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Abstract vs. Representational

by Keith Bond on 8/23/2010 2:10:02 PM

This article is by Keith Bond, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews.  You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.


Today, I need your help. I need your input. 

Before we get into that, let me begin with a short exchange I had several years ago. In a social setting I happened to meet a fellow artist. He was working on a PhD in Art History at the time. 

During our brief exchange, he asked what kind of art I did. I began to answer, "Representational landscape oil painti?.". At that point, he cut me off and said, "We won't get along, then!" 

His work was abstract. 

In actuality, we did get along. We weren't the best of pals, but we did have somewhat of a friendship. We had a mutual respect. During the 2 or 3 years that we lived in the same area, we would visit together on occasion. We agreed in some areas and disagreed in others. I quite enjoyed our conversations.

I don't know how unique it was that we got along. The stereotype would indicate that it was unique. There is a perception that abstract artists and representational artists cannot get along. There is likely some amount of truth to that. Philosophies are usually quite different. Artists tend to have very strong, impassioned feelings about art. It would be easy for arguments to ensue. I remember some heated debates in some of my college art classes. 

To debate is healthy, in my opinion. I think it is good to hear another point of view. But it doesn't need to be heated. It can be civil. Let's begin a conversation about it.

This is where I need your help.  Please share your thoughts by commenting on the following questions:

1.    What type of artist are you (representational or abstract)?

2.    Do you appreciate the other?

3.    Why? Why not?


I only ask that this conversation remain civil. Please no bashing or name calling or belittling. I know that this has the potential to become heated, but please, be mature and respectful in your comments. I hope we will treat others with respect. You have your opinion. Let others have and share theirs.

Yes, I realize that I may be opening a can of worms, but there is a purpose for this. I have a theory that I hope to address in a follow up post. I will summarize your responses along with my theory next time. I am certain that we will have some interesting perspectives. It may be eye opening for some. Don't try to write what you think I want to hear. Write your true feelings and opinions. Be honest. 

This will only work if you participate. The more artists who comment, the better the conversation will be. 

I have one following request from you. Forward this on to other artists and encourage them to comment. I especially hope that we get a fairly even distribution of representational and abstract artist.

Best Wishes,

Keith Bond

PS I realize that I am lumping numerous styles and genres into only 2 camps. There are many art styles that bridge abstract and representational art. There are others that don't fit within either category. Perhaps the question should be between traditional and non-traditional. If you wish, feel free to use this perspective.

Don't forget to have others you know add a comment.

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Jean Grotts
I like both types of art and most in between. I like to try out new things, the past 4 months I have been using 1000's of push pins, very challenging. I am not fond of art videos. To me, abstract art requires more imagination and less rendering.

Heidi Harner
I paint representational, and have usually gravitated toward that style of art for a long time. But, I am starting to really appreciate the abstract work, and wondering if I might be heading in that direction with my own art? My horse painting are very representational in my opinion, but I've had several people say they like the 'abstractness' of them. I see a little of what they are saying and would enjoy going much further with that. I enjoy so much the abstract horses in the work of Jean Richardson. Beautiful!

Karen Martin Sampson
I am a representational artist, probably in the "traditional" category, although I like to work with unusual compositions. I also work mostly with figurative subjects. Abstraction is a touchy subject for me sometimes because so much of what I see seems to be done from lack of technical ability. Having said that I have seen a lot of amazing abstract work that is incredibly beautiful, expressive, emotional, and extremely moving. I like to use abstraction in areas of my paintings at times and have come to appreciate how difficult it really can be to pull off. I see no reason why the two schools of thought can't get along providing there is real authenticity in the efforts of the artists involved.

Lynne Oakes
While my website only displays my representational painting, I also do non-representational art. I like both of them for different reasons.
It is never sensible to make blanket statements about a style of art. There are plenty of pieces in each style that I don't like at all, but I don't throw out the entire type because of this.
People who haven't studied or at least viewed a body of art tend to generalize. This is like dismissing an entire nation of people based on some limited experience of having met only a few of that population. So think for yourself about these matters, but DO look at enough work in a particular style before you form an opinion!

Karen Winters
Keith, I'm a representational painter and I have a lot of appreciation and respect for many types of abstract painting. I believe that good design is extremely important in any type of painting, and that a good representational painting is built upon a foundation of a good (abstract) design. So the two work together. I have friends who are abstract painters and admire their work.

I am a bit less enthusiastic about the type of abstract paintings that are, for example, one black dot in a painting the size of a wall. It may be very elegant design, it's just not my taste.

Pamela Frankel Fiedler
Did you ever look into a can of worms? They look quite happy mixing in with the others. That is how I feel being a figurative artist with lots of friends who paint in the abstract genre. In fact, I belong to a crit group where 2 are abstract, two are mixed media (abstract and representational) and two are various degrees of representational. Because we are all so different we add unique insights and suggestions to the discussion. Why not learn from one another?

K. Henderson
I'm most attracted to representational art. That's the kind of art I do. All things being equal, I don't like abstract art.
BUT I've seen representational work that I've found distasteful and ugly and I've found some abstract art very beautiful.

dana cooper
My work is closer to representational but I LOVE abstract work. Someday I hope to get more abstract.

For me, it's about genuine skill and real aesthetic. I have responded to and appreciated many pieces of abstract art due to the inherent beauty in the pieces and the obvious skill and patience required to produce them. But I, myself, am a representationalist and always will be.

Frankly, if a person can get enough people to think his or her work is aesthetic that he or she can make a living, all the more power to them! But I get irked when a toilet hanging on a gallery wall, or a jar full of feces selling for thousands of dollars is called "art" simply because it has "never been done before."

Although art is partly (mostly) about creating things that have never been expressed, we can either create things of real value or we can create things of little value. And if the thing is of little value--judged entirely in terms of skill (which is relatively easy to measure) and aesthetic (which is relatively difficult to measure), in my opinion, it does not deserve to be called "art."

Diana Bekkerman
I'm a representational artist - I paint portraits, landscapes, still-lifes, genre paintings. I appreciate some abstract art - if it's genuine and has content (that could go beyond words).
I don't appreciate abstract works that have very little, or no content - for they become like mumbling instead of speech that expresses something.

In this analogy, representational art could be common speech that is used to express ideas and emotions. Mumbling is non-speech, when someone has hard time expressing what he wants. Then there is also music - that which goes beyond words.

I appreciate the first and the third, but not the second.

Lohith D Thirumalarya
Having trained in representational art and been eking out a living on the same style for decades, I have brought myself to a stage where I feel that I am incapable of producing abstract art, though I respect it greatly.

Unfortunately some abstract artists look down upon representational art(or realistic art), terming it lacking in originality. They say that it is a copy of something that is already existing in nature, and has no creativity. It is 'not original' according to them.

Some representational artists feel that a person takes to abstract art, as he is incapable of producing representational art. They say that abstract art doesn't conform to any norms, and so, is easy to produce.

In my opinion, there need not be any enmity or antagonizing feeling between artists practicing these two different styles. One should not look down upon another. I strongly feel that they can peacefully co-exist like classical music and pop music of any country or part of the world.

ct cummins
I sit on the fence of representation and I use that loosely as I can tell what it is that I am painting.
I enjoy both facets of art. I had learned that to be an abstract artist you had to know exactly what was in order to work abstractly. I think abstract art has a lot to teach representational artist in the area of form, texture, color, composition and design. I appreciate both but when I am most confident my work is about moving paint with all the elements of design. When I'm rusty the work is tight and labored. I think most abstract art is sensual.

christa Vayanos
Dear Keith, interesting question. For me the difference is not that important. I paint both, representional and abstract. Usualy I have 2 canvases at the time, where the first one is a logical step toward abstraction. christa

marion barnett
I'm an abstract artist, working in several media. Increasingly, though, I find myself drawn to life drawing (no pun intended...) and landscape painting. I think increasingly that I do what I feel I need to, and if that means representational work, then so be it.

Aline Lotter
I paint and draw representational works. I do have a few fans that will occasionally accuse me of being "abstract", and I consider that a compliment because to me, that means that good design dominates the painting. I like some abstract paintings--those where a strong inspiration is apparent, and the design is wonderful. Hey, that is about the same as I would say about my own paintings. I suspect that I have not painted long enough to have figured out how to paint well abstractly (truly abstractly, not just in the sense that my fans have used the word). If I am still around in 20 years, perhaps I shall have become abstract too. Does that also mean it will take me that long to learn how to appreciate abstract art? I think, maybe so.

Laurie Finkelstein
I enjoy all types of art, traditional and non-traditional from hyper-realism to abstract expressionism. I personally paint representational landscapes and abstract mixed medium works. I draw from nature in both cases. My representational works allow me to capture a moment in time of a beautiful scene, particular tree, or point of reference in a particular setting. My abstracts allow me to experience nature in a more ethereal way, or in a more earthy manner, or with a raw quality that is not normally found in reality. The joy of art is in its ability to allow people to see things in new and exciting ways!

Thomas Yagodinski
interesting topic!!

1.I'd have to call myself an abstract artist, although I prefer to deal in mystical/occult/horror themes.

2.absolutely. categories be damned, if it appeals to my eyes, heart and brain then I like it, regardless of style.

3.why?--Inspiration comes in many different forms. Just because another artist's work is completely different from mine doesn't make it any better or worse. We are each individuals and I've always thought thats what makes great art--the uniqueness of the piece filtering through the artist. If I look at a painting and it doesn't stir some form of emotion, then I choose to believe it's just not for me. But to someone else it may provide a deep connection to something they feel inside. Who am I (or anyone for that matter) to judge how art affects someone else.

Bob Boynton
Thsnk you for this opportunity to share yet another part of our creative process. I am a representational artist (actually photo- realistism) However, I am on occasion given the commission to create in an abstract mode. I appreciate abstact art and only wish that I could get more opportunities to express myself in that form of art.
I have created and market a body of artwork that is photo-realistic that is unique and SELLS. Therefore, it is difficult for me to break that trend.
Finally, the abstract artwork that I appreciate are excellent creations of color, contrast, form, and texture.

Jean Corbett
What a wonderful conversation! I have been a "traditional, realistic" painter since the beginning, admiring some of the more understandable abstract paintings as I have gone along. Recently I took a class with Mary Todd Beam which introduced me to the world of abstraction - and the incredibly wonderful layering that is possible with mixed media - watercolors, acrylics, goop, tars, and gels. What an eye-opener! Right now I am struggling with an oil portrait - realistic - becaue my mind is filled with much more exciting things. Even with portraits that are life stories rather than the traditional oils - and accomplished with mixed media and abstraction! Who would have ever thought............

Dianna Fritzler
Very interesting topic. I guess I had never thought that representational artists wouldn't get along with abstract artists and visa versa. From what I've experienced on several occasions is that an artist will begin creating representational work and then eventually at a later time in their career begin creating abstracts. I personally am both a representational artist with my oils and an abstract painter with encaustics. I appreciate all forms of art - as we are all different people. Keeps the variety going!

Robert Walker
I am a representational artist that specializes in wildlife and Native American portraits and scenes. I also have a small gallery in Loudonville, Ohio .

Most of the time folks who enjoy representational art visit the gallery, but occasionally an abstract artist will come in, and in most cases you can tell that they are looking for a confrontation.

Personally, I enjoy most art that is being created as art and not as a "Bet your not going to understand this piece." I say that because in many cases you can just see the "Chip on the shoulder" of the artist, and can pretty well figure out that the piece is meant to aggravate more than make a statement. I don't even mind that except that when a person converses with many of these "artists", you can pretty much expect a statement along the lines of "Not everyone is smart enough to appreciate the higher plane that I create on." This is only duplicated by the representational artist saying something to the effect of "I create art that people can recognize.

And never the twain shall meet-------????

Frank A. Emrick
It's easier to judge the merit of a representational painting. Blow any of the fundamentals and the painting looks like a bad hair day. How many "How Too" books or magazines on producing abstract work?

Tom Hlas
I'm an abstract artist who works (paints) mostly with acrylic on canvas. Now, I know, I'm speaking in sweeping generalities on this whole subject. But I guess I'm an abstract painter because that's the type of work that interests me. It's the type of work I purchase when that's a possibility. It's the type of work that calls to me in galleries, museums and other artists' studios. Most representational work doesn't grab me in the same manner as does abstract. with the exception of perhaps the figure. Of course, I do not connect with or find all abstract work interesting either. When I am drawn to representational work, it's usually because of its masterly use of paint or other mediums (pastel, pencil, ink, etc.) not the subject matter. Or, in other cases, the representational work has an abstract or expressionist nature. It's kind of like, if I want to look at a landscape, still life, portrait, etc., I can look at a photograph. Representational art has to work much harder to get and keep my attention.

Thomas Kitts

ALL paintings are abstract. The moment you attempt to translate 'reality' onto a flat surface it becomes an abstraction.

I'm a plein air painter (see my site) and quite observationally-based. But I learned more from studying those oft vilified AE painters of the '50s than I did anyone else, before or after. In fact, once I "got" abstract art, which I originally disliked intensely, I could go back and look at any genre or time period and see what the artist was doing.

In the end, it's all the same -- just with a different focus or emphasis on the canvas.

Thomas Jefferson Kitts

Gary Huber
My work is representational. Although never photo-realistic it spans a range between impressionism and realism. It seems to me that a good representational painting has to have at its core a solid abstract design of interlocking value shapes to give it strength. How much those shapes are elaborated into recognizable real-world objects is certainly a matter of taste and for me, a matter of what I feel about the subject I'm painting. I'd hate to be committed to making each piece the same in terms of detail and I don't think my collectors expect me be.

Marta Brysha
I am an abstract artist working in the unusual medium of fine hand embroidery. To me what is important is the quality of the work I'm looking at, not what genre it might fit into or what medium is being used. In my opinion, some of the finest art being created today would fall into the categories of Street Art or illustration. Who cares? If it's good, if it says something, if it makes you think, it's fabulous.

Jean Miller Harding
Of course abstract painters can get along with realist painters......I know.....I'm a contemporary realist married to an abstract artist. Instead of fighting for supremacy, we decided to collaborate and formed another artist with surprising monetary results. He does a fabulous, lush abstract and I paint a realistic figure on top, integrating it into the base. The difference between the two of us is that he decided to pick up a brush 12 years ago and with the convincing gift of a salesman, he had instant success. To become a realist artist was not an overnight process but 30 years of hard work, study and painting. It is easy to spot an amateur realist artist's not easy to spot an amateur abstract artist. And by the way, I can do abstract paintings ......... but he cannot do a portrait.
Taste is innate, honed by exposure......and then gallery owners can validate any style to make a sale.

Debra LePage
Once, realism was what I strove for but over the years I found myself trying to loosen up-to literally lose and blur edges. The past two years I've been working increasingly abstract-though always cognizant of composition and design. The process elicits greater emotion for me.
I love all kinds of styles if the emotion is present. Some abstract work, like representational work, is a turn off if it looks too contrived or mechanical.

