There are some basic critical approaches we can universally agree on. As we all live on planet Earth and are familiar with the “laws of nature,” this will be our starting point. Following are the terms that are easily applied to art appreciation.
Representational or Naturalistic- art based on a study of nature. If an
artist intends a work of art to be naturalistic, then s/he must study nature
(the real world) in order to get the object “correct” in the painting. For
example, if an artist intends to represent the body of a woman in a painting,
then before actually applying the paintbrush to the canvas, he’d better look at
a woman’s body (its shape, parts, surface texture) to get it “correct.” If s/he
copies a specific human individual in all of its details, then the work of art
will be “realistic.” Clearly, this is disegno esterno.
Abstract – art simplified in its form. The result is a “pure design” or stylization. In abstraction, the artist is intent on simplifying the true object. Rather than painting all of the details of a woman’s body (to follow that example), such as wrinkles on the skin, each strand of hair, and bump of cellulite, the artist merely represents the basic shapes. Quite often abstract art looks very geometric; a body may be reduced into a stick figure. The head may become an oval and the arms long cylinders. While in rudimentary form the body may be based on general principles found in nature, the final image is disegno interno.
Symbolic – art referencing a higher level of meaning. As in the critical reading of literature, symbolism in art refers to additional meanings beyond what is first seen. There is a secondary concept implied. While the body of the woman may suggest natural truth, the body of the woman may symbolize love or motherhood. In symbolic art, artists may use elements of naturalism and abstraction to inform the viewer that there is more than just the reality of what is seen. When an artist uses nature as a springboard for his/her visualization of something more beautiful or greater than the earthly truth, we call that idealization; the artist creates an ideal version of humanity or nature, yet it is still related to earthly models. Thusly, the artist can use both disegno esterno and disegno interno.