a history of western art

from the renaissance to the present

The major modes of representation

people, terms, and concepts:  conceptual, naturalistic, expressive

This topic identifies three basic ‘modes’ of representation that occur pretty much across history (although sometimes one mode is more dominant): conceptual, naturalistic, and expressive.

     •   What are the different purposes of each of these modes? What different kind of meaning or content is each trying to convey?

     •        Be able to identify (and support through analysis) which of these modes is used in a given image or work of art.

     •        Know that these categories are not absolutes; there is a gradation between the conceptual and naturalistic modes, and a work can be both expressive and naturalistic.

     •   Be careful not to call works in the naturalistic mode ‘realistic’ -- as we will see, realism is a specific type of naturalism.

conceptual mode

naturalistic mode

expressive mode


more naturalistic

more conceptual