Hi Keith,
I am a representational artist and I try to get my work to be more and more painterly and not give the viewer a ton of detail, which I think is boring to view and to create. I want the viewer's eye to fill in what isn't there. I think it is challenging to learn what to leave out and what to leave in, and still make a strong painting that's, well designed, well drawn, inviting, and beautiful; at least it has been for me and I'm still learning... I think a strong representational painting has a lot of abstract qualities. To me these qualities are what makes an interesting painting, the balance between representational and abstract.

That said,... I do like some abstract art, Rothko especially, for example. And I love Kahn and Matisse but they still have representation in their work. As I said, I think good representational art has a strong abstract quality to the design, at least in the under painting. But, in general, I find abstract art is too easy to create and I don't feel challenged like I do in representational painting.

Richard D. Wall
I paint both...mostly realist. My work concentrates on marine subjects, primarily commssions of racing yachts and U.S. Navy ships....both require realism. However, I am often drawn to abstract like a moth to a flame, or more appropriately like a chocoholic to chocolate cake! I find abstract to be very freeing, very emotional...rather than my other strict dimensional and detailed work. Do I get along with abstract painters? Sure...we always have a multi-linear conversation.

Kyle Wood
I am a traditional representational artist who enjoys painting landscapes and architectural subjects. My preference is representational art because it is the way I was trained and I can relate to it and feel the emotional experience. On the other hand, abtract work is not as appealing to my interest. I will admit that I have seen some abstract work that was beautifully executed and was able to engage in the experience. Abstraction is actually harder to convey than representational. It requires the artist to think more conceptionally (think outside the box). Regardless of the style of work, great art requires a good foundation and study of the elements (eg: line, color, value texture,...) and the principles (balance, unity, proportion,emphasis, ....) of design. All of these play a significant role in the creation process.

Rhoda J Powers
I am an abstract non-traditional artist driven by color and texture. Perhaps my approach stems from being a discouraged perfectionist in that no matter how I try I can not recreate something perfectly that I see in real life. I don't even want to try to compete with mother nature. I can't improve upon it nor can I do it justice either! So I approach my passion the only way I find satisfaction and success. I'm non-traditional in that I combine fused glass with acrylic paintings, or metals or wood, ceramic. Pushing the limits in color, texture, media in which traditional realism rarely allows.
I do appreciate those who approach their work in a traditional manner. Who can't appreciate the work of another who can do what you can't? I'm in awe but prefer not to play in their world. I am willing to acknowledge their gifts and leave it to those who do it best!
I believe some people have a more difficult time relating to the abstract work of artist because often the path to understanding of what the artist intended or was feeling when the work was being created is not as visible, or as easily traveled so to speak.... it's like walking in the dark. You can do it, but it's usually at a slower pace and sometimes you stumble, or end up somewhere other than where you intended or even the artist intended for that matter. That is not necessarily a bad thing but it can be disconcerting to the traditionalist or those who primarily collect traditional realism consistently.
Keith, Another question for another newsletter topic might be whether the traditional realism painter more often see themselves as conservatives or liberals and the same for the non-traditional abstract artists. Something to ponder. I know, that might just be too inflammatory!
The responses you get from such a query would be very interesting I suspect.
Thanks for asking for our input. I look forward to your follow up. It's nice to take a break from creation to exercise the other side of the brain.

Rod Lamkey
To answer your questions:
I am a representational artist and I appreciate some abstract art.

My opinions are:
1. True art derives from the soul. (Yes, I believe in the soul but not religion.)
2. Art, like life itself, should be exquisite.
Regardless what is created, if the creation (painting, music, literature) is not exquisite then it is pretty much useless.

Within those parameters the 'type' of art created can be representation, abstract, or anything in between. I suppose I mean it must be "sincere."

As a musician and painter I have found an unusual dichotomy in this ongoing debate. While jazz musicians love classical music, abstract artists usually have little respect for classical art.

Leslie Allen
Hi Keith,

I do both! Representational, mostly plein air work and "abstracted" landscapes and the occasional totally abstract pieces.
I have noted in all the years I have painted that artists who "grow" tend to get more and more abstract. I believe there are similarities in the "shapes", "values, etc. in both approaches. My most successful representational works happen when I am truly seeing the abstract elements in nature. Both styles of painting inform the other.

I started out 100 percent representational. Now it seems so tedious to me and I often have told myself- or others...may as well take a photo. I'm the artist- I can change things. That was my first relization, but now I want to move further away from representation. Sometimes I wish I can do a painting that looks kind of abstract, but you know what you are looking at. Other times i wish I could do a totally abstract painting. Often when I see an abstract that does not tell me what it is, I wonder how the artist became inspired.

Patricia Pollard
I am an abstract artist but I appreciate representational work that is well executed. By that I mean, having a composition that draws viewers into the image and a point of view I might not have seen before, sensitive and harmonious use of color, and a mastery of materials.

In addition, I appreciate representational work that has been visibly filtered through the artist's imagination rather than just a realistic rendering of an existing scene.

An image that is finely crafted, has integrity and showcases the artist's aesthetic can have merit whether abstract or representational.

Judy Westergard
Re: abstract "vs." realism...although I'm relatively new to abstract work, I do both. I've also loved both, even long before I began to paint. So it goes without saying that I've no arguments with the realists, the abstractionists, nor anyone in between. What I really love, though, is that each artist can learn a lot from the other.

Martha McCarty
I am a representational portrait artist. Although realism has always been my style, I love abstract art! I envy abstract artists(which I know I'm not suppose to do!) but I love the looseness of their style. Sometimes I will start out loose, but I always want to make it tight! Sometimes I wish I could just leave it alone in the abstract form.

Patriicia A Walker
I am an abstract artist and see value in both styles. it really is up to the person viewing your art work. I can look at some abstract art and scratch my head.I see represential painting and scratch my head or visa versa admire what the artist did. How can you shut someone out because he does one style of painting. isn't that a smug attitude to take? Yes, there is good, excellent, unique, and so on you can give to each category/style. How can we be limited in our view especially as artist? I am surprised there is a need for this debate. Obviously there must be a need.

George De Chiara
You are very brave for starting this! When I first read your post I thought, "Can of worms, ha! It's a can of worms with a lighting rod attached to it!"

1. What type of artist are you?
My work is representational.

2. Do you appreciate the other?

3. Why? Why not?
Good design is good design. It doesn't matter if you can tell "what" it is if the design and composition are strong. In representational painting you use the abstract all the time. "Look for the abstract patterns" was one the things we heard constantly in school. It's the best way I know how to paint tricky areas, I stop thinking about "what" it is I'm painting and paint the abstract pattern in front of me.

Judith Boland-Caruso
I'm definitely a representational artist. However, occasionally I paint in a more abstract genre. I call it "abstracting details" from a seascape, sky or landscape. I'd love to be able to get more abstract and am working on it.

I love the abstract artists' CREATIVITY and their COURAGE. A truly good abstract artist is serious about art and doesn't actually throw paint on a canvas and hope it looks like something to someone.

Judith Boland-Caruso
It's the quality of one's work that matters.

Carol D Nelson
I am on intimate terms with a representational painter and an abstract painter - it is I. I have painted in both styles for years. There are elements of both genres that I truly love.

In my experience, the representational painter generally knows in advance what the finished painting will generally look like. He/she uses various TECHNIQUES to represent that still life, landscape, figure, etc., in his/her own unique style.

The abstract painter does not have an image from which to work. The final painting must evolve from his/her own creativity. Because of that, I find abstract much more demanding.

I have wiped many representational paintings in search of perfection, but I have thrown away MORE unsuccessful abstracts.

Gary Hartenhoff
I am a representational painter in oils. I have studied oil painting for 20 years. Not good, not bad.
I admire abstract and one day hope to become good enough to paint abstract.
There is the key to my thoughts about abstract.
I admire GOOD abstract. Unfortunately too many abstract painters paint abstract because they can't draw nor create composition nor know anything of color. They know nothing of the techniques needed to do well.
I have been trying to study geometrics to use in abstract and think there are a lot of good abstract painters that do use Geometrics well.
Huffington Art Gallery has some.
To me a good abstract painter is like a psychiatrist. First he must learn to be a doctor and then a psychiatrist. A good abstract painter must first learn all the techniques and then move on to abstract.
A good jazz player must first learn all the cords and how to read music. Then and only then can he improvise to jazz.

Sandra Haynes
One of my favorite topics of discussion!
My work is representational in varying degrees according to the medium I'm working in.

To view abstract art is such a holiday and personally I admire some of it greatly, enough to where some pieces hang on my walls. It is a great counterpoint to my work. But for someone to make a statement that one is art and the other is not is a narrow viewpoint indeed!

Photographic realism is, in my opinion, a step toward painting in a representational way and representational art requires a lot of experience and thought just as does abstract art. Is abstract art more advanced? No, not in my opinion. It comes perhaps more easily to some artists and then becomes their vehicle for expression.

All the different types of art would not exist if there were not people that liked them. It's just a matter of taste.

Can we get along? Sure, but you have to want to.

Al Johannessen
I love nature,wild life,landscapes,trees,Mountains,and so on.I sometimes spend hours just looking and studying places I am thinking about painting.I could continue on about why I paint what I do,However I love art and I have seen very little art that I did not enjoy at all.

Carol Everhart Roper
My painting/collage work is primarily abstract. I am also a digital artist, and the composites I create digitally are partly abstract, partly representational. I don't think one form of expression is 'better' than the other. My bias comes in my judgement of the quality of the work rather than if it is 'realistic' or abstract.

I can certainly appreciate great (even good) art that is representational as well as that which is abstract. I feel I can always learn from everything I see. . . (including work I'd consider poorly done!)

What makes me like or dislike a work is how it makes me feel. If I am caught up in goofy brushstrokes or bad color combinations, for example, then I am not able to let the work 'speak' to me. So, I don't like it. But if I see a beautiful technique, and the piece moves me somehow, then I like it. Whether it is representational or not is irrelevant to me.

That said, I don't like to be rude or nasty to other artists, even if I dislike their work. There is usually SOMETHING nice one can say about a piece, even if it's as simple as "That's a beautiful yellow!" (Unless you're in a crit group or are a teacher, but even then you don't need to be rude about it, just instructive.)

cheri merrifield
I am a representational artist but love many abstract works. I feel I'm somewhere between impressionism leaning quite a ways towards realism but not good enough or patient enough to be a true realist. Since I'm self taught I never learned many of the rules and at 64 I'm just learning them now. I am so lucky to belong to a wonderful art group with all types of artists and I appreciate them all. I believe our art is like our signature, although its changed through the years and its developed and improved, its still my signature and I don't paint like any one else. I think we all paint as indivuduals and it all has a place in our world. There is room for all. Now how do we stop our self critisism?

I guess I feel like this is an artificial boundary, like painting vs. sculpting. Some creative people specialize and others are generalists. I see representational to abstract on a continuum. I find myself working that continuum across a broad spectrum, although most of my paintings are representational. I love the best of multiple disciplines (with one exception being that I believe that conceptual art has strayed from Warhol Pop-Art to Carrot-Top Prop-art). Viva la différence.

Julia Bright
Hi Keith, I am a representation artist, specializing in oil still life and portraits. Having started studying painting only 10 years ago, I have a great appreciation for the amount of work, skill and forethought that goes into creating each piece of art. That is why it is so difficult to have a black and white answer to the question of whether I appreciate abstract art. If the artist is aware of and has mastered the basics (color, composition, edges, etc.), it will be apparent in their work, abstract or representational, and this kind of competent work appeals to me, whether representational or abstract. The problem very often these days is that anyone can call themeselves an artist, without any credentials, not having mastered any of the basics. These artists often start dabbling in abstract art because they deem it more accessible, "easier" to their untrained eyes. In truth, there are fewer and more lax standards (if any) for abstract art. However, if the artist is well trained, and has mastered the fundamentals, their abstract work is often intriguing, if not totally appealing to me personally. In my opinion, the more explaining one has to do of the artwork, the less understandable or likeable it is. Most abstract art, in my opinion, falls under "decorative", not fine art. Often, abstract artists cannot tell anyone else what makes an abstract painting work, beyond someone's personal reaction to it. That is not the case with representational art - there are at least basic standards of quality of the work. Beyond that, there are, of course, subjective criteria, but they are fewer than with abstract work. In my opinion, there are many more competent representational artists than there are abstract artists. Abstract art also contributes to the intimidation factor of the general public. If it needs to be explained, people do not understand it. This leaves room for all kinds of preposterous explanations and interpretations for the artwork itself, some completely far-fetched. All of this confuses, perplexes and intimidates the people who have never had the good fortune to be educated art consumers, creating a kind of unreachable mystique surrounding the whole gallery/museum art experience, which in turn serves to put barriers between art and the general public, which hurts artists. My opinion only, of course, but representational art is more honest and accessible, instead of being pretentious. It's about the work, not about the image of art, or the public persona of the artist. But, in closing, some abstract art, which is based in solid skill can be appealing.

Richard T Powers
1. What type am I? Representational/Traditional

2. Do I appreciate the other? Yes very much!

3. Comment: Being a traditional plein air painter using oils I find that the general composition and simplification process requires dealing with shapes and their relationships. Then as one proceeds the relationship and size of brush strokes are constantly being looked at from the standpoint of the entire field of relationships. This said I still need to be portraying what is going on in the field of view and maintain something that is recognizeable to the viewer of the final painting.

Having said this I admire those who always work with the nonrepresentational, from my point of view I find doing it more difficult than representational as I have nature helping me. Doing nonrepresentational painting all you have is paint, brushes, canvas and some mental concept that needs to happen.

I feel we can all relate and among my peers I am comfortable with both kinds of artists.

Richard T Powers
Not sure I checked the e-mail box below on my first post. Yes I want e-mailed comments from others!

Beth Dix
1. What type of artist are you?
My work is representational.

2. Do you appreciate the other?

3. Why? Why not? I am not a fan of abstract art. However, every once in awhile, I am drawn to a specific work. Usually I am drawn to the color combinations.

I definitely prefer to work in realism, and will continue to do so (as far as I know right now). Is an abstract artist less of an artist than one who does realism? No, I don't think so. It is kind of like comparing apples and oranges. They are both great fruit, but taste totally different.

I am a representational artist. I appreciate all artist, because I understand that they have put a piece of themselves into each painting, sculpture or drawing they produce.

What a great topic! I am a self taught, contemporary artist. I paint in realism from time to time and can appreciate the skill it takes to do that, but the heart wants what the heart wants and I always go back to contemporary. I gravitate toward whimsy.

I admit that I am not educated enough in the arts to appreciate all the skill and composition involved in abstract. I do love an abstract that speaks to me. I recently saw some that absolutely danced on the canvas, filled an amazing amount of light and emotion. Breath-taking!

I have friends that paint in both the realistic and abstract disciplines and we co-exist beautifully.

Carol Schmauder
I am a representational artist for the most part. I do have a series that is different and I have no idea what category it fits into.

