What is non representational art? (Explained Simply)

Understanding the difference between representational and non representational art is fundamental for your art education and helps you understand the artist’s intention to derive meaning from artworks. So what is non representational art? Non representational art is art that is devoid of any reference to the natural world. It has no subject, and meaning is only derived from the artist’s intent and viewer’s interpretation.

Representational art is a recognizable depiction of something in the real world, but not limited to being completely realistic.

Explaining representational vs. non representational art and how to consider your analysis of various artworks requires far more than a simple definition, however, and it’s worth exploring some of the finer details that separate them from one another.

what is non representational art
Non Representational Art

What Does Representational Mean In Art?

Considering that representational art and non representational art are distinct opposites, the first thing we need to do is to consider what the word “representational” means in art.

Representational simply means that the subject of the artwork is the artist’s reflection of the world around them. So artists may work in two or three dimensions with materials such as pencils, paint, textiles, along with sculpting, digital art, and other mediums.

Representational Art
Representational Art

The artist then chooses whether they want to pay something that looks like things that we recognize or something that doesn’t. And, as part of what we understand, we need to define abstract art and not confuse it with non representational art.

Abstract art represents real-world subjects but distorts images by changing line, color, form, space, and other elements of art to make the real-world subject unrecognizable. But it’s still representative of something.

Perhaps the best way to understand it is to consider the cubism movement led by a household name in Pablo Picasso. The avant-garde movement that began in the early 20th century analyzes objects, breaking them up and presenting them in an abstracted form.

Rather than depicting subjects from a single point of view, artists use geometric shapes to create several points of view of the subject to represent it in a greater context.

There are many other abstract art movements, such as fauvism, futurism, and suprematism. All of them use abstraction to distort the view of any person, thing, or place.

But, it still represents something in the real world. Therefore, it is distinct from non representational art, which is derived from nothing and only signifies what the artist intends or how the viewer interprets it.

Why Is Non representational Art Important?

Non representational art opens up a whole new approach to art, where meaning becomes subjective. The artwork’s meaning is derived from the way we interpret it. Some people may not like non representational art because of the freedom of interpretation that it offers the viewer.

Many viewers continue to be tied to the idea that art needs to accurately and realistically depict something. Lines, shapes, and patterns that appear to be random do not satisfy the untrained eye.

Still, non representational art is essential for our greater understanding of and appreciation for the overarching concept of art itself.

Without an appreciation for interpretation, a way to express something intangible, which our eyes can’t see, such as emotions, we cannot appreciate art for what it is.

Art is deeply personal for both the artist and the viewer.

Non representational art is important because it helps us recognize the intangible nature of many things that we experience in the world. Without it, we’d have no way to express or observe concepts that may not manifest in a material form.

To me, this is what makes non representational art sublime. It can mean anything while simultaneously meaning nothing. And, for the sake of art, there’s a beauty in the dynamism.

It reminds us that artists don’t exist in boxes. Art is not science; it’s abstract (excuse the pun) and hard to define.

That creative freedom is critical for art, for the purity of our aesthetic forms of expression.

Without non representational art, representational art loses its meaning. If the only intention of art is to resemble reality as closely as possible, to represent subjects that “exist”, we’re missing out on something fundamental to art as a concept… emotions.

Representational art would be bland without meaning and art that is “meaningless” certainly helps capture our imaginations and inspire us to think beyond what our senses tell us about the real world everyday.

How Would You Define Non-objective Art?

Objective art is a representation of reality, while non-objective art is subjective. It’s a kind of abstract art that typically takes on geometric shapes that appear similar to many abstract artworks, although they are not limited to this single style.

Non-objective artworks are made from elements that generally mean nothing – such as a square, line, or a daub of color. Non-objective art can also be referred to as geometric extraction.

For the most part, non-objective art will use geometric motifs, devoid of impasto (a technique of applying thick layers of paint to the canvas) and without using linear perspective on a shallow picture plane.

What Are Some Examples Of Non Representational Art?

The most noteworthy example of non representational art is probably Piet Mondrian’s

mondrian 1504681 640

Composition II in red, blue, and yellow. The painting simply depicts squares of red, blue and yellow, but the composition tells a more remarkable story with the style that Mondrian paints with – what he referred to as neoplasticism.

The balance of the lines, the squares, the colors, and the shapes were all carefully placed to create meaning. It strives to depict “balance”, and its sheer simplicity is captivating and inspiring.

Other great non representational artworks include Composition VIII (1923) and Composition IX (1936) by Wassily Kandinsky, Suprematism (1915) by Kasimir Malevich, and Alexander Rodchenko’s Composition (1918).

What Are Some Examples Of Representational Art?

Compared to non representational art, which has only formally existed as a concept and worked its way into popular culture for little more than a century, objective art has been appreciated by viewers, collectors, and fellow artists alike for millennia.

Some notable examples of artworks that find resemblance in the real world include Leonardo Da Vinci’sTheLast Supper, Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night Over the Rhone, Claude Monet’s Water Lillies or Jan Vermeer’s The Concert (which has a dubious past, click here to find out what it is).

Most expensive painting ever stolen - The Concert by Johannes (Jan) Vermeer
Representational Art – The Concert by Johannes (Jan) Vermeer

Representational art seems to be far more popular, and you’re more likely to recognize some iconic pictures like those above.

This is because people are comfortable with representational art, which doesn’t leave much to interpretation and gives the viewer a little bit of closure over the meaning, rather than keeping them guessing.

Wrap up!

So, next time you are asked what is non representational art and what is representational art, you can clearly state that representational art and non representational art two very distinct categories of art created by artists with almost entirely different intents.

They represent things tangible or intangible, but what’s important is not what they represent but rather what they are expressing.

It’s hard to wrap our heads around this, and artworks being left open to interpretation creates a kind of freedom that some viewers may not feel comfortable with.

However, should you come to terms with the seemingly random ways an artist uses lines, colors and forms to express something specific, you will be able to see some of the notable examples of representational art for what they truly are: masterpieces.

Once you become familiar with the purpose behind an artwork’s specific composition, you will come to recognize that non-representational art (and getting it right) is masterful and gives art a whole new meaning.

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