cézanne’s “Four Apples,” subjects are still clear.

How does representational art differ from abstract art?

Representational art shows things we can recognize. Abstract art, though, uses shapes and forms not seen in real life. Wassily Kandinsky’s “On White II” is a good example of abstract art.

What defines the characteristics of representational art?

Representational art is known for showing real, recognizable things. It mixes real life with different amounts of abstraction, but things still look familiar.

Can you explain the historical context of representational art?

Representational art’s history goes back centuries. It includes the 17th century’s works and movements like Romanticism and Impressionism in the 19th century. These movements pushed art towards abstraction.

What is Realism in representational art?

Realism shows life as it is, without adding or changing details. It seeks to show a truthful view of the world.

What characterizes Impressionism in representational art?

Impressionism focuses more on light and color than on detailed shapes. Claude Monet’s “Waterloo Bridge, Sunlight Effect” captures light beautifully, showing what Impressionism is about.

What is Expressionism in the context of representational art?

Expressionism shows feelings more than reality. It often has twisted shapes and bold colors. The aim is to share the artist’s feelings.

What is representational art’s relevance in the modern context?

Today, representational art is a vital way to express and communicate. Modern trends have shaped it to use form and color in simplified or distorted ways.

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