I really enjoy abstract art. My daughter does some wonderful paintings that are abstract and I appreciate her ability to create them. I would like to do some abstract paintings, however, I have no idea how to go about it. I have ventured in that direction a couple of times and really enjoyed those attempts.

I love most styles of art, except dark pieces that just depress me.

Thanks for opening this discussion.

Diane Overmyer
I actually do more representational work, but I also have a fairly body of abstract work. Does that make me weird? All of my work contains various levels of abstraction and I think one type of painting informs the other. Most artists that I know don't have a problem with me doing totally different types of paintings and in fact I know several artists who paint mainly in a representational manner, but who also enjoy abstraction. It is some of the gallery owners who carry my work, who want me to do one type of work only, at least for their gallery. Why is it that if a musician plays several instruments and writes or sings, everyone raves at how talented they are, but if an artist does more than one style of work, people say, they haven't found their niche yet?

Lori Landis
Hi Keith, I'm an abstract artist but I do admire representational artists like Winslow Homer, Sargent and many of today's artists. I can't be judgemental on the either/or question because each artist has to follow their own path to what makes them happy to paint. There are many painters of either style that I don't care for their paintings because there is no feeling in them just technique.

I need to add to my earlier comments today. I forgot to say that I really enjoy the abstract art of Michel Keck and I think her work has a great deal of depth, beauty and interest. So maybe I'm eating my words?? Plus, I think she is a marketing genius!!!

Helen Horn Musser
Keith, This will be very interesting indeed. I am a representational artist, however, I have combined abstract and representational in some of my work. I paint subject matter mostly with watercolor and then use encaustic to border the subject. The results bring the two disiplines together in one piece. Abstract allows the viewer's imagination to take flight and see many images in the work and then there may not be any images; just color, this includes black and white. I have come to appreciate abstract as well as traditional representational.There are some works in abstract I don't appreciate. Mood is very important in abstract.

Charlotte Herczfeld
Hi Keith, Hi all,

The style that speaks to me is the Representative. I like many varieties of it, but have fallen in love with a method originating with the French Impressionsists. (I don't call myself an Impressionist, they were so much greater, but I may possibly be an Imp. :-)

Abstract doesn't do it for me. I've seen plenty of what is said to be the best (I've studied art history). It simply doesn't resonate with me.

What I seek is that something nearly 'magical' of either a moment in a place that is seen and experienced by the artist, who doesn't see objects, but glories in the colour and light around the objects, translates that to pigment to show us all the fantastic glory that exists around us all the time, if we but see.

For art to 'do something for me', it has to have meaning, it has to have a bit of truth, and it has to have a quality of universalness. It should not matter what country or culture a viewer is; a painting should transcend that, and be understood by any person. To me, art is a dialogue, a meeting between people. Simplified, good rep art says 'look at this beauty'.

My apologies to you who create abstracts, I am in no way trying to offend you. I happen to have strong reaction, which my intellect doesn't agree with. In the following, I'm simply describing my reaction to much of the abstract art I've seen, possibly being too open.

As some representational art, Abstract can seem to me to be rather self-centered, and like subway grafitti shout "look at me, I'm the expression of the inner artist, and I'm having a bad time". (Might be culture specific for where I live.) I experience it quite often as fragmenting reality, representing the meaningless, and focusing on what is not so beautiful. I really don't like the sense of de-humanising. Bit this is for the more 'extreme' stuff, mostly my reaction is "so what?", or "huh?".

Btw, a lot of rep art generates the same reaction.

There does exist Abstract art that I like a lot, but it rarely, if ever, resonates as powerfully as the best of representative art does.

And I'd love to be friends with an Abstract artist and learn to appreciate it better. I might not understand it, possibly can't understand it, but I'm interested in the human being, the person. If I liked the person, their type of art wouldn't matter a bit. I'm friends with rep artists whose art doesn't 'do it' for me. I can work alongside any other artist, as long as we both respect each other and each other's choices of expression. I respect you, but I don't have to love your type of art, just as you don't have to love my type of art.

Joe Soulagnet
Impressionism is abstract representational art. The painting of Kazimir Malevich, Black Square, c. 1913 is a far-left view of the abstract. I guess it comes down to ones preference of abstract degrees. I am a representational artist and as others here have mentioned, appreciate the creativity, composition and color of the abstract artist.

Rebecca Herren
Keith, I found this article of yours quite interesting and wanted to take this opportunity to make my comment. I am an abstract artist, and somewhat of a purist in this form. I have not yet delved into the collage aspect of abstract - though I've thought about it. Being in publishing for many more years than I'd like to admit, and living here on the coast, I've come to know many artists - some personally and others only by their work. Whether or not [I] like someone's work or think they are good or not is not relevant since art truly is in the eye of the beholder. I have a great deal of respect for any artist no matter what medium or style they choose. With the revolution of impressionism and expressionism, and now with the digital era, art has really opened up for artists to be even more creative whether they follow a traditional path or choose a more non-traditional one. I prefer acrylics over oils, watercolors and pastels simply due to the freedom I have from using this paint, and the almost instant gratification when the painting is finished. Another reason I choose abstract painting over others is the thrill of taking a concept I may have or a group of colors and seeing how it develops onto the canvas. Other times the mind is silent and the brush simply takes over. I love the outcome either way. And I guess, I just don't have the patience for oils, watercolors or pastels at this time and want to keep exploring the work I'm creating through abstracts.

Clint Watson
another test - please ignore.

Jan VonBokel
I enjoy and appreciate all styles of art but after working with mentally handicapped artist and watching them produce some incredible abstract pieces with no inhibitions just strong deliberate strokes..Straight from the heart...When I ask them to paint representational art they get this fear in their eyes and it turns into total stress...I truely believe abstract style is the way to go to really let your inner sole express itself.... when

Katarzyna Lappin
I am a representational painter because I can only paint what I see. Even paintings from my imagination represent something everybody would know what it is.
Sometimes my works are gravitating toward a surreal direction but most of my works are traditional.
I honor and respect abstract style but it is not in my nature.
But just because I am not gifted for abstraction doesn't mean I have to criticize or fight against it. I could never understand this conflict between representatives of different styles.
Each style makes the art richer and more people happy.

Rosemary Tyler
As a representational artist I am always drawn to the subjects and scenes that have feeling, emotional substance. My seascapes should make you feel like you are sitting right there feeling the spray of the ocean. I miss this when I view an abstract, for you have to study sometimes for a long time trying to figure what the artist is trying to convey.
I have been drawn to some abtracts, like the famous
"Nude Descending The Staircase" and works by Picasso, but if the viewer has to spend too much time trying to figure what it is , he will go on to something else.
As for understanding the artist, well, we all have the passion, hopefully the skills, so we get along fine
Rosemary Tyler\

Clint Watson
antother test - thanks for your patience guys - we're having a glitch with the comment system - it will work but it's a bit slower than usual so try not to double submit.

Jean Dewitt
What I found curious about your article was the notion that two people shouldn't "get along" because of artistic passions. We are so much more than our art, with much to impart to one another; particularly when we are vastly different in our passions. I am an abstract artist who tends to draw smaller designs that lend themselves nicely to branded items, but I love looking at other types of art; representational and otherwise. I always feel my soul filled when looking at other artists' work...much like when I get together with those friends of mine that are much different than I. It makes me realize how much I need their different perspective...their different way of looking at things. So we in the artistic community make up a "Body of Artists:" hence there are hands, feet, legs, arms, etc. We need each other for inspiration, no matter what we create! ~Jean

Clint Watson
one more test, I'm sorry.

bobb terrell
Well, I have to say that art is art, period. Having said that I truly believe that all art is abstract, just look at all of the negative space built into a painting, all the small shapes and figures that are involved in the over all painting.I like to think of myself as a painter and I love the entire process, from top to bottom, beginning and the end, from prepping a canvas to finishing a painting. Within all of these processes, I see lots of abstraction.

Jackie Ivey-Weaver
I paint Realistic paintings, but have evolved to try to simplify, and capture the essence of whatever I'm painting.
Yes, I do appreciate Abstract art, mainly Abstract painting that seems to suggest the essence of something, the colors used help.
Why? I suppose, when I start a painting I try to over simplify, and that seems quite abstract.

Renate Martin
I'm mostly a representational artist with abstract ambitions. To me both go together like body and soul, abstraction being the soul.
What I admire most about great representational artists is that they are able to focus for the amount of time it takes to finish a detailed piece of artwork and see it through to the end. However, if the abstract qualities are lacking, it's all for nothing. Abstract art on its own, however, is sometimes hard to understand. Like it needs a body to bring it to life.

B.J. Abrams
This debate is not one that I feel is necessary. I am an eclectic artist. One set of my paintings might be human form, another abstract, another landscape representational, etc.. Therefore to make any attempt to lock a two-dimensional artist into any particular genre' is to take away freedom of the creative process. Over this summer I painted one set of Native Americans, several sets of abstracts in different hues, several sets of ethnics, florals, and the list goes on. Many of my paintings are in oil, but I also use acrylics, water and mixed media. I would hate to be locked into any particular genre or medium by someone else's opinion of what art should be just because they have a particular preference.

Corrie Scott
My feet are in both camps as I paint representational but in 'secret' love painting abstract, so for many years I just put the representational out in galleries and had my abstracts at my studio. Clients would come around and it was sometimes very difficult to convince them that the abstracts were mine as they are so different.
For me both representional and abstract painting gives me a chance to play with colour which is what I love to do.
And nowadays I have my abstract work in galleries also.
For me I don't want to be put into a box by others so am always stepping out of it and going with my muse and instinct.

Phyllis Von Holdt
I do representational pastels but I think I'm a borderline case. Some of my paintings are verging on being abstract. Just recently, I took a workshop because it was put on by friends and I wanted to lend my support. It was all abstract; however, we started with bold outlines of objects, then added paint and let it work it's magic and then brought out the essence of our sketches to bring them to life. It was a fun stretch that I would recommend to other artists!

Peggy Guichu
I'm considered an abstract artist, but no art critic has actually been able to find a true category for my art. I fall inbetween abstract and realism.

I thoroughly enjoy good representational art. I can get lost in the details of crystal and silver vases and pounding surfs. But I tend to enjoy the play of color and "what is it the artist is saying" affect that abstract has on me. I know for myself, that the biggest compliment is when an observer finds something completely different in my painting then I had thought I was conveying when I was painting it.

To me it's more of a challenge to say something in abstract. It's not much of a challenge to know the artist is talking about a tractor when it's right there in front of me. I'm impressed with their ability to perfectly describe a tractor, but I wouldn't want it on my wall. Given the assumption that both the abstact artist and the representational artist both have the same level of skill, for me, representational is taking the easy way out.

But a great artist is just that, a great artist. Abstract or representational, when you get the color and light just right, it doesn't matter what style they are painting in, it's breathtaking.

Jeffrey Nichols
I am a Representational artist for the most part, I am attempting some abstract works. I have been a lifetime admirer of great abstract art, some abstract works are breathtaking, when they work, they work. On the tv series Two and a half Men, there is a painting over the fireplace of Charlie's mother's home, it knocks my socks off every time I see it. Some great representational artists like Kathryn Stats and Calvin Liang verge on the abstract in thier approach to painting representational. That's my take on it.
Jeff Nichols

Muriel Timmins
Keith - Your posts are always so interesting and thought provoking - this one is no exception! (Thanks!) Here's my input to your survey:

My work definitely falls into the "representational" category. However, although I've never actually studied abstract art, I do have an appreciation of sorts for it. At the most basic/superficial level, it seems that it can provide many lessons in composition, balance, color and overall interest that can be applied to representational work.

Obviously, though, its significance MUST go well beyond that -- So, due to my lack of knowledge on abstract art, I've always reserved judgement. But rather than dismiss or ignore it, I have just let myself thoroughly enjoy those pieces that DO reach me. One day, perhaps, I will make time to investigate and find out just what it is that I'm missing!

Look forward to seeing your survey results -

Durand Seay
As an architect, my world is defined by the finite. However it is the creative process of realizing the built environment that manipulates time and space to enhance people's experiences that drive me to the profession.
It is in that drive that I am also an artist first, painting since I was very young within a family of artists. The oil on canvas work I pursue is more of an exploration of my subconscious, relying on spontaneity to guide me. What feels right is a very important element.
The work that emerges has been described as abstract surrealism or neo-futurist. Boccioni with his incorporation of time and space, expresses movement and can be used as a comparison to help understand what influences the work. It is the architect in me wanting to express movement with structures found in nature that become my narrative abstractions.
I respect the objective artists for their work, for I too will work in a representational mode at times and even with photography. There comes a need to study a form or say an animal so as to understand its essence before I begin the abstraction. But, it is in the abstraction that I embrace complete freedom to explore and flow into the infinite.

Olivia Alexander
What a wonderful and encouraging conversation!
I think for many years abstract art was widely misunderstood (due to the fact that there has been a lot of bad examples out there like the black dot on the white wall that someone else mentioned) but that seems to be changing as more artists explore abstract art.
I originally started as a representational artist,but now I paint abstract expressionism, semi abstract and full abstract.
I didn't understand abstract art until some art teachers taught me the 'language' of it.
The elements and principles of design etc are the basis of good abstract art, any art for that matter.
I love abstract art because it has a certain freedom in it; as the artist I can express what my heart sees and feels. For the viewer; so many will tell me what my paintings mean to them and it is often different to me.
I love the process of problem solving that I have to go through to paint abstract.It has taught me more about art than any other style but I do appreciate all styles.
It's all about respect really, sure, we can get along and support one another, as artists expressing how we see our world.

Helen Horn Musser
J. B. I love the title you've coined for your work; eclectic. You sound much like my way of painting. I use oil, watercolor, acrylic, and encaustic to paint landscapes, still life, figures, and florals. Each medium presents it's own style but, I feel my footprints are in all of them. I've been told I am a schizophrenic artist because there are more than one style with my work; it depends on the medium. I have decided to work only in oil for a time and create a body of work that way. Thanks for commenting about this and identifying the eclectic in us.

Phyllis Von Holdt
I agree, Peggy! Great art is great art, whether it's abstract or representational. Representational does have abstract components, whether we see it or not.

Caroline Doucette
My work is representational. After many years I still can't claim an understanding of abstract but everytime I will listen hoping to gain some unstanding or insight in to the abstract work. Please explain to me in clear everyday language. I truely want to understand the abstract piece.

Crystal Rassi
Hi All,

So far I've read about a number of pleasant artists who appreciate work other than their own.

I am MOSTLY a representational artist and because of my attempts at other forms and styles of art, I can appreciate a variety of styles. The only reasons I wouldn't get along with other artists isn't so much because of the style of work as perhaps the subject matter. If I don't agree with the subject or principles the artist is displaying or believes in, then and only then, may I disagree with another artist.

Debra LePage
Well said, Durand.

Gerri Bradford
I am a representational painter. I do appreciate abstract works but not the "drips of paint school". All the elements of representational art, in my opinion, also are present in good abstract work. Design is of the utmost importance to me and if an abstract succeeds in this, then I enjoy the efforts of the artist. As a change of pace, I enjoy doing abstract. All representational art starts as abstract. There is no reason to look down on abstract painters; we're all painting our souls....and besides it is a lot of fun!

