There are different art styles that come and go, then there are other styles of art that stick around until the end of time. These are the artworks we want to hang in our homes. You might not know all the styles of art or where they originate from, but you do know what you like, dislike, and what you want to keep forever.
Not everyone knows the difference between Surrealism and Contemporary art. Then there are terms like Art Nouveau, which might have you raising your eyebrows and thinking, “now that’s definitely not English.”
So, we’ve put together a list to help walk you through the ten most popular types of art, leaving out all the scholarly jargon so you can find wall art that speaks to you!
Table Of Contents
- Pop Art
- Urban & Graffiti
- Art Nouveau
- Fine Art
Out of all the art styles, abstract art has most people divided. Whether you love it or hate it, Abstract art will always keep you engaged, and rightly so. Out of all the art forms, Abstract art doesn’t aim to represent any physical objects, people, or animals.
So, what do they actually represent? Well, abstract artists attempt to push the medium of paint, and, instead of representing figures, they attempt to represent emotion, movement, form. This type of art makes it harder for people to wrap their heads around what they’re seeing. Is it a dog? Is it a tree? The safest answer is that it’s Abstract art. Abstract artists rely on line, form, texture, and colour to break away from reality and delve into the abstract ways of seeing the world. For Piet Mondrian, Abstract art was not “the creation of another reality but the true vision of reality.”
The Dutch painter saw his reality in the form of geometric shapes, as seen in the artwork Composition with Yellow, Blue and Red (1937-42). The end result for many artists is truly unique, and one that allows the audience to form their own opinions. So you can’t really be right or wrong when it comes to Abstract art.
Jackson Pollock was infamous for ‘dancing’ around his canvases with house paint dripping from his brush. His ‘drip style’ was unique to the world of art at the time. Pollock believed it was “energy and motion made visible – memories arrested in space”. Abstract art changed the face of modern art and provided new perspectives to see the world. The process of painting the artwork was sometimes more important than the finished work.
According to the Tate, Wassily Kandinsky saw Abstract art as a path towards spiritual reality. In fact,Abstract art is regarded as one of the purer expressions in art as no object from reality is represented on the canvas. It’s a style that inspires curiosity and imagination within the spectator as the meaning of the artwork is an endless list of possibilities.
This makes the art style immensely popular and there’s always something new and refreshing said about the artworks.
The French Impressionists were interested in capturing the effect of light and colour throughout the day, the change in weather, and shifts of movement. Edgar Degas’s work especially focused on the movement of dancers, which saw them jumping like gazelles across the stage. Impressionism was more about the artist’s perception of the thing rather than the thing itself. As Edouard Manet said, “I paint what I see and not what others like to see.”
The Impressionists unified against the conventional art of the time, which was anything that was coming out of the Paris Salon. Traditionally, the jury at the Salon included academic artists who steered away from experimentation and stuck to rigid depictions of reality. It made the two natural enemies.
The key artists include Claude Monet, Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas, and Camille Pissarro, founded the Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors, and Printmakers, and held their own exhibition in Paris in 1874. This exhibition launched the Impressionist movement, the name which originated from the scathing words the critic Louis Leroy made about Monet’s Impression, Sunrise (1972). According to the MET, it was due to the short, rapid brushstrokes on Impression, Sunrise that barely contained form; the colours were not blended together, and the emphasis was on the development of light rather than the harbour landscape.
The bright colours jaded with the conservative Salon, whose artists used sober colours. This made the paintings more vivid and vibrant. The Impressionists also depicted Parisians at leisure in rural areas. Paris was experiencing rapid industrialisation, and new railway systems allowed many city dwellers to take a respite in the countryside. The Impressionists flocked down south too, enjoying the sunshine and painting en plein air, a technique of painting that saw artists painting in natural light rather than a studio space. Monet and Berthe Morisot were huge proponents of en plein air painting.
Like Abstract art, Modern art can sometimes divide people thanks to its experimentation with new styles of artmaking. Modern art dates from the 1860s until the 1970s and includes some of the most prominent movements in art history such as Cubism, Abstract Expressionism, and Impression. Artistic expression drastically departed from the traditional art of the part. MoMA believes modern art artists “ba sed in their own, personal experiences and about topics that they chose.” Before this shift, many artworks had been supported, influenced and funded by institutions such as the Church, academia, and the French Salon.
Modern art can be found around the world, with each movement having its own influences and philosophy. While artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo were painting and expressing the beliefs of the Catholic Church, the Modern artists explored dreams, symbols, and personal narratives. Some of the biggest names in Modern art rival the masters of the past. They include Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet, Jackson Pollock, and Pablo Picasso. Each of these artists dabbled in their own style of painting and expressed a unique vision of the world.
One of the iconic artworks in the style of Modern art is Pablo Picasso’s Guernica (1937). Picasso was inspired to paint Guernica in 1937 after the bombing of Guernica, a small town in the Basque region of Spain, and Picasso painted it in his cubist style. The painting reflected Picasso’s strong feelings towards this barbaric political act. As a Spaniard living in Paris at the time, Picasso took to painting the work in a restricted palette of greys, black, and white, making the finished Guernica look like it came out of a newspaper.
