What are the motifs (central themes) of visual art?
The motifs (central themes) of visual art are designed to compete with nature and can only be derived from nature. Every natural entity is either organic (living matter) or inorganic (dead matter). “Motifs in visual art must be either organic or inorganic.”
Nature shapes inorganic matter into crystals, which are geometric (symmetrical forms conjoined at angles throughout) in form. Once we humans discover the need to create meaning--using dead matter as a substance--we are destined to use the natural laws of crystallinity. “Art, after all, deals exclusively with inorganic matter, including once-organic materials, such as wood and bone, which become lifeless after losing their growth capacity.”
When we humans were contesting with nature while trying to create something both decorative and practical we were confined to use inorganic nature as our model. The basic formal principles “such as symmetry in lines and planes, have continued to assert themselves in human artistic production up to the present day. Only in the design of inorganic forms does man stand on equal ground with nature, for here he creates purely out of inner compulsion and uses no external models.”
Neither practical nor decorative aims in art provided wo/man with the opportunity to stray from inorganic forms; however, our conceptual needs did provide such an opportunity.
Abraham Maslow informs us that we humans have both organic needs and conceptual needs. The three fundamental organic needs are physiological, safety, and love (belonging), while the fundamental conceptual needs are self-esteem and self-actualization.
“Because it was the liveliness and movement of superhuman forces in nature that so impressed human beings, these could only be conceived as animate and organically mobile…conceptual needs brought organic motifs to art.”
Quotes from Historical Grammar of the Visual Arts by Alois Riegl