1. What type of artist am I? Representational.
2. Do you appreciate the other? No.
3. Why not? I realize "no" is a blanket statement, but I should be more specific. It depends what you mean by appreciate. I've studied abstract art so I generally "get" it, but for the most part, I don't like it. I can look at abstract art in a gallery, but eventually, I'll be back over at the representational work. I do like it more than I used to, but the answer, basically, is still no. All of which is my personal opinion, which means...not a damn thing, but you asked!

Crystal Rassi
Dear Jean Dewitt

I like your analogy of the "Body of Artists". It sounds like what Paul talks about in the Bible with the Church being a body of people with a variety of gifts and that we can only perform as a whole if we work together.

I think without a variety of artists in a variety of styles, communication would be stagnant because their are so many varieties of people in the world to communicate to.

Hence, Jean - Good Analogy!

Rob Compton
I love this question because I actually consider myself BOTH. It was only recently that I stopped fighting this phenomenon and realized that I am just going to create both and live with it. Here's how it works: I am a LANDSCAPE painter. That's my anchor. Sometime I am inspired to work abstractly, other times representationally. I find both modes to be equally challenging and rewarding, but for very different reasons. I can't help but enjoy the various reactions I get from patrons, because MOST people are going to align themselves with one more than the other. This month I have two shows running simultaneously--one abstract and one representation. Can't wait for the openings to see the full reactions.
Sorry this was so much "about me" but this prompt in so much about my recent struggle and current mode of working!

BC Dreamcatcher
I'm a representational oil painter, but studied and painted abstracts while in art school. I find it interesting how many of the old masters
started out as representational artists and in theirlater years became abstract painters.
I appreciate abstract paintings (good ones, becaus I know that beneath the surface of any
good representational painting lies an abstract

B V F Betker
You are asking if we prefer life or living. All art is abstract by its nature. I am a self-taught, primarily representational painter who responds more immediately and directly to the abstract than the "content" in most visual art. Admittedly I was a self-taught fiber artist before venturing to paint representationally to my own satisfaction, and I fully respect and enjoy the process of construction. How can there be this seeming division in our community? I am enriched by everything to which others' minds can introduce me and I feel blessed to create and surprise myself too. Thank you for opening this discussion, it always surprises me to hear dismissal of part of the spectrum of beauty.
I know you asked us not to resubmit but where is my earlier post? Where are others I've received emails of from this site and hoped to review? So I'm resubmitting.

Jerry Hardesty
I am an absract expressionist. When I began painting, I was a representational landscape painter. I was never satisfied with my work, then I discovered I have the ability to paint abstracts. I find abstracts exciting - I can express myself and am satisfied with the results. Abstract painting leads me rather than me trying to control painting. I do appreciate some representational works; in fact, I have collected a few. For myself, however, as an artist, I became bored and felt I was painting the same landscape over and over.

Chris Weber
I paint both ways and love it! As far as I'm concerned both disciplines when done properly use the same concepts of composition and color. I spend as much time carefully constructing my abstracts as I do the representational Plein Air paintings that I do. I also think that the styles enhance each other because when I do an abstract I will go in any direction I please and take more risks and that in turn stimulates a more free approach to my landscapes.

gail davis
In my family there is a member who does wonderful abstract art and he has always been the apple of his mother's eye. When I began painting realistic art, she told me that it didn't take as much talent to do that as abstract paintings - which she considered was creating something from the mind. She thought realistic art was 'copying'. I've always wondered if this is really true (she did eventually compliment me on my work).

Steven Long
I am an abstract artist. I have always enjoyed viewing it as a very young man and do so to this day. I paint what I see in my mind and feel in my heart. At the same time I truely admire those that paint what you term as representational art. I am awed by someone that can paint a portrait that appears to be able to walk right off the canvas or a landscape that you can feel the breeze in your hair. They are both art as well as everything in between the two. There is room in this world for all of it. Each piece should be savored for what it is and how it makes each of us feel.

Mary Fox

I am not usually a fan of abstract art but I was walking through a gallery with a friend I paint with and she stopped at an abstract piece and began saying how much she liked it and why. By listening to her appreciation of the work and hearing her point out different strokes and colors it opened a new way to appreciate this art form. Since then I have begun to see other abstract pieces that I can appreciate.

Scott Taylor
Hey Keith, all art styles are valid art. I can paint in either realism, representational or abstract styles. There should be no argument as to which genre is more valid than the other. All are valid art. A true artist understands this and works to expand an understanding and appreciation for all styles of art.

I am basically representational but occasionally paint abstract more as a release from the discipline of realism though I realize there are certain disciplines in good abstraction.

I respect and enjoy abstract art, I also enjoy both jazz and classical music

I appreciate abstract painting most particularly when it is well DESIGNED, don't show me paint scribbles and smears. I like abstract art that has a suggestion of something going on and a center of interest, "non objective" is sometimes to "non..."

Donna Robillard
I am a representational/realistic artist; however, I do like good abstract art that has a good sense of design and a good use of color. I have done a little work that I call realistic abstract. I'm thinking that sometime that I would like to do a whole series of that.

Ray Beckner
I would start by saying I love and appreciate all art forms.
In a nutshell though, the word Representational sums it up. It's been done to perfection in every possible way many times. Abstract lets the creative blood flow. I could paint 24/7 for the rest of my life with just the ideas in my head right now. If you can think of it, you can paint it. Every canvas is a new adventure in creativity and challenges that brings you to new levels as a artist. Representational art can be taught. Creativity can't be bought. Go ahead test yourself, paint an abstract or few. Get in while it's in it's infancy.

Debra LePage
"Abstract painting leads me." so true, Jerry!

Annie Hoffman
I paint in an impressionist realistic style. In the early days, I was dismissive of abstract art, but then butted heads with someone who loved Rothko and Pollock. I determined that in order to judge something, I needed to educate myself on all types of art and art movements. This has enriched my life, and made me a better painter. I also can judge a 'good' abstract painting, and see its poetry, as well as a realistic one. There can be good and bad of both. In fact for me a good start to a painting, is to block in large shapes with an interesting value pattern. I think we all as artists are just in different places along the same spectrum.

gloria nehf
To me, the entire field whether abstract or representational must be judged for the quality and not whether one or the other. I have enjoyed stunningly beautiful abstracts, mediocre realism. and bad examples of both. So let's judge the piece, not the style.

Nancy Tankersley
Interesting that this topic should be raised now as I have been thinking about this alot lately. Our local accredited art museum received a sizeable gift of contemporary art from a notorious collector couple who are probably more famous than any of the works in their collection. There are many abstract paintings and very finely crafted 3-D objects, but there are many more objects that are included in the collection, I suspect, because the artist was an interesting person or had a novel idea. Most prominent is a collection of beautifully framed sheets of soiled notebook paper with only a few brushstokes or smudges of watercolor. Try as I might to appreciate the "concept" behind these pieces, I just can't quite get there. The curator was besides himself with excitement over the collection and I listened very carefully to his talk to see if I was missing something. I don't think I was.
Upon further reflection, I know that the role of a museum is to document the art of the time period
in which we live. That said, they are doing a good job because conceptual and experimental art has certainly received most of the media attention, at least in my lifetime (which spans more than a few decades). But are they really documenting ALL of the art that is being made today? There is a whole lot of wonderful painting being done today as the plein air movement has kicked off a huge groundswell of artists who make and collectors who collect representational art. Painting from life has become fashionable again and ateliers and workshops are flourishing all over the country to satisfy the demand of painters who didn't learn what they wanted and needed from the universities they attended. Isn't this the art of our times as well?

I hope that in 20 years more museums will appreciate representational painting and not regard it as a relic of the past. I know there are some museums (mostly in the West)who appreciate and collect great representational art, but I fear they are in the minority.

Robin Baratta
I do both, in the same painting.
I love texture, collage, and pattern, I also love telling a story. So I start with the texture and collage, then add in the representational element. The back story of each piece is found in the collage and is very well researched and composed.
I think that there is no reason why abstract and representational can't co-exist, happily.

Carol MacConnell
I am a representational oil painter. I love and appreciate good abstract. I own abstracts. But I don't appreciate people who can't paint calling it abstract. I do feel "less than" to my abstract artist friends, however!

David M. Kessler

Good post, and quite a thought provoker. I paint in both realistic and abstract styles, using two different media. I think I get along with myself pretty well!

But seriously, I really don't think there should be any conflict between those who paint realistically and those who paint abstractly. In good painting, both are working with the same set of design elements, or principals, to give the work structure and interest. There may be a common belief among more traditional artists that there is no structure or design to abstract work. In my case that could not be farther from the truth. While I do not do any prior planning for the abstacts, I focus intently on the design elements once I do begin to paint (line, shape, color, value, and texture). Without the development of these elements, the work will not hold together whether it is abstract or more realistic.

Thanks again for the post and I trust you will have many interesting responses!

Clark Wilcox
Just returned from a great presentation by Harley Brown. So many things I saw and what he said got me thinking beyond what he presented. If you look look at a a small area of a looser painter like Clyde Aspevig or the periferal area of a Harley Brown for instance, it really is very abstract.

Barbara Maiser
I am a representational artist. However, if squinting as I paint does not reduce my representational art to a beautiful abstract, then I know my painting will not be a good one.

Jackie Lee
Maybe I'm just schizophrenic, but I'm actually representational AND abstract, depending upon the mood I'm in, the support available at the time, and whether I feel like acrylics or oils that day. Also the weather affects things - acrylics go with a sunny day, and oils go with moody fogs and cold weather. Not always, of course ... schizophrenics tend to change their minds frequently!

Marge Heilman
Abstract vs. Representational
Learning from different genres is an exciting process. As a representational artist I use many tools and methods to accomplish the painting that is being born in my mind.
I appreciate abstract art because composition, form, line, texture, color play their parts in so many interesting ways and yet it gets interpreted differently with each viewer. I like to use its principles as a foundation to my own art. Personally, abstract art needs to have a message, a random dark circle in the center of a canvas doesn”™t do it for me, and neither do splotches of paint thrown on with a wind machine. I love the rhythm that can be present in abstract art, the same rhythm that makes a good representational painting.
From a collector”™s view, I love to marry abstract and representational in a collection with color, movement or texture. I show prospective clients and it is pleasantly surprising that they work together so nicely. Excitement and quiet places can reside in both and become a beautiful combination on the wall together.
Representational art for me can be interpretive, connective, explorational, and invigorating.
Abstract art can be all of the same.

My work is clearly representational (I prefer that term, rather than 'realism' which is often confusing or inaccurately used these days). I truly love a lot of non-objective work, such as Mark Rothko and other 20th century non-objective artists. I do believe that people respond to formal qualities such as line or color, and these do not have to represent some concrete object or referent in order to affect people emotionally and intellectually. I may someday attempt some non-objective pieces myself. There is something intellectually appealing about the rationale behind non-objective art, something that is too often lacking in representational art, as technically stunning as much of it is. On the other hand, non-objective work can actually stray into the merely 'decorative' as easily as representational work often does, so I do have some reservations about it. I do think that the non-objective art community, however, is much braver in allowing and being interested in real, intelligent, critical analysis of the work being produced, something that I haven't seen occurring in the representational community.

Laurel Knight
I am a realist oil painter, married to a realist sculptor. We both have had this discussion many times over the 26 years we have been together. We have always agreed that even though we appreciate that there are many types of "art" out there, we are not drawn to abstract in as much as it is difficult to appreciate any "art" that has to be explained. Although many here have said that true abstract art comes from the creativity of the mind, and that representational art is mere copying, we do not agree! We do not merely "copy" something to create our art. We use many references to be able to accurately portray that what we wish to create, but the original idea comes from our imaginations just as much as an abstract artist puts their ideas out from their imagination. When my husband gets an idea for a sculpture, he visualizes what he wants to create...and then he has models pose, or in the case of wildlife or horses, etc. he uses many, many references. But he never "copies" anything straight from a photo. When I do a portrait for a client, I use reference photos to be able to see many different expressions of that person, since I do not live with them, I wouldn't be privy to their different moods or ways, that those who know them would. So by using multiple references, I get the feeling of them as well as from life. When I paint a landscape, I never just copy a scene from a photo. I paint from places that I have visited...places that have deep connections to me. And I try to convey that to the viewer with my paintings. I also spent 10 years executing beautiful faux finishes and decorative arts in homes in San Diego. Was that art? Sure it was...some of the walls that were multi-layered with beautiful glazes and such were breath-taking walls of art. And definitely abstract in nature. I loved to look at them, and so did the homeowners. But would I consider them timeless pieces of "fine art". No. They will someday be painted over, and their usefulness ended. But they brought joy while they lasted. That is how I feel about most abstract art, no matter how beautiful the colors or the design. They are beautiful to look at...they match someones' decor, or just bring a smile to someones face. Perfectly good reasons to buy abstract art and to appreciate it. But in 100 years from now, if you found a realist sculpture or a beautifully executed representational painting, that piece of art would not need to be would be recognized for what it is... Fine Art. Unfortunately, I don't feel that abstract art would be viewed that would not retain it's message if it were viewed out of context from when it was created.
No disrespect intended to abstract artists...I love looking at beautiful abstract works. And they are needed to bring joy for what ever reason they are created. I just believe that there is a difference between "art" and "fine art".

I'm a representational artist but I do appreciate the abstract, I even make some abstract sketches and since I have good friends who are abstract artists, we share opinions, views and tips, is very nice.

Linda Young
I'm a representational artist, steering toward a style I'll call impressionist abstract. I find to be able to "get away" from the daily confines of the strict appointment schedule I operate my occupation from, I escape to my studio to paint at the end of my work day. To be able to paint at that time helps me let my hair down, relax and enjoy the colors and shapes without the rigid confines I place on myself when I do a representational painting.

I agree, the black dot on a large white canvas just doesn't do it for me.

Pat McGalliard
I am a representationl artist. I've just always liked this type of art. It gives me a way of looking at things that fill me with wonder and questions. I'm a visual person which I'm sure has a lot to do with it as well. Abstract was always somewhat confusing to me. Some abstracts I liked, maybe because the colors where colors I liked, but most abstracts just left me thinking...what's up with that?

Sharon Markwardt
My recognizable style is representative, but with pumped-up color. After a long string of tight realism, though, I will sometimes "let my hair down" with an abstract piece, or one that is representational but with totally arbitrary color. Both types of art are equally valid and exist because there are many different personality types--both in artists and collectors. Different strokes for different folks makes the world go round, and in a much more fascinating manner than if there were only one "Right way."

Phyllis Von Holdt
Hello, Clark Wilcox. I'm a big fan of Harley Brown's and I agree with you; there is beautiful abstract with wonderful realism in his paintings.