Modern art emphasises self-expression, and Edvard Munch’s The Scream (1893) best exemplifies the expression of inner turmoil, which was the subject matter for most of his artworks. The Norwegian artist had for a long time been plagued by ailments and anxiety was no stranger. The Scream is rich and vibrant in colour, and the painted figure reveals a horrifying expression, reflecting the artist as he and “sensed an endless scream passing through nature.”
For an art style that’s definitely in the ‘now’ look no further than Contemporary art. Contemporary art refers to the art of the present day and includes artworks from different mediums outside of painting such as photography, sculpture, installation, performance, and video art. It’s an art style that overlaps with Modern art and first emerged in the 1950s.
Contemporary artists comment on the current affairs and technological advancements of the present day. As a result, Contemporary art is immensely diverse. Some of the issues seen in Contemporary art are worldwide connectivity, migration, consumerism, and global influence. Pop artists are strongly influenced by consumerism, as seen in the works of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein.
Contemporary art stands out from the other movements thanks to these unifying themes, rather than a technique of painting or a medium. It differs from Modern art in the sense that Modern art looks inward, looks at the self, looks at individual experiences, while Contemporary art focuses on the world at large.
One of the most renowned artists of Contemporary art is Marina Abramovic, whose performance art has garnered her attention and acclaim from around the world. Much of Abramovic’s work is about the relationship between artist and spectator, and is presented in the form of performance art. The artwork that elevated Abramovic to being a household name is The Artist is Present (2010), presented at the MoMA, which saw the artist sit for eight hours a day, for nearly three months, meeting the gaze of strangers. This experiment in connectivity had Abramovic saying, “It was [a] complete surprise…this enormous need of humans to actually have contact.”
5. Pop Art
Coca Cola bottles, supermarket supplies, celebrities – these subjects aren’t uncommon in Pop art. For Robert Rauschenberg, “I really feel sorry for people who think things like soap dishes or mirrors, or Coke bottles are ugly, because they're surrounded by things like that all day long, and it must make them miserable.” Indeed, the Pop artists reflected what surrounded them, which often took from popular and commercial culture.
Pop art emerged only a decade after World War II. The 1950s was a time when mass production and mass consumerism made products inexpressive and widely available to middle-class Americans. This middle class moved from the city to the suburbs, creating a whole new realm of the living. Technology was gradually advancing and the dominating media in households became television and film. With a TV set in every home, there followed television programs that filled up an evening’s schedule. This created a whole new idea of celebrity, the television stars that were beamed straight into the home. Andy Warhol’s artworks, many of the silkscreens, feature movie stars and musicians from this era, like Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley.
Many Pop artists felt museums had failed to reflect the art of the real world, and so the Pop art they created was an act of rebellion. For Roy Lichtenstein, “Pop Art looks out into the world. It doesn't look like a painting of something, it looks like the thing itself.” Lichtenstein’s paintings were often like scenes out of a comic book, complete with the speech bubbles! Lichtenstein had a unique way of painting these comic book panels, using Ben-Day dots which, according to the Tate, is “a system invented to increase the range of colours available to newspaper printing.” Although Lichtenstein’s artworks were not black and white like a newspaper. Like much of Pop art, the colours were bright and featured bold imagery.
Along with Lichtenstein, Richard Hamilton and David Hockney were leading figures in the Pop movement, however, it was Andy Warhol that elevated the movement to the level of fame thanks to the subject matter he used and the parties he hosted at his studio, the Factory.
If you’re looking for the weird and illogical, look to Surrealism prints. Thanks to artworks that blur the line between the dream world and the real world, it has become one of the most recognisable styles of art. Surrealism was founded by Andre Breton, a Spanish artist, writer and filmmaker. Breton detailed his Surrealist beliefs in Surrealist Manifesto (1924) where he describes Surrealism as “pure psychic automatism.” Breton is the pioneer of automatism, a technique of artmaking that asks the artists to spontaneously write, draw or paint what comes to them, and without restraint.
But what makes Surrealism an immensely popular style of art? You certainly don’t need to know Breton’s philosophy to understand and enjoy the work, although it did help shape and define this art style. The Surrealists defied logic and revolutionised the human experience. Surrealism aimed to free the mind from logic and open itself to artistic expressions. Surrealist artworks tend to feature dream-like scenes and the most wonderfully unexpected juxtapositions. Besides the dream world, the Surrealists were influenced by psychoanalysis, which was on the rise in the early twentieth century.
Salvador Dali is the biggest, boldest name in Surrealism, commanding the spotlight far better than Andy Warhol. Dali was a skilled painter, illustrator, and designer. He dabbled in filmmaking and sculpture and collaborated with artists like Breton and Alice Cooper. Dali’s artworks are an example of why Surrealism is immensely popular because his artworks truly reflected a unique vision. Dali’s paintings featured melting clocks, ants, swans, tigers, pomegranates, and more. Oftentimes these objects and animals were juxtaposed in the same painting. His most famous painting is The Persistence of Memory (1931), in which Dali notes that the melting clocks resemble overripe Camembert.
