There is an understanding in contemporary theory of fine art according to which nonobjective fine/design/craft art is different from the abstract art since it represents non-natural shapes while abstract art scans in a specific way nature. This is a basic concept in college and high school textbooks and/or pedagogical literature (see e.g. Lauer & Pentak, 2012: 162-164; Talley, 2008).
While dichotomy nature – non-nature is a general theoretical problem, at the level of interpretation the so-called nonobjective art seems in fact to represent an aspect of the abstract (ideal) art. Also, in abstract-is-not-nonobjective art concept is not clear why abstract should relate to nature if it is by definition an opposition of realism (see below). It seems more reasonable to think about the abstract art as a metacategory of art in which realism is masked in an abstract form or just does not exist. Then, nonobjective art is an aspect of the abstract art. Another term used similarly as nonobjective art is for instance, immaterial (Rycroft, 2012).
The general understanding of abstract as not nonobjective is based on definitions which may not in fact represent reality. Typical is Talley (2008) who defines realistic as the depiction of an object as it appears to the eye. However, the realistic art keeps the general proportions (in contrast of surrealistic) but embeds the artist’s style that makes it art. Also, the way in which the object appears to the eye may be even surrealistic since how one object appears to the eye depends not on how we see the object but on the ability this object to be depicted as art.
Different artists have different artistic abilities in way in which children have different abilities in compare to the adults. Many art works of children that look non-realistic in fact had attempted realistic pictures although the artistic skills materialize pieces of artistic expressions that may look like or not look like the original object. That is why we have good and bad realistic art while many pictures in fact are just nature-replicative artistic expressions that may not have real art values.
Talley’s definition of abstract is more a reflection of surrealism as he believes that abstract art is “the distorting of an object’s natural appearance without losing all its recognizable features”, while what in fact abstract may be is defined as nonobjective -”the depiction of no recognizable or identifiable object(s), although the final product may have derived from a real object” (2008: 34).
R-art, A-art and RA-art
Since the way in which we understand art is an essential value in culture, creating fundamental core concepts from perspectives of theory of knowledge seems and important step for all three categories – artists; theorists, historians and teachers of art; and viewers of art (which often overlap and cross in the individuals).
From fundamental perspectives, there are two extremes –photo-realistic art and ideal abstract art. Between both there are numerous categories at different scale of similarity to the extremes. Then, we can name three metacategories: R-art (Realistic art), A-art (Abstract art), and RA-art (Realistic-and-abstract art).
To build the theoretical framework of this concept, we will limit for now with reference to the definitions of realism and abstract in one of the most popular dictionaries – Merriam Webster.
Merriam Webster defines realism as the theory or practice of fidelity in art and literature to nature or to real life and to accurate representation without idealization. Synonyms of accurate are correct, exact, true. However, only photo-artistic style would produce a nature copy-like picture, while the different other artistic styles will produce accurate representation in a specific artistic manner.
Abstract in Merriam-Webster online is defined as “having only intrinsic form with little or no attempt at pictorial representation or narrative content”. This definition confirms that in fact nonobjective in way in which is understood by some academic writers on art with impact on education is typical abstract art. In fact all definitions of abstract have been constructed as an opposition of realism.
The classification of art as R-art, RA-art and A-art is a most general understanding which has the value of truth to be embedded in a skeleton of any analysis. These categories cross different artistic styles in history of human culture and in the contemporary world. The orientation of one culture toward R, RA or A-art may reveal strong ideology, specific historic roots, a specific level of expression or oppression of human talent, etc.
It seems, the art had emerged as RA-art and A-art dominated in the everydayness through the handcraft and pottery. The fact the prehistoric people avoided realism on their pottery may indicate esthetic values which stimulated abstract thinking although in the limits of replication of a number of embedded patterns within several generations (see also Nikolova, 2008). Although according to current academic writers, the prehistoric pottery art should be defined as nonobjective, in fact it is one of the earliest and most expressive instances of abstract art which has been influencing past and contemporary artists because of existed very clean and very rich concepts that may also have related to moral categories.
Lauer, D. & Pentak, S. (2012). Design basics. 8th edition. Boston: Wadsworth.
Nikolova, L. (2009). Art and Prehistory. Acta Terrae Septemcastrensis, 8, 1-14
Rycroft, S. (2012) Art and micro-cosmos: kinetic art and mid-20th-century cosmology. Cultural Geographies, 19, 4, 447-467.
Talley Sr., C. (2008). Understanding realistic, abstract and nonobjective. Arts & Activities, 142, 5, 33-62.