Sometimes I put realistic,abstract,surrealistic styles in one painting, I sometimes find it hard to put my paintings into categories. I remember once I group my paintings into the category 'Conceptual' at once I receive a sarcastic reply telling me to study deeper into the 'Conceptual' paintings, I have to apologize to him if I have grouped my paintings wrongly, but I remind him that paintings are not as rigid as music, I am an artist , I am not a musician, even if a note goes wrong, I don't think that this can do an injustice to my paintings.

I am a representational artist. I do like some abstract art. It's good for color to decorate a room. But I don't think it should be lauded the way it is. I especially don't understand the way the art establishment treats abstract art like it has magical qualities that move people. It may move people but I have never seen it happen. On the other hand I have seen representational art move it's viewers to tears. When you understand something's message, it speaks to you. I guess I just don't speak "abstract".

Jan VonBokel
Short and sweet! Thanks,,Scott

Tom Hlas
I agree with you, Kim, when you say, "There is something intellectually appealing about the rationale behind non-objective art, something that is too often lacking in representational art, as technically stunning as much of it is." I definitely agree with many who say art should not need a lot of explaining.

You bring up and interesting (and valid, I think) point when you say, "I do think that the non-objective art community, however, is much braver in allowing and being interested in real, intelligent, critical analysis of the work being produced, something that I haven't seen occurring in the representational community."

I love both. I do both and it seems to depend on what's going on in my life as to which style I'll be using today. When I was much younger, I would do a detailed drawing before starting to paint. Now, if I do a drawing, it tends to be a light sketch with a paintbrush or vine done on a fairly completed background. I have the urge to do abstracts when my life becomes so tight I can't breathe. The freedom of painting without boundaries, the joy of spontaneous color selection, gives my soul the sensation of flying. I always have pretty much done any painting in my head before the first stroke, so I can't say it's completely spontaneous but when all cylinders are firing, it feels like soaring.

I do feel one must get a sense of effort made from an abstract in order to respect it. I agree with Nancy. I've been through some of the greatest museums of the world and have frequently been amazed at how some curator can wax rhapsodic about a white canvas with a single black brush stroke going across it. It makes me want to scream, "THIS IS NOT ART...THIS IS A CON AND YOU BOUGHT IN TO IT YOU TWIT!!!" I've seen it time and time again. Furthermore, it frequently seem as thought "the powers that be" that tell us which abstracts art worthy think if it's pretty, it can't be art. If the artist was not clearly in pain at the time of creation, the artist obviously didn't put themselves into it and was just making a "sofa painting". The snobbery in the world of so-called experts is beyond belief. Lucky for me, I'm not one who feels I need their permission to enjoy a particular piece of art.

I've heard it said or read in several sources that after the devastation and horrors of WWII, artists turned to abstraction because they couldn't paint subjects like still lifes and nudes with any serious conviction any longer. I think people have to view non-representational art from that context to appreciate what developed in Western art. I had a conversation in the car with my husband Sunday on the way to Santa Fe about what contemporary art really is now. It seems that 2-D work like abstract painting has really fallen away, and now contemporary art involves expressions of social activism, such as installations intended to raise awareness of some issue. We never really came to any satisfactory definition of what art really is!

Jason Jones
I am a sculptor and haven't responded on this site in awhile. I know you are all painters but I like this site and keep finding everything here crosses over to my world. My only problem with abstract art is that the notion of not doing traditional or academic/representational art has been tossed aside so completely by significant portions of the art world that the art loving public is completely befuddled about what is happening. Quick example: I went to First Thursday in July here in Portland and as we walked the galleries I was shocked at the first gallery with 8 or 9 colored stick constructions hanging off the walls of a gallery space nearly 3500sq ft. The next gallery had a stack of cardboard boxes maybe 7 or so with shipping tape and address labels on them clumped together as a piece of art. I could go on but you get my point here. This went on from gallery to gallery. My intern said she loved everything she saw(she's young). I was red in the face upset as I had put off a lot to make it out that night--fighting rain, parking, and a cancelled babysitter so I was dragging my 7 year old with me--only to find I was being insulted by people who must think art is a joke and galleries a waste of time. Further nothing was priced nor were there any greeters or staff. Is anything even for sale now in these galleries??? I stood back and watched all this and wondered how I make it. I need to make work people will notice and value, something they'll want to have in their home and I need to charge money for them. I have to eat. The galleries are closing regularly here and I sort of have to shake my head every time I see another empty one. Anyway.....I could continue but that is my take. Thank you.

max hulse
I am a representational artist working in oils.
I have an appreciation for other art forms, but
so much of the abstract art is beyond my understanding and comprehension. Some of it
can be attractive because of the color and shapes, but so much is depressing because there is no form. Music played in several keys at one time in discordant fashion would grate your nerves and some art does the same thing to me.

Max Hulse

Andrew Purchin
I paint representational and abstract paintings directly from life. In both cases what I am after is a tension that comes with dancing with the unknown. The question "What can it be?" leads me instead of "What is this?"

Art that sticks in my mind and resonates in my belly is work that surprises, has life in it, has feeling in it, throws me off balance and engages me the viewer in the painter's creative process.

I like the tension that is created when expectation and the unknown tease each other.

I've been surrounded by representational art for so long that honestly I sometimes find it quite boring and lacking in passion and dynamics. With realism I sometimes feel the search for the main idea gets lost in the strict discipline or attempt to "copy" nature. In a sense all art is abstract, the idea in and of itself is abstract: taking something and representing it or stating it in another way through your own lens or point of view.
I am a representational or realist painter and I find that there is always tension in the juxtaposition of recreating something from nature in my own way and the putting of shapes and values together is not so far off from abstract in concept or execution. This is how I think about and approach painting and from this perspective I don't see so much difference between what we would call "real" and "abstract". Even if an abstracted piece is not based in direct observation, it cannot avoid being based in some experience which I think springs from a common place. I don't know what there is to argue about really. Sometimes I find that abstract work can be much more successful at distilling things down like rhythms, harmonies, direct experience or raw emotion, where realism can be sometimes more contrived in this vein. I like the idea of there being room for each person's expression and I especially like the co-existence of these art forms- they could even be considered a call and response.

I know this is long, but I just want to thank Keith for opening this dialogue, what a great contribution to our community! It's also an opportunity to clarify our thoughts for ourselves, which is a huge contribution to our work!

nat solomon
Dear Keith,
I find you article to be very interesting. I liken it to the personal jouney of an artist. An artist can be drawn to an abstract style and sense where they definitely to not want to be representational. It can get to the point that an artist will sabatoge their work as they get closer to a realistic treatment of their subject. There are other artists who will only consider the artist legitimate if he or she has a "photoreal style." I personally think that both types of artist are necessary, and should learn to get along with each other.
Regards Nat Solomon

Janell Brauer
I am an art teacher, which means I am exposed to many different styles of art and I appreciate almost all of them, especially if my students created the work. As for myself and most artists, I assume, I started out representational. I thrived on that for several years, then I began to get bored with copying what I see. I painted a lot of pleine aire pieces and was really getting bored with repeatedly painting the same colors.

While traveling in Colorado I saw an amazing abstract piece on a brochure. I tried to "copy" it and learned a lot in the process. That opened up a part of my brain that I could not access before. I am now able to, at least occasionally paint abstract pieces that I am happy with.

I find that, contrary to what I often hear "my 3 year old could paint that", painting abstract is much harder than painting representational. It is helpful to have a good grasp of the elements and principals of design. For me it is also much more exciting to work in abstraction than realism, though I happily return to realism occasionally! I can create something that was not there and yet is visually pleasing and stimulating. It is helpful to have a good grasp of the elements and principals of design. Sometimes it works like magic and sometimes (often) it fails miserably. I am becoming more and more passionate about painting and exploring methods of abstraction AND expressionism. Thanks for the opportunity to write about it and thus inspire myself to get into my studio and PAINT!


joan Marie
I am currently painting Abstracts ..HIGH ENERGY!! Just LOVE IT!!!!!
No one can BELIEVE I have made such a HUGE transition from my Powerful Ethereal Drawings to my current ELECTRIC ABSTRACTS. One artist said it was a waste for me , an artist with such great drawing skills to paint abstracts! (: I was asked which style is harder, I said the Abstractions! must have CONFIDENCE, the FREEDOM of a CHILD, and full KNOWLEDGE of all the elements and principles of design! It took me years to draw with the high level of expression and skill that I finally attained, but the ability to be TOTALLY IN THE ZONE and feel totally free, happens with the abstract paintings...!! My goal NOW is to combine the 2 !!! I am VERY Excited!!!

Karen Steffano
I have always been representational in my approach to painting, but I have always loved abstract art too. Last week in fact I decided to give it a try and discovered that experimenting with brushwork and colour really unleashed my creativity and I totally enjoyed the process. Sometimes when I try too hard to get it right I lose the joy of painting and it never works, when I am simply expressing myself with paint everything gets loosened up and I end up with a better painting. This is true of representational art too, but I would like to explore the abstract side a bit more to see where it takes me.

V. M. Fry
I alternate styles and sizes just for the challenge. Sometimes I paint abstract..sometimes realism...whatever strikes my fancy. (On a map there are some super-highways...but a myriad other fascinating trails. Why not explore them? In art, too, there are many unexplored areas. It's not necessary to stick with tradition. A really great artist constantly invents.)

M. Joyce Athey
I am an abstract artist and do appreciate both abstract and representatonal art.

As an "out of the box" creative thinker and doer I came to where I am as an artist by "making art" in my own sort of way. I started by trying representational art, but soon found that my deep emotion and thought appeared in my paintings through a pure personal discovery of placing line, water, and watercolor paint on paper in a unique way. This development of a personal process became far more pleasureable and meaningful to me than forming representational work.

I very much enjoy the following of those who personally connect with and are empowered through my artful expression of emotion and thought.

My poetry along side my paintings becomes a rather unique and interesting exhibit. A beautiful book "Cathedrals of the Heart" has now been published incorporating both. It can be seen at,, and/or

Sue Martin
What great responses! Like many others, I have a foot in both camps, so I find both representational and abstract work that I love and I have great respect for artists who do either (or both) well. My work tends toward abstracted realism or expressionism because I don't enjoy painting the tiny details for an extremely realistic painting. Every time a painting gets too tight because I'm trying too hard to get the details right, I blow it. If I relax, have fun, paint the emotion and don't sweat the details, my work is a lot more successful.

Joanne Benson
Hi Keith,
I started to read all the comments but time commitments made me jump to the end. This post has gotten more comments than any since I've been participating.

I'll keep it short and sweet.
1) I do representational art in various media including watercolor, pen, pastel and oil
2) I like all kinds of art that is well executed.
3) Art is very subjective and personal. I prefer representational art but enjoy many abstract works as well. Each piece of art is judged by its appeal to me no matter what the style.

Celeste Gober
I'm a representational painter.
I appreciate abstract art, though I have never been emotionally moved by it the way I am by Sargent, or Fechin or by many of the talented and skillful representational masters we have today.
I respect and value diversity in all things, especially art. I would not call myself an artist if I could not celebrate different ways of perceiving, believing and being.
And that includes different styles of painting.

nat solomon
Dear Sue,
I enjoy and agree with your comment about getting so close to realism and then blowing it on the detail. I think also certain mediums are more prone to realistic treatment then others, such as colored pencil work.
Regards Nat Solomon

Peggy Davidson Post
I'm a representational landscape painter who graduated from art school in 1977, and I feel like I've had a long and rich career as an artist, teacher, art administrator etc., but you hit on a really sore subject because I often feel dismissed by "that other camp" as soon as they hear what I do. This is especially a problem with museum people - as if nothing can be legitimate if it isn't "new and different." I often think of the old fable about the Emperor's New Clothes. (He wasn't wearing any, but no one wanted to admit that they couldn't see them.)
I look at landscape with a passion that reaches into the depths of my soul - nothing could be more meaningful to me. And those things that stir us the most should be the subject of our art.

Mike Barr
I am a representational artist that appreciates good abstract art.
The fact is that 95 percent of all art is rather ordinary or worse.
Unfortunately good representational art is dying off with the older generation that paints it - I include myself in that.

Mike Barr
Peggy has said what most representational artists would agree with. The money and power of the arts is firmly entrenched with the other side of the camp. The emperor's new clothes analogy is so true.

Peggy Davidson Post
and yes, I can enjoy abstract art, but art for shock value, usually not so much. A strong statement, yes.

Marianne Hornbuckle
After 20 years as a representational painter, I was thrilled to make my way finally into abstraction. Though I still occasionally see a representational piece that is exceptional in its abstract composition and paint quality, tight rendering has lost its spell. To accept the challenge of making one's way through the middle of an abstract painting (what should I do next?) and complete it (how do I know it's finished?) is more exciting than any representation I have seen or done. To express an abstract concept(which is how I approach my paintings), even a simple one, and do it in a non-representational manner is a huge challenge, and more exciting to me than making an image of any identifiable object. Still I embrace and enjoy both - beautiful art of any genre, is just that - beautiful art - neither is "better" than the other.

Deborah Weinstein
I am a representational figurative artist, and there are two reasons for that, one positive, one less so.

The positive part is that I really like people - when I am painting or drawing them. In normal daily life I am often exasperated with "people" (especially those in The Other Political Party) but as an artist, I am all sunshine. Edgy I am not. This contradiction in my own nature is a mystery to me, but it explains why I am happy to be an artist making the kind of art that I do. Loving everyone is a great place to be, even if it's only in one specific aspect of life.

The less positive reason that I do representational art is that I am not inventive. I am amazed by artists who find inspiration in their materials and from their own imaginations and make images that are both beautiful and non-representational. I can't do that, but I am in awe of people who can.

There are many things in art that I believe are worth arguing about - for example, art that is facile, art that is lazy, art that panders, art that demeans others, art that is stolen - these are things I really hate.

But to say that one style or another is the One True Way seems to me patently nonsensical - aggravating even!

Now I'm really curious about Keith's theory pertaining to all of this!

Gwen Ontiveros
I find myself all over the board on your request. I would say I have mostly been traditional and fairly representational throughout my artistic journey. That being said, I am drawn to the exploration of the abstract and find myself wanting to experiment more with that form of expression. I feel there is a bottom line for me of tight versus loose. A freedom of creativity that is more foreign to me. Still, the journey is the same, with a variance in the path.

Alfred Currier
This is a very interesting quandary that we all have been in at one time or another. It ranks right up there with: "Are you a Democrat or Republican?"

I'm basically known as a representational artist but, I have been both and admire both. I lean to the figurative side because I want to remain an artist. Since I do not have a large trust fund behind me, I find realism a little easier to survive financially. My artistic rewards are virtually equal since art for me is about the process of doing. This is probably the single most unifying factor that actually binds all artists together. From that point, step back!

I believe that most artists are very insecure with their selected approach to art thus; they become a little defensive when they converse with other artists. Often, that defensiveness comes across as arrogance but, I see it as they are trying to justify their own existence. Artists are also so deep within their style that represents their voice that they see huge differences even with their respective peers. I walked into a conversation with three loose impressionists”™ artists about twenty-five years ago at the Palette and Chisel Academy in Chicago discussing their art. They were lamenting on how different each one of their painting styles were. I looked around at their work and could not seen nickel's worth of difference between them. So, if these artists saw vast differences between them, how could they be able to converse with an abstract artist or visa versa?

