non-representational art

Non-Representational Art: Definition and Guide

Non-representational art is a fascinating art genre, that breaks away from traditional norms of representing the physical world. Unlike representational art, non-representational art doesn’t aim to present a depiction of visual reality. Instead, it explores the depths of colour, form, and texture to evoke emotions and stimulate the senses.

Defining Non-Representational Art

Non-representational art is an art form that doesn’t rely on objects, people or scenes from the real world as references. In place of familiar subjects, the art focuses on the interplay of lines, shapes, and colours to convey emotions and ideas. This form of art encourages the audience to interpret the artwork based on their individual perspective and emotional responses.

Movements of Non-Representational Art

Non-representational art spans several movements and styles, each unique in its approach to abstraction.

Abstract Expressionism

Mark Rothko: No.5/No.22

Emerging in the mid-20th century, Abstract Expressionism is characterised by bold brushstrokes, textures, and intense colours. Artists like Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko are leading figures of this movement. Their work showcases the dynamic and often chaotic nature of abstract expressionism, encouraging viewers to immerse themselves emotionally within the artwork.


Kazimir Malevich: Suprematist Composition

Introduced by Russian artist Kazimir Malevich, Suprematism is a style of art focused on basic geometric shapes such as squares and circles. This movement exemplifies the notion of ‘art for art’s sake,’ prioritising aesthetic appreciation over storytelling or representation.


Bauhaus art movement
Paul Klee: Separation in the Evening

The Bauhaus movement is a major step in the history of non-representational art. Founded by Walter Gropius, this school revolutionised artistic expression by introducing new materials and techniques such as geometry, colour theory, typography, photography and sculpture. It was also one of the founding movements of modernist design—a style heavily influenced by abstraction. It was the approach to design that set the Bauhaus art movement apart, with a focus on function and mass production.

Non-Representational vs. Representational Art

representational art
Paul Cézanne: Basket of Apples

While representational art anchors itself in the tangible world, non-representational art severs itself from any recognisable objects or scenes. This allows artists greater freedom to delve into a purely aesthetic realm of abstract forms and colours. Though both art forms can elicit emotional responses, non-representational art does so without any references to the physical world.

Paul Cézanne was a Post-Impressionist artist, who inspired the later Cubist movement. His artworks play with abstraction, as he simplifies the shapes of forms and makes colours appear more saturated. While Cézanne uses colour and shape to make objects appear more abstract, there are still discernible subjects and objects in his paintings. During the Post-Impressionist movement, artists began to seek to represent their inner emotions and experiences in art, rather than aim to represent reality. This is the movement that inspired later abstract artists to use shape and colour to represent their emotions and create art devoid of subject matter.

Abstract Art vs. Non-Representational Art

Joaquin Torres Garcia: El Puerto de Barcelona

Abstract art and non-representational art are two terms that are often used interchangeably. However, they are not the same. Abstract artists can represent subjects and objects, even if the subjects may appear distorted and appear to lack a degree of alignment with a physical visual reference.

There are some forms of abstract art, for instance, Abstract Expressionism that are devoid of physical reference and can therefore be considered non-representational. However, not all abstract art is non-representational. This painting by Joaquin Torres is a Futurist piece of abstract art, however the subject of the boat at the port in Barcelona would be easily recognisable to an onlooker.

How Artists Create Non-Representational Art

Creating non-representational art involves a shift from perceiving to feeling and expressing. Artists utilise abstract shapes, lines, colours and textures to communicate their thoughts and emotions. This process can be spontaneous, with artists often allowing their intuition to guide their brushstrokes. Non-representational art, thereby, becomes a profound exploration of the artist’s internal landscape.

Mediums Used for Non-Representational Art

Like representational art, abstract and non-representing art can be created using a variety of media—from paints and pastels to ceramics and digital art. The choice of medium can influence the artwork’s aesthetic impact, adding to the diversity and richness of the art.

In conclusion, non-representational art challenges the traditional norms of art, inviting viewers to engage with artworks on a deeply personal level. It serves as a testament to the limitless power of artistic expression, continually pushing the boundaries of what we perceive as art.