Non-Objective Art: Definition, Artists & Examples

Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Have you ever taken a geometry class? Did you know some art involves geometry? In this lesson, learn about non-objective art and see examples by artists who worked in this style.

What Is Non-Objective Art?

Artists use all kinds of ideas in their work, even some related to math. You might have taken geometry in high school, but did you know that it's sometimes also used in art? In the early 20th century, some artists used straight lines and geometric figures in work they called non-objective art.

Non-objective art is not based on things you see in the real world. Often it involves elements of geometry, and you might see it referred to as geometric abstraction. It's a type of abstract art, in which artists aren't concerned with portraying recognizable objects from visible reality. Instead, in non-objective art, they work with ideas and formal elements of composition. This makes it very different from representational art, in which the goal is to render an image of something like a person, animal, place or thing.

Non-objective art uses geometric forms, clean edges, flat planes and simplified dimensions. The artist paints on the canvas in ways that emphasize its flatness.

Example of non-objective art by Olga Rozanova
Olga Rozanova work

When you look at a non-objective painting, you might see lines and shapes like triangles or squares. But you don't get a sense that some shapes are closer to you than others. In this type of work, artists often paint geometric forms in bright color and give them crisp, clean edges. You'll rarely see works done in this style with thick brushstrokes of textured paint. In a way, non-objective art expresses ideas like simplicity and purity.

Now let's learn about some non-objective artists and their work.

Non-Objective Art and Artists

For centuries, artists had painted mostly representational art like portraits of people, grand scenes of historical events and landscapes.

But in the early 20th century, art ideas began to change. Around 1918, the term 'non-objective' appeared for the first time, used by Alexander Rodchenko (1891 - 1956), a Russian artist who titled some of his works (yes, more than one) simply Non-Objective Painting. They were of simplified geometric structures and shapes. Other Russian artists like Olga Rozanova (1886 - 1919) also experimented with similar ideas and geometric forms.

Kazimir Malevich

Russian artist Kazimir Malevich (1878 - 1935) was specifically interested in exploring pure geometric forms. Beginning in the 1910s, his canvases were limited to simple colored shapes like squares and triangles against a flat background. He called his style of work Suprematism because he believed that pure shapes and colors were better than representational art. Work created with them stood for itself rather than having to be a narrative or pictorial rendering of something else. In 1927, Malevich published his views in a book he titled The Non-Objective World: The Manifesto of Suprematism.

Suprematist composition painted by Kazimir Malevich
Kazimir Malevich work

When you look at a Malevich painting, the shapes seem to hang in space, motionless. The space is flat and no object seems to be closer to you than any other. The effect is calm and rational.

Wassily Kandinsky

Some artists used similar imagery to create very different impressions. Another Russian artist, Wassily Kandinsky (1866 - 1944), also used geometric shapes and line in his art, but created images that seem to pulse with life. Kandinsky saw painting as a spiritual activity and it might help you to understand that he also was very interested in music.

Composition VIII by Wassily Kandinsky
Composition VIII

In Kandinsky's Composition VIII, painted in 1923, hard lines and edges connect with simple colorful shapes and checkerboards at angles and in patterns. It's active and full of motion despite being completely abstract.

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