7. Urban & Graffiti
Graffiti, urban art, street art—these generally mean images painted somewhere in the public space, like building walls, fences, train carriages, and more. It’s an art style that divides the public, with some believing it’s the new art, and others believing it’s a crime. While some graffiti art is removed by government workers, others are being sold at Sotheby’s for millions of dollars. Graffiti art ranges from slogans to tags, silhouettes, and murals. More and more, the graffiti style is finding its way in galleries around the world. Some cities, like Paris, New York, and Melbourne, celebrate graffiti, seeing it positively affect tourism.
Graffiti first became widespread in New York City in the 1970s and had close ties to the Hip Hop and breakdancing culture of the time. the backlash from authorities saw many graffiti artists adopt pseudonyms. One iconic graffiti artist who has remained anonymous despite his work selling more multi-millions is the artist Banksy. Banksy first made an appearance in the 1990s, with his work appearing in Britain. In 2002 he pasted the stencil Balloon Girl, which made him a household name. before Banksy, Keith Haring was displaying his activism on walls across New York City.
His colourful murals filled with memorable figures were extremely popular with the public, more so it seems than the tags spray-painted across train carriages. Haring went on to create art on canvases and collaborated with many already established artists. Like Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat was a monumental figure in the New York graffiti scene and, in his short career, successfully moved into galleries. In Paris, Invader, an urban street artist, used ceramic tiles to create mosaics. A lot of these artworks centre on the 1980s video game Space Invaders.
8. Art Nouveau
Art Nouveau developed from the 1880s up until the outbreak of World War I. Translating to “New Art”, Art Nouveau flourished in the United States and western Europe and took inspiration from the natural world. The term first emerged in Belgium in 1884. The Art Nouveau artists sought to break away from the Victorian style of the time. It would go on to influence art and architecture, like the works of Antoni Gaudi in Barcelona.
Art Nouveau artists also advanced poster art and, as a result, commercial art. The posters of Alphonse Mucha, the Czech painter who, for a time, lived and had a successful career in Paris, changed the way commercial posters were seen. His skill added artistic designs to posters advertising consumer products and theatrical plays. Mucha’s posters embody the characteristics of Art Nouveau, which are long, natural lines and elegant curves.
Gustav Klimt is perhaps the artist of the movement thanks to his alluring depictions of women. The most celebrated painting Klimt has produced is The Kiss, which, in its time, stirred controversy from his audience in Vienna thanks to the pretty tamed kiss between the couple. The Kiss, along with Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907) and several other paintings, were part of Klimt’s Gold Period. Noted the Gold Period thanks to the heavy use of gold embellishing, inspired by Byzantine art.
Watercolour has long been used in decorative art and, over the centuries, the style has changed. According to the Met, watercolour “consists of a pigment dissolved in water and bound by a colloid agent.” It comes as no surprise as the medium can be used on anything from paper to fabrics. Watercolour painting dates back to the Paleolithic ages, where caves were painted in natural pigments such as ochre and charcoal. In 4,000 B.C. in China, watercolour painting acted as a decorative medium.
The medium developed to paint religious murals in the first century A.D. In Europe, watercolour painting emerged during the Renaissance. Some of the best artists working with watercolour, among other mediums, was Albrecht Durer, Hans Bol, and, later on, Paul Sandby, J.M.W. Turner. The famous post-Impressionist Paul Cezanne experimented with watercolour and even painted a self-portrait in the medium. Eighteenth-century Britain saw an emergence in paintboxes, that is watercolour designed and sold in a carry case.
Watercolour has been popular with artists around the world thanks to its versatility. It offers anything from soft colour effects and soothing forms to vivid tones and richness in colour. Not many watercolour paintings are famous like oil paintings. This may be because watercolour, while being versatile, also fades much faster than oil paintings. Artists in our collection, who are known for their oil paintings, have dabbled in watercolour, from Childe Hassan to Eugene Delacroix. Museums store their best watercolour collections in dark, temperature-controlled rooms and put them on display on special occasions.
10. Fine Art
To round up this article on art styles, we’re going to put forward a style of art that encapsulates all of these styles: fine art. This style differs from other art forms of decorative arts (the design of beautiful but ultimately functional objects) and applied arts (including pottery and metalwork). The term ‘fine art’ was developed in academia to differentiate the works of beauty and aesthetics from decorative arts and applied arts. The term became popular in the nineteenth century, where artists became interested in self-expression and less in commissioned work.
Although fine art artworks don't function like a piece of fine China with a lovely paint design does, fine arts artworks have impacted societies many times over. Some examples of Fine Arts artists include Mark Rothko, Michelangelo, Claude Monet, and Vincent van Gogh. Entire museums have opened to house these artists’ artworks and more. In modern times, fine art has expanded to include photography, filmmaking, and performance art, alongside painting, illustration, and sculpture.