Here”™s my opinion: Art should covey emotion, period! This emotion can be negative or positive, it doesn”™t matter. To me the biggest insult to an artist is the one where his or her work goes unnoticed by others. So, demeaning, cute, lovely, hateful, exquisite, terrible, bold, timid, or any adjective you can come up with, all works. But, walk by a painting and move on to the next without a pause in your step, unacceptable. Art should convey emotion whether abstract or representational.

One last word on this subject: In conversations, many abstract artists will try to point out the figurative qualities of their work that is seldom seen by the viewer. Conversely, representational artists will expound on the abstract aspects of their art. What”™s this all about? It”™s about the insecurity of exploring within your chosen arena so, when you find yourself arguing (discussing) with an artist that may be 180 degrees from you, listen.

The artist will enjoy the process and the viewer will appreciate the emotion (or not). ï?

Al Currier

Jo Allebach
I paint representational (traditional) landscapes and still life. I often paint very large 4' x 4' extremely close up of leaves or fruits and veggies. I do not know if that is abstract or not. I do not want the shock value of social commentary art. I can appreciate abstract's colors and shapes if it "works". My very best friend is an abstract artist for the most part but I encourage her to make art that requires a controlled knowledge of shapes, values and colors not merely putting paint on a surface. I believe art requires the skill to paint traditionally before venturing into abstraction. Any unskilled person can make bad abstract art. I do appreciate both. There is a place for differences in the world. I too agree the so called art world is way overrating abstract.

Robert Walker
Good Morning Folks,

The debate has been great! However I just spent the morning cleaning out my e-mail Spam-filter because most, not all of these responses ended up there.(twice)That's Okay, I still love you all.

Interesting that the assumption is that abstract vs. representational is posed as either/or . In learning to paint, the beginning was always the "block in" which struck me as an abstraction of masses that only evolves over time and brushstroke to representational art. There are still masses and slashes of color and form.

My work is representational, but in the contemporary impressionism vein. Recently I began emailing back and forth with a colleague, Carol Corell, in the UK who now creates abstract works ( We exchange ideas often, and one common point is our love of color. Another common element is our love for the media we use. The result for me was she opened a door to a new way of seeing.

To get myself further along the path, I've used Photoshop to "abstract" photography of landscapes, people, and things, to learn how to see the more fundamental elements of things, whereas I used to drive to the detail. Does this inform my representational work? I think so. It informs my compostions, color balance, and inclusion or exclusion of visual elements. The result is that in my world, it's not "either/or" it's only a question of "when" to see differently.

Dan Fulwiler
I am an artist who will not be "painted" with those kinds of lables. Some of my work is representational, some of it is abstract. Some of my paintings mix the two styles together. A few of my paintings are in a "realistic" style and several of my paintings amount to no more than "cartoons"..... cartoons I am very proud of. I love all art. Especially art that is well executed. I appreciate art that has meaning and purpose. I believe it is better to be true to myself and have no audience, than to be true to the public and have no self.

Hey Keith, wow! Is there room for one more comment to this article?!! What a great discussion.
1. My paintings are representational,and almost all figurative, but a long ways away from from photo-realistic.
2. My favorite phrase lately is "art is an opinion". If we are lumping art together in categories, then here's a different lump. I quite often overlook landscapes right along with the abstracts. And here comes the even tighter part of the opinion: a reproduction puts it right out into totally ignored-land, while an original often has the power to make me gaze with interest on the most abstract of abtracts or the most docile of landscapes.
Isn't it great the way the bottom line of this whole discussion points out the reason for art, TO MAKE US FEEL? And fortunately, we all respond in some way, shape, or form.
Later, Cooper

John Sosh
I am an abstract painter. I started painting years ago in watercolor and painted strictly landscapes and really didn't care for abstract work. Situations in life changes us all and now I only do abstracts. I really believe that all work has a touch of abstraction and therefore feel that all art is related in one way or another.

Kevin Haller
I am a representational artist. In art, I am most keen on reading the artist's message. Representational art allows me to do this more effectively. And conveying my message is what drives my love of art. I love the challenge of describing the sensation of a sunny day, etc.

In my short travels, it seems that abstract artists do not tend to even attempt a message. That is not their goal. They desire for the viewer to see whatever comes to them at the time. Regardless, I see value in abstract art too. The message is just not as clear. It is more personal than universal, and sometimes this a good prescription for all of us.

In short, representational art appeals to our academic side, while abstract art is therapeutic. Maybe abstract art is more popular now because in the present world, therapy is infinitely more sought than academics. Or maybe abstract art is intensely more popular because it simply matches better the drapes.

Regardless of what my little brain thinks, I strongly encourage both types of artists to press on. I would not want to deny the future world anything so sweet.

dorothy siclare
I am a representational artist. That's how I started creating ( copying the TV Guide covers at the age of 8 or 9 ).

Do I like abstract, not really. I don't relate to it. I pretty much never gave it enough time in my life to have it "grow on me", to learn from it. I always saw the decorative aspect of it...but more than that? No.

Representational art sends me to another place. Whan I see a particulary moving gesture I immediately want to recreate it. I haven't figured out why....I just do. It's feeling that high you spoke of.

To come to better more telling conclusions I probably need to think more and paint less...but I just don't want to.

Missy White
I'd like to start by saying I am a very passionate artist. I am an abstract painter AND a representational painter. I also have mediums between these two realms that I enjoy practicing. I am an artist who is interested in using all of my resources to create something beautiful. I do not believe that we as artists have to find one medium that we like and stick to it forever; expand yourself! There are so many different feelings that we have and conquer and it can be viewed in so many different ways, that is why one day I will be abstract and the next I will paint a seascape. I could go down the list and call myself many things, but the one thing I know I am for sure is an artist. No matter which way I am indulging in my work I know that I am a true artist. As are the rest of you, whether you are an abstract worker or representational, YOU are an artist. And for that reason alone we all have something in common, something to relate to. Every Artist is telling a story in every painting, abstract or representational, it all tells a story that has come directly from inside the artist. For me, that is what art is all about. Not the type that is being done, but the emotion and soul that is being put into it...that is art.

Sue Martin
Something Cooper said nudged me to make another comment. I, too, find a lot of traditional landscapes "ho hum." Yet, I occasionally see a traditional landscape that takes my breath away. Most of the landscapes I have done I would also put in the "ho hum" category, which is why I abstract them or use color to make them more interesting/exciting. Yet, one of my goals as a painter, even though I now most enjoy expressionistic/semi-abstract work, is to be able to paint a truly breathtaking, more or less traditional landscape.

T. Miller
I'm an artist who paints both abstractly and representationaly, so I have an appreciation for both genres. I can admire the skill required to produce a representational painting but I'm also aware of the compositional demands and decision-making inherent in producing abstract art. It is easier to paint something you can see than something you can't.

Since producing abstract art is to me the bigger challenge (and I enjoy challenges), it presently defines my work. In fact, it's my intention to bring a better understanding and appreciation for abstraction to a larger audience.

Jana Parkes
Wonderful question Keith! And, I love Diana Bekkerman's analogy, and appreciate everyone's sharings.

When I turned to painting 10 years ago, I thought I would do landscapes or figures, but I found myself struggling to do them; while when I played with abstracts I felt happy and expansive. Turns out that abstract is my "calling". My own style, I feel, is working with spiritual energies. At least, I feel inspired by what comes through.

Sometimes, however, I'll do a representational piece and I learn from doing both. And, I see paintings, both abstract and representational, that I love and would buy, if I had the means and space.

blessings to all, Jana

Linda Furr
Like most artists, I've started in one place and landed in another. I've found pleasure and frustration in both. Isn't it our place as artists to explore the world of creative possibility... to allow our work to take us where it will? We may end up in different places but we find our own niche'. Which two of us are the same? Even if we were to "copy" another's work, would there not be the slightest hint of the our own style in that "copy"?

As creative beings we discover ourselves through expressive individuality. One may find their uniqueness in a magnificent landscape, intricate in detail, while another my plot their path abstractly through the use of color, gesture and design. But in the end, does it have to be one or the other to be genuine and true to the artist's vision?

One day a few years ago I began a large very blue seascape. I blocked in the sky and the water then placed the painting on an easel in the corner to dry. Weeks passed, the paint had long dried and each day I would come in and see it there...waiting my next move, the next brushstroke. But, something had changed. The simple beginnings were still there but the the idea had eluded me. Without a thought, I walked over, grabbed the canvas, flipped it vertically and began brushing and blending the blues with greys and whites. Then I grabbed a brushed thinned my paint and started flinging paint across the canvas in determined movement - diagnally, up then down. Then I stopped. I don't know that I've ever been as sure as that moment...I knew it was finished. There it was, my serene seascape... now a dynamic abstract. Unplanned, one of my favorite - and most freeing - paintings of my career. Some may say I ruined a perfectly good beginning... while others may say I found MY niche'.

A. Crandall
I am a weekend artist only, and lean towards representational art.

Why? I believe art is a medium for communicating ideas and emotion. Ideas are expressed through symbols and representational art lends itself to that. Abstract art is better at communicating emotion independent of symbols (much like music does).

I appreciate abstract artists because good abstract art can express independent emotion. However that type of art acts like a mirror to the viewer. I would prefer my art to take the viewer outside of themselves more; that is the only reason I lean towards representational art.

My painting style is abstract design with representational parts.

I believe the language of vision is all the colors, shapes, and lines used in purely abstract painting, but the addition of mimetic symbols completes the potential power of a painting.

I like abstract painting when the design is good, but sometimes I feel it is a compromise for artists afraid to put themselves on the canvas.

Why not use all the tools available?

I am a new artist and actually do both abstract and representational. I enjoy both and its all mood dependant as to what I paint.

I believe both are very important to most of us it is all within our own creativity and expressions, and moods to be the best at what we are painting at that moment in time.

I appreciate both forms and encourage everyone to step out of your comfort zone and try both.

Minaz Jantz
I love all art no matter what style, country or era and especially if executed and combined with passion and skill.

Fortunately, I had studied design which gave me the knowledge to understand what the human eye reacts to in color theory, shapes, texture, etc. I believe the bones to great architecture, interior design, photography, or painting, is relied upon sound design concepts.

I paint and draw both representational and abstract compositions. To open up a creative freedom with ”?feelings”™ and with out herding my expectations, I enjoy expressing abstractly. To develop and hone my learned technical skills, representational art is the challenge to relay what I ”?see”™ and hope to invite the viewers to stay.

I like to keep my creativity fresh by studying, learning, and trying styles outside of my comfort zones. I feel I have not enough time in one life time to truly master anything but keep diligently focused in the process of expression, tuning out the nagging ”?inside my head”™ critics voice that cripples if taken to heart.

Shane' Mann
I do both works as you can see on my website. I have been academically trained in both. Abstract painters, Kandinsky and Mondav, have influenced my directions in Fine Art. I often refer to their philosophies as a refreshment of my personal journey on the canvas. I learned that the viewer of art is intelligent and does not want everything explained to them but leave some up to their imagination to create. The other one is take what you see to the next level of ascension as reality has many layers, not just the one seen in front of you. As artists I believe a lot of us know this, but it stuck with me on my journey. I apply to both abstract and realism.

Patrice Lynne Young
It's not surprising to me that most contemporary artists seem either to work in many styles - or at least appreciate the merit of other styles. After all, there are so many ways to appreciate any work of art: pure color, design, intent, technique, communication of ideals, allegorical or historical meaning, etc. I know I tend to like some of everything.

Many artists are rebelling against the old stereotypes imposed by patrons and galleries that mandated we work in only one style, repeating and repeating what is essentially the same painting or idea ad infinitum. That is not to say one shouldn't fully explore an idea or style or subject. But when I see an artist's work and with one glance know there is nothing new or fresh there, I cease to be interested.

I cannot actually define what I do. Others call me an "expressionist" or "impressionist" painter, and yet most of my commissioned works are realistic, because that is a technical skill that non-artistic consumers can appreciate. I think that pure abstract painting is perhaps the most difficult and creatively challenging. One must captivate the viewer without resorting to recognizable imagery or cliche.

When I paint, I often begin work with many references - but at a certain point, I put these away and do what I think of as "automatic writing" - but with a brush rather than a pen. This loosens me up and lets my personal - perhaps subconscious - style show through. The works which are most satisfying to me are those that portray a mood, atmosphere or idea without being banal or photographic.

I've been having a ball reading the comments and looking at the work of so many "unknown to me" artists.

Clint Watson
Sorry for the test comment guys - this thread is so big it's testing the limits of our comment system - but giving us the opportunity to streamline it, we're working on it.

Clint Watson
OK, another test comment.

Clint Watson
Another Test comment at 11:35.

Scott Baldasssari
Great Topic.
1. I am a representational artist.
2. I can "just barely" appreciate abstractionism
3. Because it rarely evokes any "emotion" for me.

Great art, is great art - I believe that pretty much summarizes it. I am a representational for the most part, and have always been intrigued by masters of painting that can duplicate and more importantly, improve upon their vision of nature and life. Paintings that can evoke awe or emotion.
There are times when abstract art can keep me mesmerized for a time (usually just trying to figure out what the artist was trying to "say"), But more often than not, much abstract art strikes me as experimentation and piddling.
But at the same time, there are many many times that realist art is the same - no emotion, no feeling, no apparent reason to even paint the painting except for the fact that one likes to move paint around on the canvas. There is good and bad in both sects.
Strange thing is, I am currently working in a photography gallery where the photographer takes both representational and abstract photographs. I appreciate the abstract photos MUCH more than "straight shots" OR an abstract painting. Maybe it's the fact that I feel it's more challenging to make a duplication process (photography) look abstract, just as it is more challenging to make abstract blobs of paint, look "real" (or like a duplication of nature).
But that's just my view, ANY great (and well done) art can be appreciated: Realist, Abstract, Ancient, Impressionism, Primitive etc.

"The first purpose of a painting is to IMPROVE the look of a white wall".... some don't, no matter the style.

Ruth Mann
I have been back to art for less than 3 years. My art is representational and, probably, always will be. Who knows though. Art is a journey and I don't yet know where it will eventually take me.

I don't really have an interest in abstract art so I don't seek it out. I have no opinion on its merits really as I usually fail to understand it! As I learn more about composition I can appreciate some abstract pieces for the compositional skill or the colours/values used.

I try to be open minded and believe both styles, and all those in between, are art, valid in their own unique ways.

Amazing how many people here have either a foot in both modes, or appreciate both to some extent. That is something I would not have guessed. I assumed that artists were much more 'partisan' than they seem to be from these responses. Perhaps enough time has passed since the controversial inception of non-representational art that artists are gleaning something of value from a variety of sources, which is what I think many have indicated above.

