Realistic, Abstract, Symbolic
Any representational work of art is an abstraction, including drawings, paintings, photographs or other forms. This is so because the artwork is not the “real thing”; it is not something that you can touch or interact with except within the limits of its form. No matter how realistic or detailed a painting or technical drawing of a tractor may be, you cannot climb onto it and plow a field. The Impressionist painting of a tractor sitting in a hazy summer field does elicit an emotion and perhaps a memory that is arguably as “real” or significant as the muddy metal machine, but that aspect of the painting relies upon the mutual experiences of the creator and viewer of the artwork. This intangible communication is the “abstraction” involved that makes the painting “work” and accomplish its purpose.
Considering the advanced state of virtual realities available today, this definition is still not quite adequate. What it comes down to is that any mechanism that is used to communicate a concept or information from one person’s mind into another’s mind is an abstraction tool. In the process of creation, the first person (the artist) must select significant aspects of the subject and create adequate symbolic or representational marks (sometimes referred to as “elemental artistic artifacts”). The objective of the training of a graphic artist is to develop sensitivity and graphic language skills such that these marks or artifacts can be readily and effectively created. The key concept word here is “effectively” – in order for an image to be effective, it must communicate the idea, observation or intention of the artist to the viewer. Depending on the form or format of the art, this communication may require specialized training on the part of the artist and/or the viewer. For example, an engineering or architectural drawing assumes that the viewer understands the symbology employed, whereas, the image of a realistic illustration should require little, if any training on the part of the viewer. This lack of requiring training is a primary characteristic of “realism”. Much graphic fine art is intended to be understood at various levels based on a “contract” or understanding between the artist and the viewer both of whom must be in agreement as members of a common “school” of art.