In language, figurative refers to the use of words outside their basic meanings but with an imaginative meaning in order to create a special effect. In visual arts, figurative arts refers to the distortion of real world objects and figures to create imaginative figures that retain the form of the real world objects. Figurative art retains strong reference to the real world figures that are recognizable yet not conventionally depicted.
As a creator, an artist uses his judgement and bias to express and define what the real world is used to seeing in another form. Figurative art could be called a form of stylisation, influenced by the cultural expressions of figures that existed during a certain era. Shapes and structures could be idealised to reflect the artist’s thoughts of beauty. To do this it sometimes meant the artist will simplify the form, perhaps even creating an abstract shape to refine the image.
Within figurative art there is an importance given to structure, shape, volume and perspective defined through the use of colour, tone, light and shade, though not necessarily used all together or all the time.
Figurative art not only depicts a real subject but can also reflect the cultural values of the time in which it was made. Figurative art can depict religious or mythical themes and has the capability to depict a subject while alluding to intellectual concepts. Ancient Shona Stone Sculptures such as the Zimbabwean Bird potrayed the likeness of the subject but subtle stylization also conveyed the standards of beauty of the time.
Throughout the development of the Shona Stone Sculpture movement, from the First Generation Artists, figurative art has played an important role in expressing the images and figures of the time. The figurative form of stone sculptures has been retained and yet we have seen the form becoming modern in tandem with developments of the time.