Gaspar Salazar Mendez
I am a representational artist. I truly love and admire abstract artwork. I study alot of abstract art in order to strengthen the dynamics in my compositions. Abstract art is like classical music, representational is like songs with words. Abstract art can say nothing yet say everything. It is expressed purely through shapes, colors, lines ect, and can be interpreted infinately. Representational art is direct expression through symbolism and metaphors. Absraction moves you with the beauty of its notes, and representational work touches you with its story telling and morals

I am both. Life isn't one dimensional and neither should be our art or interests. I work in multiple mediums and with multiple ideas. I guess that makes me more conceptual than either representational or abstract. I have my overall preferences when I am viewing work, but I can respect art from both camps. I think that art moves you or it doesn' react or you don't. For me it is about individual pieces not camps or labels.

Tom Hlas
Gaspar, thanks for your comment. It makes so much sense to me. In fact, it's beautifully written. Your words give me a whole new look at representational art.

(By the way, I'm one of the "drip" painters that so many of the other responders don't like! To me, the drips are a great vehicle to provide an element of line in my work.)

Faith bradburn Keller
I am a representational artist.

Do I appreciate the abstract artist? To be truthful, at times i do, other times I don't. I guess it depends on the abstract art/artist. Some I really like,b because I can spot principals and techniques and even thoughts. Other times I don't see any evidence of skill or thought.

Curtis Verdun
"To be or not to abstract or not to abstract" Well, to me art is an expression of oneself and the better and more effectively we do that, the more it fits the definition of art. If we are not expressive, we do not create art. Art must not be a strict copy of nature. It doesn't matter much whether it is purely abstract or representational. It must be creative expression.

What I don't like is the the "bigotry" that still lingers against abstract art. Are we not yet matured enough in our society to understand it?

Lori Woodward
I am a representational painter - I love detail and have a hard time divorcing myself from putting in every little part of something.

I do enjoy a well designed abstract piece though - and since it's difficult for me to paint abstractly, I admire artists who can.

Whenever I've had the opportunity to jury a show, I don't judge the work by the style or whether I would buy it or not but whether it is well composed and expertly done.

abstraction and representation are just two ends of a spectrum. both are at their best when they're used to say something important.

Deborah Weinstein
In response to Gaspar, I'd choose jazz as a better analogy for abstract art than classical music. The classical pieces we have grown up with have forms, melodies and rhythms that we have learned to hear and can enjoy following along with. Jazz requires us to leave aside expectations and go where the musician takes us. Not everyone is willing to do this, not everyone can. It's an acquired taste, and I think it's fair to say that the more knowledge you have about how the music is put together (and taken apart) the better able you are to tell the bad from the good and to enjoy the good stuff.

bobb terrell
Well said Missy, I agree and would like to just say that if it were'nt for all of those fine artist's that went before, it would be interesting to see what art would be. I mean, would we have impressionism? expressionism? cubism?abstract? Just a thaught.

Jeff Allen
Representational has always been my cup of tea.
I do respect the top drawer abstract art but anything below that holds no appeal for me.. I understand what abstract artists are trying to say, but I feel they fall short in the expression of the statement...

Curtis Verdun
Deborah, I actually agree with Gaspar. I think he said it very well. Classical music must be very well orchastrated to be effective, just like abstract art. While representational art takes skill, if you simply make a fairly good attempt at copying what you see, it can work out well. It doesn't have to be great or polished to be appreciated. On the other hand, if either classical music or abstract art isn't extremely well-done, the sound or image just falls apart.

Also, Classical music is a much more discerned taste, whereas Jazz, Pop, Folk, etc has a wider appeal because it is "easier" to understand and enjoy. That contrast is mirrored by abstract art vs representational art.

Rebecca Herren
no further updates needed

Mary Aslin
Keith, Don't have much time but this is a topic I am passionate about. To answer your questions:

1. I am a traditional representational artist.

2. Design is the fundamental underpinning of a good painting, no matter the style. In designing my paintings, I have come to appreciate the beauty, harmony and cohesion of the abstract design for my representational work. (As such, there are well-designed abstract and representational paintings and poorly designed ones)

3. See my blog about "Unlocking the code" for the "why" of this subject. I believe firmly that if the "abstract" design of the painting doesn't work, the final "traditional, representational" painting will fail.

Thank you for this topic. I believe we may have the same theory....

Curtis Verdun
In my opinion, the best summation is given by Al Currier. Regardless of whether it is abstract or representational, art is emotion.

Also, I was surprised to read about so many, like me, doing both abstract and representational art. I thought I was alone!

JoAnn White
I may be naive, but I don't believe that one has to be either/or. I have been pleased with work I have created that was representational and other work that was abstract. I also like work of both types by other artists.

Gayle Faucette Wisbon
I love both representational and abstract art, as long as there is good composition, design and use of color. I don't like abstract art that someone throws together randomly and then calls it art. I think my paintings fall somewhere in between. Mine are more representational, but I'm not so interested in capturing every detail. I'm more attracted to bright colors and bold shapes. I think that comes from living in the Southwest for many years now. That's how I see it here - bold and colorful.

Tom Hlas, I just saw your response to my earlier comment:
"You bring up and interesting (and valid, I think) point when you say, "I do think that the non-objective art community, however, is much braver in allowing and being interested in real, intelligent, critical analysis of the work being produced, something that I haven't seen occurring in the representational community."

Unfortunately, I don't think that representational art can be said to be in any kind of true renaissance or revival until this actually happens, in spite of those organizations and individuals who claim otherwise.

Tom Hlas, I just saw your response to my earlier comment:
"You bring up and interesting (and valid, I think) point when you say, "I do think that the non-objective art community, however, is much braver in allowing and being interested in real, intelligent, critical analysis of the work being produced, something that I haven't seen occurring in the representational community."

Unfortunately, I don't think that representational art can be said to be in any kind of true renaissance or revival until this actually happens, in spite of those organizations and individuals who claim otherwise.

Rhonda Gauthier
I am an impressionist artist. I like the freedom to paint what I want and be representational and yet have some artistic freedom with color and shapes and light.

I take each painting (as I do songs) one at a time. Mostly I do not understand abstract but I appreciate the shapes and colors. And the fact that someone put their effort into creating he art

In my case I like painting in an abstract way because it doesn't make me feel restricted like representational art would. I can feel free to make any shape and use any color I want. The possibilities are endless. On the rare occasions when I did try to paint in a representational way I would feel so much frustration that I could never finish what I started. It just isn't for me. However I do enjoy admiring nice representational paintings.

Steve Myles
What an interesting question and what a tremendous response. If one tries to compare the two ends of the continuum that spans from the photo realistic to the pure abstract, then the question is merely one of preference. However, if the comparison is between increasing degrees of realism versus increasing abstraction, the answers are more interesting. I am a representational painter who is currently struggling with pushing my work more toward the abstract. Although, I have had minimal formal training in art, I have basically tried to paint what I see. I see detail and nuances in color and value and strive in my studio work to render objects as close to how they appear to me as possible. I am in awe of the skill of artists who successfully accomplish that. However, when someone says my work "looks like a photograph", I am increasingly taking that to not be a complement. Pushing the abstraction of form and shape and eliminating detail in a painting to the limit of what is recognizable without losing the visual impact of the composition, is what I find to be the my challenge.

Alma Drain
i have found that even tho i paint mostley traditional one of my best friends paints Dali style, we are verry different but when i need advice on art stuff she is the one i call. It dont matter what you paint we are all artist while someone may do something you just dont get, dont sweat the little things we need to be there for eachother (normal) people just dont get where we come from. thats why we need other artist. we are always there for eachother.

I am a representational oil painter,and I believe the best in this field work with abstract shapes. While taking a workshop with Gabor Svarik he remarked; "When we start painting shapes and not objects our art will improve greatly."

Delilah Smith
I am a representational artist but I love abstract that is done well. I feel "vive la differance"!

William Dunn
I like this subject, but I have a different take on it. I think all paintings and photography are "abstract" - because no matter what style one paints, it is paint on a support, and is never the real thing-therefore, for me at least, all images are an abstraction of the actual object or scene. My work would likely be labeled as "representational", because the viewer can tell what the subject is. I think the most realistic painter in the world is still doing abstract art. Feelings, moods, and emotions can be expressed in all paintings, regardless of style. I've never considered one style better or more "artistic" than another. They are all good, and one is not more "legitimate" than another. My only caveat, is that I don't want anyone telling me how I should paint. We all get to do what we want and to express ourselves in whatever form we want, and I think this is how it should be. It would be a boring place indeed if we all painted the same way.
I embrace the differences!

Joyce Durkin
I am a representational artist but I can certainly appreciate abstract art. When I say that, I am referring to art that incorporates composition and design principles. Too often you see art by people that have no conception of these and just throw something together and call it art. One individual I met showed her "log paintings" - she'd put some paint on a log and rolled it across some paper and called them "paintings"!

Jo Allebach
Yes, i agree that log rolling is a bit of a stretch. Who is the artist? The log?

Karalee Krueger
It occurs to me that for the most part, we've been comparing extremes. I give you the following: Vincent Van Gogh's "Vincents Schlafzimmer", William Turner's "Rain, Steam and Speed - The Great Western Railway", Claude Monet's "Impression, Sunrise", and Gustav Klimt's "The Kiss" for a miniscule sampling. Are they representational or are they abstract? I think the answer is "yes". The scale between photorealism and a dot on a white canvas is very wide. I often wonder about those that have no respect for abstract. At what point on the scale does the smell-o-meter kick in and cause you to turn up your nose? This question applies to rapid fans of the abstract as well. I'm simply suggesting that before you dismiss either camp out of hand, pause and ask whether or not it's purely abstract or purely representational. I think you'll find your taste crosses a wider range than you might have thought.

Debra LePage
Well said, Karalee!

Alessandra Crum
I am representational artist and love some of the
abstract work and some I don't just a matter
of what the work is that appeals to my sense of
color , fun, and style............

Laura Kratz
I am a Representational artist. And although I never used to like any abtract art I now think that I am understanding it better. I still find that I am very rarely moved by an abstract piece. But the more I learn about painting the more I see the patterns and rhythems in each style.

T. Miller
Diane O.- you have perfectly expressed a frustration of mine with your multi-talented writer/musician analogy! What's to be done about painting's "triple threats," our abstract/expressive/representational pros, who simply can't be pegged?

Nina Baldwin
When I was younger, I felt that exactly replicating what I saw in front of me was of the highest order. I was a very representational artist. As I have gotten older, I have become a more abstract artist. I don't know why I have changed in techniques except I know that now I feel that conveying my emotions to the viewer is very important. I also like using symbolism in my art. When I go into my studio I try to abandon all inhibitions and with an image in my mind I pursue techniques, old and new to me, to create my artwork.
I consider myself an experimental artist, more so than an abstract artist. Sometimes I paint with more realism, sometimes less. I think some of my most beautiful pieces are a product of my attempt to put away all inhibitions and to share with the viewer my emotions and experimentation.

Nina Baldwin
I have to add that I admire representational art very much. I enjoy seeing what my representational artist friends on FB share. Their artwork is beautiful in my eyes. I have noticed in the past that some representational artists seem to have a problem with abstract art. Infact, a couple of comments by a representational artist friend about abstract art just set me back and I finally, after much head-holding, had to end our "friendship" since it was taking me down...I consider him and his artwork to be of great value, but I had to let go of his negativity to artwork in my genre...something I regretted having to do.
I see value in art of all different techniques. It just needs to be done well.

Larry Felder
I am a representational oil painter and primarily choose subjects that are dear to my heart, such as harbor scenes with water reflections, and marine-based animals such as Brown Pelicans, Turtles and various shore birds. I live on the Texas Coast. My wife and I own a gallery and handle a variety of abstract and representational work. I love all the work we show and appreciate the variety of artists and their styles. I would hope that artists who have formal training, which normally includes plenty of art history, would understand the value of each different style. I love abstract work, but only get my own satisfaction from the traditional way I paint.

Jim Bilgere
God is always happy when you create something.Isnt it wonderful that the world isnt so dull that everybody all did the exact same thing!

Sherri Aldawood
I am a representational artist and yet I do appreciate and enjoy some abstract art. For any type of art to really attract me it must have a strong abstract design of value contrasts and beautiful, expressive color. I doubt that I would ever purchase a purely abstract painting, but I do appreciate the skill and vision that some abstract artists put into their work. In my own work, I have really been trying to achieve a strong abstract design along with good drawing, beautiful edges and color. I think that when representational art is done well it is the highest form of art and the most difficult to pull off.

a quick reply to Sue Martin about "hohum landscapes" :)
I think we are on the same thought page. While I find it difficult to get involved with a landscape OR an abstract painting, when you put the TWO TOGETHER, suddenly it makes sense. What's with THAT?! Two of my favorite examples are local NW Iowa artists Dennis Dykema and Danielle Clouse. I don't think I'm allowed to put live links to their work here, but both are google-able. In reality, the bottom line to this whole discussion probably boils down to beauty is in the eye of the beholder!
And thanks Keith, for a great discussion topic!

Joyce Durkin
Jo, there is so much "truthiness" in your humor!

Jim Bilgere
When viewing any work of art the viewer has to leave behind everything they already know in order to allow themself to experience the gift someone else is sharing. This is not always easy as we humans tend towards what we are told by whoever is around us at the time as being the truth.For many this is especially hard with abstract work. But the easiest way to see it is as a sensation for the soul to enjoy thru the visual experience. I have painted probably every way possible, and as I go alongmy mind began to clutter with all the details of the images and it is simple pleasure now that gives me the greatest joy. Even though i am drawn now towards that type of work I can still admire the other.

Jim Bilgere
All art is in reality an abstraction. It is not ever actually the thing you are looking at but someones expression of what it is they are looking at. A painting of a tree or a horse is not really a tree or a horse . Personally I dont feel the need to remind people what those things look like. Although i do like all art that is done well. I especially like paintings of Horse Feathers!

Nancy Leonard
I am an abstract artist and use mostly acrylics along with multi-media in certain groups of paintings. I respect the skills required to produce representational art. I also think there are many levels of how "representational" a piece is. I enjoy representational art when it includes interpretation and restatement of something real that has been revisioned, rethought, and revised through the artist's point of view. Then I have to engage with the piece in order to figure out what the artist is trying to express. If a painting is a precise, photo-like image, I am not attracted or cuious because there is no struggle or engagement.

Sue Martin
Cooper, thanks for referring me to those two artists. I especially like Dannielle Clouse's work. I think we must have similar tastes! Happy experimenting!

Nina Baldwin
horse feathers?!! now that's abstract!!

Nina Baldwin
Larry, I enjoyed looking at your website. You have filled your gallery with a beautiful balance of representational and abstract work! It all pertains to your love of the coastal waters...and it seems to me that each of the artworks compliments the others...

