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  • Writer's pictureVishakha

A Beginner-Friendly Figurative Art Guide

When we talk about figurative art, the first thought that comes to mind is often portraits or images of still-life objects. While this isn’t the true meaning of this genre, it is natural to get confused because of the terminology in question. 

A figurative art painting of two women

To help you get rid of this confusion and immerse yourself deeper into this school of art, TERAVARNA has brought together a very easy-to-understand and concise guide to figurative art. Continue reading if you want to understand the meaning and elements that make figurative style what it is. 

What is Figurative Art?

Figurative art has its roots in the real-life objects and events that take place around us. It is based on the real world and thus it encapsulates everything real and concrete around us. By extension, it includes landscapes, human beings, still-life objects, and even animals. However, it is mostly used to depict human beings and their various forms. 

This stream of art takes its references from reality and can vary in the ways a subject is represented. The term “figurative art” was particularly brought into use around the twentieth century when artists started exploring abstract art, pop art culture, and minimalism.

How is Figurative Art Different from Other Art Styles?

Artists often confuse figurative art with other forms of art. Here we have explained some differences between figurative vs. abstract, realism, and portraiture.

Figurative vs. realism

As the term realism suggests, it is an attempt of the artist to try and replicate a scene exactly as it is. They observe every element very minutely and depict it in the same manner. However, when it comes to figurative paintings, artists often take the liberty to explore and interpret their subjects in the way they deem fit. 

Figurative vs. portrait

A major difference here is that portraiture tends to focus more on the subject that has been depicted. It places special emphasis on the correct depiction of the facial features and expressions of the subject. However, figurative art is a much broader approach. Figurative artists are more concerned about the theme and elements of humanity, rather than just how their subjects look. You can see portraits as a sub-genre of figurative paintings. 

Figurative vs. abstract

Figurative art always depicts subjects that exist in the real world, such as humans, animals, and other landscapes. Abstract art on the other hand is based on non-representational and non-existent subjects. Abstract artists often use lines, colors, and non-representational shapes and patterns to convey their thoughts and feelings. 

Defining Elements of Figurative Art

Figurative artists often employ elements such as shapes, lines, colors, texture, volume, perspective, mass, light and dark, etc. However, these elements are also used in other styles of art but you should not get confused. The reason is that these elements are what artists use to create emphasis and add depth to the narrative of figurative art. They are used to create figures and forms, and character to the subject. 

Importance of Figurative Art

This style of art dates back thousands of years even before it got its name. The oldest figurative painting discovered is of a warty pig which experts believe to date over 45,000 years ago. Over time it has seen several artists who have been attracted to this genre and have contributed to it. They have used it to explore the anatomy of the human body while aiming to achieve a level of perfectionism in their craft. 

Figurative art has also played a very crucial role in narrating stories through colors and creativity. Artists have used imagery to interpret and convey their message, taking liberties with the representation and depiction of their subjects.

Some of the Popular Figurative Artists and Their Masterpieces

Now that you have a basic idea of what figurative art is, it is time to take a look at the artists. Here is a list of some of the most versatile and remarkable figurative artists along with their masterpieces that will serve as an inspiration for generations to come. 

Michelangelo: This Italian artist was not only a painter but also a sculptor, poet, and architect. His contributions to figurative art can never be replaced. Even during his lifetime, he was revered as one of the greatest living artists and is now one of the maestros of all time. Some of his most memorable works are the frescoes on the Sistine Chapel, and his sculpture David, which is considered as the epitome of figurative sculpting.

Pablo Picasso: Every time figurative paintings and art are mentioned, the discussion is incomplete without remembering Picasso. The artist left his indelible mark in movements like surrealism and cubism. Without a doubt, he was one of the greatest artists of the 20th Century. Some of his famous figurative works include Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (The Women of Avignon), The Old Guitarist, and Guernica. 

Vincent Van Gogh: Despite the tragic end of his life, this artist left behind an art legacy that is nothing short of legendary. His works Starry Nights, The Potato Eaters, and The Night Cafe are some of the most beautiful art pieces ever created. What makes Starry Night even more special is the fact that Van Gogh painted it during his stay at a mental asylum. 

Other Noteworthy Figurative Art Works

The world of figurative art is diverse and intriguing. If you ever delve into figurative art and start exploring, you will realize that artists have used it to tell stories, convey messages, and depict their own interpretations of different themes. 

If you have already come this far, you must not miss out on treating your eyes to The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli, American Gothic by Grant Wood, and The Scream by Munch among many others. 

Figurative Art is All About Representation and Interpretation

This style of art is one of the most realistic ways of representing human life through art. It shows different facets of human life and gives viewers the liberty to interpret every artwork as they deem fit. It has allowed artists to create works ranging from scandalous to mesmerizing to everything in between. If you wish to appreciate figurative art more, maybe start telling your stories through colors and canvas, because the entire world can be your inspiration.

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