Representational Art

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What is Representational Art?

Representational art refers to art which represents something, whether that be a tree in a landscape, apple in a still life, or figure in a portrait. Or in other words, it is art which is clearly identifiable as something which already exists in life.

Below are some examples of representational art, starting with a watercolor by John Singer Sargent which represents a white ox:

John Singer Sargent, White Ox at Siena, 1910
John Singer Sargent, White Ox at Siena, 1910

The painting below by Joaquín Sorolla represents fisherman in Valencia.

Joaquín Sorolla, Fishermen from Valencia, 1895
Joaquín Sorolla, Fishermen from Valencia, 1895

The painting below by Paul Cézanne represents apples on a table.

Paul Cézanne, Four Apples, 1881
Paul Cézanne, Four Apples, 1881

Representational art does not need to be a completely realistic depiction of the subject; there will often be varying levels of abstraction. For example, the Impressionists painted with loose brushwork and simplified forms, often far from a realistic depiction, but their work can still be identifiable as something which already exists. The painting below by Claude Monet is loose and vague, but it still clearly represents a bridge, boats, and distant buildings in an ambient seascape.

Claude Monet, Waterloo Bridge, Sunlight Effect, 1903
Claude Monet, Waterloo Bridge, Sunlight Effect, 1903

The opposite of representational art is complete abstraction, where the lines, colors, and shapes themselves are the focus of the artwork, rather than any existing thing. This is known as non-representational art.

The painting below by Wassily Kandinsky is a great example. Kandinsky may well have intended for this composition to represent something which already exists, but the abstraction is so extreme that to most people, it is just an assortment of lines, colors, and shapes.

Wassily Kandinsky, On White II, 1923
Wassily Kandinsky, On White II, 1923

The painting below is extremely abstract, however, it is still representational of something—I will let you guess what (the name of the painting gives it away). It is not what you would typically associate with representational art, but there is an argument for it.

Wassily Kandinsky, The Rider, 1911
Wassily Kandinsky, The Rider, 1911

The more realistic depiction of the rider below is more typical of representational art. Kandinsky went through many changes in style during his lifetime, as you can see from this painting and the two prior. This provides an interesting study in the levels of abstraction, from complete abstraction (non-representational art) to more representational works.

Wassily Kandinsky, The Blue Rider, 1903
Wassily Kandinsky, The Blue Rider, 1903

The line which separates representational art from non-representational art is still a gray area (art will always be partly subjective by nature). But this post should give you a general idea of what the term means.

Want to Learn More?

You might be interested in my Painting Academy course. I go into more detail on the fundamentals of art that apply to representational painting.

1 thought on “Representational Art”

  1. I have been attempting to paint a pic of the old barn on the family farm where i grew up! I just cant seem to come up with a color that resembles old barn wood – some shade of gray – but striated- nothing seems to be quite right!!

    Reply

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