What’s The Difference Between Non Objective Art & Abstract Art?

Abstract art and non objective art can often appear to be the same thing to the untrained eye. But there are several key differences between the two that separate them as classifications of art. Abstract art represents reality by changing the subject so that it is completely unrecognizable. Non objective art has no recognizable subject matter. The other difference between abstract art and non objective art boils down to what the artist is trying to represent using the elements of art. If it represents something from reality, it’s abstract. If not, it’s non objective. Confused? Keep reading and we will clear it up for you.

what is non objective art
Non Objective art

Is Abstract A Non objective Art?

The artist’s intent that’s making an abstract artwork is to represent something from reality, with simple alterations to elements such as color, line, or form or even making it completely unrecognizable.

This is in contrast to objective or representational art, which aims to represent objects from reality. Examples of objective art include realism, idealism, and realism.

Non objective art lies on one end of the spectrum, while objective art lies on the other. Abstract art finds itself somewhere in between the two.

Abstract art, such as the works of Pablo Picasso and his unique style, known as cubism, fundamentally alters the reality that it’s depicting. Artists will transform the elements of art to create a distorted reality that tells a story .

Woman with a Mandolin
Painting by Pablo Picasso (1910) – MOMA

The elements of art are line, shape, texture, form, space, colour and value and play a fundamental role in how every piece of art is created and analyzed. By distorting any of these elements, artists engage in abstraction.

This allows them to add visual commentary to an otherwise objective artwork. Abstract art isn’t for everyone and is hard to pull off as an artist because of the blurred lines between subjectivity and objectivity.

In that sense, the artist works with the specific view they’re interpreting of the reality they’re observing. It’s not an objective perception of reality but rather a subjective one (non objective).

So abstract art appears to be the same as non objective art. And, without an understanding of the artist’s intent, you won’t be able to distinguish one from the other.

So if we are to gain a better understanding of intent and the difference between objective and non objective art, we have to examine the context of the movements that shaped these classifications, the most noteworthy artists and some of their most famous works.

Objective Art Examples

Objective art is the art that most people consider “real art” – a representation of reality that may be photorealistic or use different stylistic techniques. Here are some noteworthy objective artists and some of their most important pieces revered by Objective artists everywhere.

The Greek-Armenian philosopher, George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff, is commonly credited as the most influential figure in objective art but was not an artist himself. Gurdjieff was a philosopher, mystic and spiritual leader who drew from his experiences on pilgrimages to India, for example.

Looking for practical answers within ancient traditions defined his approach to his writings, movements, and the various pupils that he influenced.

Gurdjieff’s art theory was expressed throughout several books that he wrote, where he presents art as a “transmission of certain ideas through history and interpreted by properly informed individuals.” He argued that objective art “defied direct transmission” and that reality is innately subject to perspective, but art needs to reflect reality in real-time.

Therefore, objective art can be split into subcategories, such as realism, photorealism, and impressionism. Within these subcategories, we can find some remarkable artworks that have turned out to be timeless due to the value that Gurdjieff assigned to objective art.

Claude Monet’s Impression, Sunrise; Rouen Cathedral series; London Parliament series; Water Lilies; Haystacks, and Poplars are some of the most recognizable works of objective art. Paul Cezanne (the “Father of Modern Art”) painted Mont Sainte-Victoire, Apothéose de Delacroix, Rideau, Cruchon et Compotier, The Card Players, and The Batherstowards the end of the 19th Century and at the start of the 20th.

These works have profoundly influenced impressionist and post-impressionists artists ever since.

Charles Demuth is another notable objective artist who served as a critical figure in the precisionist movement. The Jazz Singer, Bermuda No 2, The Schooner, Trees and Barns Bermuda, Turkish Bath With Self Portrait, The Boat Ride From Sorrento, Wild Orchids, Spring, Incense of a New Church, Roofs and Steeple, Aucassin and Nicolette, Study for Poster Portrait, Marsen Harley, Sail: In Two Moments, and Love, Love, Love are among Demuth’s most famous works.

Non objective Art Examples

Many notable examples of non objective artworks can be found throughout history, including some that are considered non objective but were created long before non objective art was considered a classification of art.

People have been creating artwork out of geometric shapes for millennia. However, it only rose to popularity in the early 20th Century, with Russian artists Alexander Rodchenko, Olga Rozanova, and Kazimir Malevich.

It became prevalent in Europe in response to centuries of a centuries-long tradition of objective art dominating the European art scene.

Alexander Rodchenko was one of the founders of structuralism who was part of several notable artists who emerged from the Russian Revolution.

His most famous work was Dance. An Objectless Composition and was inspired by Malevich’s Suprematism movement. It has remained one of the most noteworthy non objective artworks for more than a century.

Olga Rozanova is another Russian artist that was also influenced by Suprematism, along with Neo-primitivism and Cubo-Futurism.

The works she created in 1913, A Little Duck’s Nest of Bad Words and Explodity, have gained recognition from the Modern Museum of Art for their longevity and timelessness as noteworthy examples of non objective art.

However, Kazimir Malevich was the truly Avante garde artist, and there’s no questioning the monumental and highly influential role that he played in the development of non objective art. His 1912-1913 work The Knifegrinder, an oil painting on canvas littered with geometric shapes, has become iconic and has inspired countless artists.

(Note I have included a short video below from the MoMA that briefly goes through the Russian Avant-Garde movement).

Malevich’s Suprematism movement was characterized by separation from natural forms (objectivity) and subject matter to access “the supremacy of pure feeling” and spirituality.

I would argue that these are the most influential artists in the history of non objective art. Still, countless more out there create artworks to express themselves beyond the boundaries of material reality. And they owe much of their artistic merit to these legendary artists and their iconic artworks.


Wrap up!

Art is not easy to interpret, and picking up on the finer details that signal an artists’ intent, distinguishing between abstract and non objective art is far easier said than done.

Understanding how artists use elements to depict something from reality or something intended to convey a thought or an idea is how we learn with our knowledge of art. It’s constantly changing, evolving, and being interpreted from numerous perspectives.

But you can only truly understand art by interacting with the artist to determine their intent.

The differences between abstract and non objective art are so nuanced that you may not even notice the difference or find meaning behind the artwork at all.

If you found this article useful, please consider reading What is non representational art? (Best Explained Simply) as it delves into non objective art and non representational art and explains the differences between those and representational art.

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