Representational and nonrepresentational (abstract) artists exhibit different conceptual processes when they describe their work. Data from ekphrastic texts written by artists to accompany their artwork show that, although both kinds of painters refer metaphorically to their art using terms such as language, vocabulary, conversation, and narrative, the two use these words in different ways and with different meanings. For example, representational painters refer to “languages” that consist of the systems of represented objects, people, or landscapes that they depict, whereas nonrepresentational painters write about “languages” composed of sets of colors or shapes. Moreover, representational artists claim to engage in a “conversation” with the viewers of their works, whereas nonrepresentational artists prefer to “converse” with their materials or canvases. In general, representational painters use metaphorical terms such as language to describe their subject matter and their artwork's effect on potential viewers, whereas nonrepresentational painters use the same words to describe colors, shapes, and their own artistic process. Artists that combine representation and abstraction in the same artwork (here termed “partly representational” artists) use some of the metaphors preferred by the purely representational artists and some of the metaphors of the nonrepresentational artists, suggesting that the presence/absence of both representation and abstraction affect the metaphors that artists use to describe their work.

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