Abstract vs. Representational Art – Definitions

Summary – I’m on tap to present a program on abstract photography in early March. This post is one of an indeterminate number to help me organize my thoughts. Today – what exactly is an abstract image?


From representational to abstract

11-14-2013 5-33-55 PM

Center image of this transition might be a toss-up to some judges

IMO it’s an abstract

Lines, shapes & textures with no immediately recognizable subject


Organizing my thoughts – a few definitions


Based on subjects found in the objective world

that can be named or recognized


Geometric, formalized, or otherwise non-representational qualities


  • Natural objects that are not depicted realistically
  • Another word for abstract
  • Objects do not resemble those known in physical nature
  • Art without recognizable objects

Definition from a popular annual abstract exhibit

….abstracts are non-representational and do not rely upon recognizable subject matter, but rather consist of colors, tones, shapes and textures.  If the image has an obvious subject, it is not an abstract.


Relevant quotes

Here are some thoughts by Joseph Miller
He’s forgotten more about abstract photography than
Most photographers have ever known
A true treasure (& the one who got me into this mess 😉 )
As payback, I’ll rely heavily on his wisdom
In preparing this program
“There are two kinds of photography
Subject based and Design based
To my mind abstracts are design based”
“There are two kinds of abstracts
Found or Created
The more difficult are found abstracts because
They require seeing
not just looking but seeing”
“One must appreciate design in order to appreciate abstracts”
“You don’t take a photograph, you make it.”
― Ansel Adams
Truer words were never spoken when it comes to abstract photography
And no – not “….make….” as in Photoshop, rather
Made in your head & then in the camera
(Contrary to the view of a Google VP at the intro of
The latest Nik Collection when he inferred that using the NC
Is the type of “make” Adams meant – i.e. post-capture)


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2 thoughts on “Abstract vs. Representational Art – Definitions

  1. Hi Ed, many thanks for taking the time to write these posts and abstracts. I have had time today to catch up on your posts. I am trying to shoot images that are not record shots and your thoughts are well timed. Thanks Ray

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