Joan Dorrill
I work in both abstract and representational styles. What I look for is how the artist handled the subject matter or design and if it shows some inkling of individuality. I have both types of work on my website. Even if you use a photograph, hopefully your own, you can enhance the colors, change the background or do something to make it a personal interpretation. We are all more successful at one time or another than at other times. The important thing is to keep on working and improving. Read art books and take a class now and then. I have learned a lot from Fine Art Views and look forward to each new article. Joan Dorrill

Phyllis Von Holdt
Yes, horsefeathers are abstract but they go well with applesauce.

Nina Baldwin
tee hee!! I will have to try that, Phyllis!

Ginny Butcher
I paint representational landscapes mainly. Always representational.

I do appreciate some abstract painting.

I think the same principles apply to all styles regardless of personal preference.

Phyllis Von Holdt
:) I'm glad I tickled your funnybone. Some of this stuff is pretty serious. Time for a giggle or two.

Janna Kumi
Hi Keith

As a 'brand, spanking new' student of art, I love all genres of art. That said, I consider myself a representational artist first and foremost. I am dabbling in abstract art and I find it very hard to get a coherent work together, so I have a tremendous amount of respect for abstract artists. The old saying, "I can do that!" isn't so, because you're NOT doing it. But I know that at heart, I am very much a traditionalist and derive an extreme amount of pleasure in getting the essence of the subject down on the support I'm working on. So much a traditionalist that I am taking the Ecole des Beaux Art drawing course using the same busts and models that the French art students used in the 18th/19th century France. Its a link with all past (European) artists down through the centuries and it places me in a continuum that is comforting and at the same time, shows me how far I still have to go. Its a personal goal that I want to be that best I can be as an artist, and for me, that means that being able to render a subject perfectly. After that, to abstract it.

Janna Kumi

Jim Bilgere
Jannas idea is exactly what is necessary to arrive at true abstract work that is at a higher level. You must first go through all the primary and structural levels in order to know what you are abstracting. When i was in Italy I read from a famous artist that the foundation is like the stairway beneath the snow. the snow shows the beauty but the structure of the staircase beneath it must be understood in order to show the beauty.

Nina Baldwin
"...a sensation for the soul to enjoy thru the visual experience."...that's poetry, Jim!

Janna, I love your attitude! Keep on being excited and enjoying it and it will come thru in your painting! BTW, I started out very devoted to representational art, but along the way I guess I changed...and so did my art. Best of luck to you!!

Brad Greek
Hello Keith,

In responce to your survey of Abstract vs. Representational.

I am primarily traditional in a representational abstract style of palette knife work.
I do appreciate pure abstracts and have studied under some abstract artists in my area.
Which I get along with and are very close friends with. I understand (now after taking abstract workshops) of what it is that is trying to be accomplished in an abstract. I think that most people that don't appreciate abstract work don't understand what an abstract is. As an abstract artist I feel that they have no desire to create what we can see every day. They are in search of that that has never been seen before. With both planned color theory, composition and balance from all four directions of viewing, to the spontanious abstracts of letting the unexpected guide the path to completion.

I'm a huge fan of cubism and also am inspired by the representation abstract work of Leroy Neiman.

Brad Greek

Artist Blog:

Jim Bilgere
as we grow and change as individuals so does our work hopefully. and as we see and feel different experiences we are also affected. when i ran into kandinsky my whole view changed. i still love picasso and matisse. butkandinsky opened up the doorway to liberate the artist from being restricted to illustrating a story to free expression of color and form.

Barb Stachow
Although I am a real perfectionist in my painting style, I have been told many times I need to remember to keep my painitings to one or the other side of this argument. While I must say I respect either side of the table, I just can't seem to get excited about the abstract side of it. Nevertheless, both types of artist are trying to tell the viewer a story, and suprisingly enough both sides can actually come with the same story!

Marianne Winter
I welcomed your challenge to express our views on Representational vs. Abstract art. I consider myself a mainly representational one, but having arrived to art the long way: classes here, there, mainly self-taught, perhaps I haven't settled at one style or genre.
I was taking an oil painting class a few years ago, where the teacher brought in some newspaper clippings, hoping that perhaps one of us would see in them abstract shapes. It caught my fancy. All the earlier teachings about basic composition, color balance, negative space, etc. came back to me. So far I have painted seven oils in semi-abstract mode, mostly from my own architectural photos. I haven't abandoned my usual style, but having fun with these images.
If one breaks up (even a very traditional painting) to its initial concept, isn't the basic composition that makes it successful? Whether it is a landscape, a still life, a historic painting, the most important part is the plan it was built upon. If I keep the pasic elements of that painting, accentuating the lines, perhaps changing the colors, can I call it an abstract?
So my answer to the question whether I like abstract is: only the ones that make sense on some level. Now I would like to know if I am correct about the idea.
Thank you,

Janeice Silberman
I am both a designer and a fine artist. I can honestly say that I have always navigated both the world of representation and abstraction....and it seems to be equally divided.

In my early days, I always tried to make myself fit in one or the other of those worlds. But a few years back I concluded that I probably always would be equally divided. It was comforting to discover others artists who were so inclined...including a lot of well known artists.

I live in a largely traditional area of the country, so it was truly important for me to be able to connect with other abstract artists who painted in both fashions regularly. Thus I found the internet a compelling force in my life as an artist. In fact I consider it to be mind remove the "gatekeeper" from our natural movements.

Thank you for opening up this discussion. It is a comfort to know so many others have had the same experience.

Janeice Silberman

Jim Bilgere
Stop Making Sense>David Byrne! Yesterdays radicalism is todays conventionalism and so it goes on and on. Its about spirit and the moving forward of human thought. Actually painting has been old school for 20 years anyway, so no matter what you are painting these days is traditional. Not much that hasnt been done!

christa Vayanos
Dear joan Marie, I totaly agree with you, abstract is difficult and exciting. Best regards and good work - christa Vayanos

Brian Scanlon
My art is representational, although it is not enslaved to reality. However I do like abstract art a great deal.

I believe there is some connection between abstract and representational art. Some years ago I went to a museum exhibit of the figurative paintings of Elmer Bischoff. He was mainly an abstract expressionist, post World War II era. However for about 8 years in the middle of his career he did representational paintings, which were put together for this special show.

This Bischoff show was the most powerful lesson about composition that I ever received.

Jim Bilgere
It seems that what many people fail to comprehend is that all art is an abstaction . Even the most realistic work is still an abstraction of reality . It is not reality itself. A painting of the Grand Canyon is still just a painting of the Grand Canyon and can never compare to standing in the Grand Canyon itself.

Jim Bilgere
Its really not that difficult once you allow yourself to let go of all the fixed ideas about what someone has told you that art is supposed to be. A beautiful woman doesnt stop being beautiful or a bouquet of flowers either just because someone doesnt see it and god doesnt cease to exist just because some people cant seem to see past themselves in order to believe. Abstract art is about allowing yourself to enjoy that moment and the sensation your experience with that art you are experiencing

Jim Bilgere
One mans trash is another mans treasure. Native Americans used to say bout gold that it was the yellow metal that made the white man crazy, it sure has caused alot of things to happen and even whole societies are based on it, but to alot of people its just shiny yellow metal,

angela sullivan
I paint with acrylics and paint somewhat in realism with a loose style. I have seen some abstractions that look like globs of paint just thrown on canvas. I don't perfer these however I have seen some other abstracts which make me stand in awe.

Bonnie Hamlin
I'm a representational artist, but I do love good abstract. Both areas have so much in common. But even in realism the "rules" are different for portrait or western or landscapes. Basically a good painting is a good painting, whether it is landscape, portrait or abstract. Just like music.
I do get hung up on "installation art" I really think it should be classed with theater, not paintings and sculpture.

Esther J. Williams
I am a representational artist, but do appreciate abstract art and incorporate it into my paintings. Both styles share the ground on the fundamentals of form, line, shape, value, texture, color and space. As long as we study these theories and practice it, both camps are united by this basis of art.

JT Harding
I'm an abstract painter. I put one abstract shape next to another, then another... till the painting looks real.

Dick Wayne
I enjoy painting representational art as well as abstract art. Much depends on my mood. I paint in watercolor as well as acrylic. Again much depends on my mood. I enjoy both genre. One is not better than the other. Each presents challenges to meet and learn from. I love the luminosity of a watercolor and I also love the wonderful powerful color you can get with acrylic. Why is there a need to choose? As artists variety is our life.

Jeanne Lafferty
What is there to argue about? I do this, you do that. Great. Is this some sort of an argument that you can 'win'. if you'win' does the other person have to paint differently? Or does it 'prove' that one kind of art is better than another. I think sometimes, some folks just like to argue. Don't understand it myself.

Karalee Krueger
Who's arguing?

Shane' Mann
I trained with an Italian master for years in realism privately, than pursued my degree in fine arts and astronomy at UCSC. In studying art history and getting a taste for the abstract, I decided to combine them as Astronomy is both abstract(math) and realistic of course. So my work in space paintings has been crossed between both worlds of the abstract and realism. I do venture back and forth spending time doing realism than back to abstract I find it to be fascinating how both sides helps the other . I would suspect our brains work the same way between abstract and linear. Oddly, my Italian Maestro loved the work I did not expect that at all.

Fred Kepler
The divide that exists between representational art and abstract art may not be as wide as most artists perceive. Most of us have been in outdoor workshops where the instructor emphasizes covering the canvas and painting the big shapes first. In essence most paintings begin as abstract shapes and as more detail is added become representational. In many cases when working outdoors, with changing light, and the speed with which the artist works, plein air paintings can end up as abstract color notes.

However, before beginning a painting whether figurative, still life, or landscape it needs to have an underlying abstract idea. One very accomplished painter/instructor with whom I worked believes that every good painting has an abstract idea underneath. His thesis is that if a painting does not start with an underlying abstract idea it becomes an exercise in copying rather a painterly picture. He exploits this concept in his own works which are painterly and have a glow that emanates from within.

Jim Bilgere
You are looking at the whole thing backward. Abstraction is an evolution of thought that frees the spirit from details of representing what is already in nature. Take a look at the work of Turner who painted the first abstractions of nature nearly 2 centuries ago. His work became almost purely abstract as he progressed. Also read Concerning the Spiritual in Art by Kandinsky who is considered the first true abstractionist if you want a better understanding of what abstraction is about.It frees the artist to not be restricted to simple rendering of what already exists.

Sue Martin
Thanks for those references, Bill. That's exactly how I feel when I paint abstracted reality or pure abstract - free to express rather than bound to details.

Fred Kepler
I don”™t believe Turner is an example of an abstract artist. Although his paintings are more abstract than Caravaggio”™s he is considered a "painter of light" and his work is representational. He is also attributed by some to be the precursor to Impressionism.

As for my having things backwards, that may be so. Your paintings, particularly "Feeding Frenzy" and "Cross Town Traffic" have definite underlying ideas. The Koi in the first painting are not figments of your imagination. Your composition and the application of the underlying idea with color on the canvas is what develops a wonderful painting. The second piece also develops effectively an other underlying idea. I lived in NYC and have looked down from my office on Columbus Circle at the gridlock below. You have captured that underlying idea in the painting. Both of these paintings started with an underlying idea.

As for abstract painting “freeing the spirit”, I have a different take. These are code words for eschewing the rigorous disciplines that are necessary to render a painterly picture.
My best, Fred

Brian Scanlon
Mr. Bilgere's comments are excellent. I think it's important to look at history as well as theory. Sometimes our actual history, as humans doing art, will tell us things that the theoreticians will not discover for many years.

One of the thoughts that Jim Bilgere's comment prompted in my mind was the advent of photography. This has had a profound impact on the visual arts. If your goal is to merely get a representation of what something looks like, you need only to take out a camera and shoot it. But you draw it or paint it if you want something more.

It also reminded me of a quote in Michel Albano's terrific book on landscape painting: "there is no such thing as a good abstract painting about nothing" --- Mark Rothko.

I agree completely with Rothko. But I must admit that I was astounded to learn that he said it. His color field paintings, which sell in the neighborhood of $80 million each, look to me like portrayals of tattered bath towels.

Jim bilgere
I had professor in art schol who told us that even though modern man believes they discoverd abstract art that actually there was a 100 year period during roman times where they did abstrat art. Nonetheless beauty is beauty and that is all. Many times people tryto explain it so much that theuy explain it away

Fred Kepler


My best, fred

Karen Winters
Good Albano requote. I would be interested to know what Rothko's definition of "nothing"is.

Robert Sesco
"What is there to argue about? I do this, you do that. Great. Is this some sort of an argument that you can 'win'. if you 'win' does the other person have to paint differently? Or does it 'prove' that one kind of art is better than another. I think sometimes, some folks just like to argue. Don't understand it myself."

I must agree with the sentiments of Jeanne Lafferty above. Am I doing something wrong as an artist if I refuse to paint in one style only? The admonishment to create a recognizable style is a commercial one, and disconnected from an artist's NATURAL desires at the point when she has exhausted her enthusiasm with that style.

Paint to feel joy, or paint to barter for money, or paint with technique, or paint with abandon, or paint with limited palette, or paint with texture, or paint indoors, or paint outdoors, the questions, like representational vs abstract, can be never-ending. Artists simply see the world differently, express themselves better, and do so for an infinity of reasons. Why not ask Sculpture vs Painting? Computer-generated art vs projected images on canvas filled in with color? Quilts vs yacht design? Cristo vs Grandma Moses? I LOVE both representational AND abstract art!

Debra LePage
Agree, Jeanne and Robert. Well said.

jim bilgere

Hi!! There are lovely combinations of styles in my opinion. I think either abstract art needs an interpretation or the viewer must be given a hook in reality to enjoy the work on his own. Perhaps the abstract artist has something in mind when he starts the work, but am I a mind reader? He says you can make of it what you will; that's so, but why is 'expressing your emotions' pleasurable or meaningful to me?

I believe the abstract artist seeks understanding without 'giving' his to the viewer.

Jim Bilgere
Unfortunately for many such as yourself. you need an explanation of something in order to enjoy it. Also many want art to describe a story to them ortell them about something. Abstact art is about the moment. All good art is art that allows the viewer his own experience and that is the difference between Fine Art and Illustartation, which too many confuse as being Fine Art. The fines art should be like a pice of your favorite chocolate!

Joanne Benson
The types of abstract art that appeal to me don't have to have a meaning. I generally like them because of the compositional and decorative qualities. I generally don't go searching for hidden meaning.....unless something pops out at me. Like anything else, it has to "grab" your interest!

I think the best abstracts evoke a feeling and so don't require an interpretation by the artist. The really good ones will trigger a memory or an emotion or some visceral reaction that may or may not have anything to do with what the artist had in mind. The artist's explanation would in fact destroy, or at best drastically alter, the viewers' connection that drew them to the painting in the first place. Of course, I'm discounting reactions of anger at a red dot in the upper left corner of a white canvas called "Apple Tree in a Snow Storm". That's not the feeling to which I refer. :D

1. both!
2and 3- #1 kind of explains 2 and 3. I don't like to be boxed into a "type"
I like to be free (abstract) however, I enjoy representational. There always has to be a little bit of abstract there though.

I know I will not be a realist. Kudos to those but, it's just not me. I will stick with those 2.


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