Understanding Figurative Art

Figurative art is the expression of creating artworks depicting reality based on any persons or objects by the mirroring process, employing mainly canvas, brush, paint knives oil and acrylic paints (in present context). This was the essential goal of making works of art since time immemorial. To this day, this fascination with figurative art making is only growing by leaps and bounds. and has been the goal of art-making since ancient times. Figurative artists traditionally created art works mostly depicting human forms and other real objects.

So before we answer what is figurative art, we have to understand the purpose of art in the past in the society, so that we can understand what was what was the purpose of Art in the past and in the present.
In the past the question of the purpose of art was not there. Art existed to depict and document religious teachings and support the truth set by the respective religions and make it more easily digestible, find a common ground to bring the society together and nurture collective consciousness of group of believers. It was more of a clear cut advertisement to capture the imagination of their followers.
And in the political sphere politicians used it to promote their propaganda, rule, war, defense, dominance over other political parties or events. They exploited art and that was simply the purpose of it, communicating their political needs of the given society.

The question of what is the purpose of art comes up today because there is no clear definition of art and its purpose. ‘Art for art sake’ has given way to confusion in the society.

Art has expanded into different areas of observation, horizon of ideas and ideals. For example, when see you the depictions of Jesus Christ in a cathedral as a mural or statue, it’s very easy to understand what is its purpose but seeing a sculpture with 6 Rings in vertical dimension installed on podium, being showcased in a museum doesn’t easily explain or reveal its purpose or use-case immediately to the viewer. Therefore, people in general do not understand what is the purpose of art today.

So, the purpose of figurative art in the past was to document religious and political episodes that were shaping the society at that time. Therefore, there is the reference points of the past culture and its people made it easy to understand art.

With advent of abstract and conceptual art forms of today, one would think that people may lose the interest in figurative art of the past or that artists will give up on it because it is not fashionable anymore or as acceptable as the art of abstraction.

With the advent of abstract and conceptual art forms of today, one would think that people may lose the interest in figurative art of the past or that artists will give up on it because it is not fashionable anymore or as acceptable as the art of abstraction.
On the contrary, figurative art is flourishing. It has adapted to its surroundings, tastes and needs according to the development of our society and their aspirations.
A lot of people have the idea, that when you start off collecting art, you generally start with figurative paintings and as you evolve in your collecting habits, the way you look at art and collecting them should gravitate and mature towards abstract art. This is not true.
In order to understand figurative art, one obviously has to look at the development of figurative art from its own perspective and look at the historical development of this art form.
What most people miss out is the availability of art materials in the production of art. Traditionally, figurative art came to prominence in and popularity with advent of the cotton canvas. Before that artists used walls, hardwood panels, cow skins and then the linen and then cotton canvas. These materials were hard to come by. Not all artist could afford a canvas back then. It would cost around a $1000 just to buy a canvas alone in the past, so art production was limited to the availability and affordability of art materials.
We can safely say from the 16 century onwards, there was rapid growth in the development of figurative art. Talented artists were summoned by the kings or the queens, the rich, the powerful to do their portraiture, as such real representation and hyper realism was important aspects of creating works of art. Artists employed various techniques, in the form of colour, light, texture, shape, line and perspective to create the illusion of form and space.
Renaissance in the 17 century, Baroque period in the 16 century, Realism in the 1850s or Hyperrealism started in the 1970s, all these art movements had tremendous influence on the development of figurative art.
Figurative art included paintings of landscape and still-life as well. Some artists strove to reproduce nature, approaching naturalism through extreme attention to the depicting of nature. Still-life was done to show perfection in colour, light, shadow and perspective.
Figurative art today no longer function as the ‘portraiture- factory’ of the past with it strict codes of painting or techniques.
The evolution of figurative art, over time broke away from the traditional set ways by revolutionary and often rebellious artists, forcing the society to change the way they looked at figurative art as they created their works. The audience were challenged in their habits of appreciation and collecting.
Artists’ works didn’t warrant the need for complete depiction of realism on the subject. Variation of the representation took root. For example, the impressionist artists, worked with loose brushstrokes and simplified forms stretching reality, but their works were deemed recognizable as something real.
Art movements such as Expressionism which is a modernist movement originated from Northern Europe, Symbolism, a late 19 century art movement, Impressionism, a 19 century movement originated in France or Surrealism, which was developed after the 1 world war in Europe, are not as rigorous in their representation of reality, nevertheless, are part of the powerful figurative art movement.
Despite the advent and rise of abstract expressionism and all other movements that denounced figurative art in the early 1900s, figurative style of painting still continues to weave its influence and commands the patronage of art lovers around the world. American hyperrealism and particularly, Pop Art stand out clearly in this regard in the continuous progression of figurative art.

With Pop Art, art was made more accessible to the larger public and no longer restricted to the confines of a circle of ‘art connoisseurs’ and their contentment. The Avant garde artists mostly targeted larger public by using acrylic for paint, industrial representation of objects, unique techniques and by exploiting the resources around them like comic strips, creating collages of advertising posters and detailing cinema posters into their art creation. Hence the term, ‘Art which is not Art’.
Today, the versatile characteristics of illusory subjects and their abstract interpretation, together with the invention of photography, video, digital and conceptual art has allowed for the genre to include multiplicities of definitions.
Hence, figurative artworks extract a stronghold in our contemporary figurative art landscape.




In the art world, figurative art has teamed up with other contemporary genres such as Abstraction, an art movement which started off in the early 1900s, Cubism initiated and created Pablo Picasso, the famous world renowned Spanish artist and Minimalism that emerged in New York in the 1960s whilst maintaining and extending a strong sense of figuration and the sense of freedom of expression without limitation and boundaries.