Still lifes can include all kinds of man-made or natural objects. They can be realistic or abstract, familiar or unexpected or have a symbolic meaning related to celebration or death.
Shape, pattern, structure
Simple still life arrangements have been used by artists for a long time. The cubists used them to experiment with shape, viewpoint and material. Artists often choose visually interesting objects – for their form, colour or texture. For example, the simple shape of a bottle. A complicated pattern on a piece of cloth. The structure of a halved fruit. Pop artists were inspired by the bold packaging of the everyday objects in their work.
Still lifes can also be used as symbols. By depicting particular objects artists suggest other themes or ideas. Artists often include skulls in their work to represent death. This kind of still life is valled a vanitas.
You add extra meaning to a work when you include things of personal significance. These things could be a photograph or a souvenir. Many twentieth century artists depict objects of cultural significance. Andy Warhol used real everyday objects to symbolise contemporary culture and consumerism.
By presenting everyday objects in new ways artists create new interpretations. They make us think about objects in a different way. Sarah Lucas cast a toilet in clear resin. This created a beautiful object from something basic and functional. What we think of the object changes because it now looks dramatic and detailed. Henry Moore’s cropped and enlarged details of skulls look like interiors of futuristic buildings.