In between realism and abstraction there is a broad arena where artists such as Jill Maclmurray, George Post, and Charles Burchfield roamed.
These are definitely realist paintings in some ways. We can recognize their subject matter even though it is more symbolic than descriptive. It seems fair to say that the artists want the viewer to be able to identify what is being interpreted, but rather than simply observe and duplicate the subject they devise a symbol based on the essence of the content.
An emphasis is put on abstract elements, such as shape and color, by distilling the subject down to a simple but unmistakeable form. In context, Maclemurray's sage brush is easy to recognize, even though she is not describing specific individuals.
Here are a couple of images to experiment with: