Blanket term for art that represents some aspect of reality, in a more or less straightforward way
The term seems to have come into use after the rise of modern art and particularly abstract art as a means of referring to art not substantially touched by modern developments. Not quite the same as figurative art which seems to apply to modern art in which the elements of reality, while recognisable, are nevertheless treated in modern ways, as in expressionism for example. The term figurative also implies a particular focus on the human figure.
The term non-representational is frequently used as a synonym for abstract.