Modernist painting concerns itself with formal aspects in order to signify states of the soul, the nature of existence, consciousness, or emotions. Of course, many artists avoid such talk, and insist that they are interested in the colors and shapes for their own sake, and that their interest is "objective". That is ridiculous. It implies that they are obsessed with becoming highly skilled at something that has no meaning. If there is no sense of purpose, the result is a bad painting.

In a modernist painting, the artist may struggle with putting a figure in a space. Van Gogh and Giacometti were both very concerned with this. Special attention is paid to how the person relates to the surroundings. What do these things do to each other? This is much more than a formal question; it is life. When you make a line, you have divided a space in two, so what now is the relationship between the spaces, and how do they define each other? Where and how does the sky meet the ground? Where and how does space give way to matter? What is the give and take?