a history of western art

from the renaissance to the present

the major modes of art

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

There are three major modes of representation that we see across time and cultures:

•  the conceptual mode ('art for the mind'), in which the purpose is merely to make you think of something, and which is frequently schematic like a stick-figure;

•  the naturalistic mode ('art for the eyes') in which the work of art looks like things look in real life. Remember to use the term naturalistic and not realistic for works that look convincingly lifelike: as we will see, "realism" and "idealization" are two subcategories of naturalism;

•  the expressive mode ('art for the heart'), in which the intent of the work is to move you emotionally.

We will be using these terms throughout the semester, so have a good grasp of them. Be able to identify which of these three general modes a work is in, and be able to say how you came to that conclusion by a close analysis of the work. Remember that these categories are not absolutes, and they are not necessarily mutually exclusive: a work can be more or less naturalistic or expressive, and indeed it can be both naturalistic and expressive at the same time.

conceptual mode

naturalistic mode

expressive mode


more naturalistic

more conceptual