Figurative Art And Its Mysteries

We would like to take you to the very fascinating and cognitive journey, in which you will open up for yourself new interesting facts, will find out about the pieces of art and their representatives, and all the beauty of Figurative Art.


A dictionary definition of “figurative art” defines it as a relating to representation by means of animal or human figures – representational rather than abstract.

Currently, figurative art is defined as any art that has a reference to reality. It is, then in the colloquial sense, an art that presents the real world in a way that allows the identification of the presented objects.


“…What more attractive and challenging surface than the skin around a soul?” – Richard Corliss (1944-2015)

Figurative art is itself based on a tacit understanding of abstracted shapes: the figure sculpture of Greek antiquity was not naturalistic, for its forms were idealized and geometric. Eventually, idealization gave way to observation, and Figurative Art which balanced ideal geometry with greater realism was seen in Classical sculpture by 480 B.C. Until the time of the Impressionists, figurative art was characterized by attempts to reconcile these opposing principles.

From the early Renaissance, Mannerism and the Baroque through 18th-, 19th- and 20th-century painting Figurative art has steadily broadened its parameters. An important landmark in the evolution of figurative art is the first known reclining nude in Western painting in Sleeping Venus (1510) by Giorgione. It introduced the female nude as subject and started a long line of famous paintings.

Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665), a French painter in the classical style whose work predominantly features clarity, logic, and order, and favors line over color, served as an alternative to the more narrative Baroque style of the 17th century.

He was a major inspiration for such classically oriented artists as Jacques-Louis David, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, and Paul Cézanne.

Picasso after about 1920 is the great exemplar of modern figurative painting, and Alberto Giacometti from about 1940 is the great figurative sculptor. After the Second World War figuration can be tracked through the works of Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud and the other artists of the School of London, and through pop art, neo-expressionism, and new spirit painting.

In the 70s, after the explosion idea of abstraction, figurativism once again returned to favor. The variety of approaches to Figurative Art is enormous and almost as diverse as the history of art itself.

For the much part of the 20th-century figurative painting was ignored by the western avant-garde, artists such as David Salle, Anselm Kiefer, Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Modern figurative art can be seen as distinct from modern realism, as Figurative Art uses modern idioms, while modern realists work in styles predating post-impressionism (more or less). In fact, modern figurative art is more or less identical with the general current of expressionism that can be traced through the 20th century and on.

Formal elements and subject

The formal elements, those aesthetic effects created by design, upon which figurative art is dependent, including line, shape, color, light and dark, mass, volume, texture, and perspective. The difference is that in figurative art these elements are deployed to create an impression or illusion of form and space, and, usually, to create emphasis in the narrative portrayed.

Generally speaking, any form of modern art which retains strong references to the real world can be defined as figurative. It should perhaps be mentioned that since historical times all art was figurative in one way or another. That said, the artist used his or her judgment to define what was seen.

Abstract vs. Figurative Art

“There is no abstract art. You must always start with something. Afterward you can remove all traces of reality.” — Pablo Picasso.


Abstract Art

Almost all art is abstract art if we take abstraction to be a process of drawing inspiration from the shape, color, and texture of objects. Abstract art tends to rely on the associations of form to suggest meaning, rather than employing recognizable motifs to point to particular themes and content.

Figurative Art

In the twentieth century, the opposite of abstraction is best thought of in the widest sense, as “figuration,” though some Abstract Expressionists considered any residual presence of the figure (such as is seen in Miró, or early Rothko), no matter how abstracted, to constitute figuration.

The Early Twentieth Century

Abstract Art

Pure abstraction was finally achieved around 1913 – those most often said to have created the first abstract paintings are Kandinsky, Malevich, Mondrian, and Robert Delaunay.

Experiments in abstract art throughout the century have always aimed at disrupting the traditional understandings of easel painting, and this disruption has tended towards two logical conclusions, the grid (typically seen in Cubism), and the monochrome (understanding of painting as either a window or a mirror).

Figurative Art

Photography is often blamed for the disappearance of figures in the modern painting, the real reason has more to do with the experimental, self-expressive, and avant-garde urges of artists.

Although the figure did not have the dominant presence in the 20th-century art that it did in previous times, it has been particularly important to two styles – social realism and Expressionism. Social realists have deployed the figure in their attempt to accurately record contemporary social life. And Expressionists have put the human figure at the center of a style devoted to celebrating human yearnings and anxieties.

During Abstract Impressionism

Abstract Art

Rothko, Newman, and Still they all employed purely abstract form and expressive color to communicate directly with the viewer in the most immediate way. Jackson Pollock has come to be a particularly controversial test case of the significance of abstraction and figuration in Abstract Expressionism.

Critics, however, were more alert to the importance of abstraction. Clement Greenberg and his abstraction were central to the goal of all modernist artists, to rid art of all that was extraneous to it.

Figurative Art

The lack of figuration in Abstract Expressionism is typical of the post-war period, as World War shook the humanism at the heart of the Expressionist style. Few realists – other than Andrew Wyeth – gained prominence in this period.

However, in the period of Abstract Expressionist paintings, some artists still reintroduced the figure.

After Abstract Impressionism

Abstract Art

Most critics now agree that Pollock’s abstraction was a language of sorts, and, therefore, that it is more connected to conventional imagery that had been hitherto imagined. Today they argue that abstract and figurative paintings both do the work of representation, and in that sense are closely related.

Figurative Art

Although the decline of Abstract Expressionism did not result in an immediate return to figuration, some artists began to explore this direction in the 1960s.

Philip Guston is famous for having returned to the figure in the late 1960s. And others might be noted, including Alex Katz and Philip Pearlstein, Chuck Close and Richard Estes.

As you can see there is a lot of conformity between Abstract and Figurative Art. Some artists were even changing their direction from Abstract to Figurative and back. Some may even say that “Figurative art” is often defined in contrast to Abstract art.

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On the first place a true Art Lover. In BeArte Gallery I am responsible for Customer and SMM support. Copywriter and inspired News Manager.

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