(This is the first of a series of articles to be posted over the next few months)
To view a painting, to read about it or to talk about it with reasonable proficiency there are three key elements of a painting that you should become familiar with. They are:
It's form & character (what it is).
It's make-up (material, media, what it's made of).
How it's categorized (it's style, genre, movement, school)
Lets start with Element #3 and more specifically Painting Style .....
Categorizing Paintings and Painters
This is the most complex and imprecise element of the three. Two prime examples are the work of Matisse and Picasso that - depending on who you talk to or what you read may be referred to as: Abstract, Impressionist, Expressionist, Colorist, Modernist, Fauvist, Surrealist and more. Check it out and you'll find compelling arguments for each.
What you have is an assortment of numerous stylistic categories often confused with similar and overlapping classifications by genre, movements or schools with little standardization and varying opinions as to their use. So, if you're new to the art market and confused as to how paintings are categorized join the crowd because your confusion is widespread.
That said, unless art is your profession or you invest in it significantly, it may not be necessary to get deeply involved in these details. The overview that begins below should supply the insight you need to get started and provide a base you can build on as your involvement with painting increases. When categorizing painters and paintings four criterion are normally used: Style, Genre`, Movements and Schools; Style being the most prevalent .....
Pinpointing a painting style can get a bit murky because - as used in this context - it has several meanings; just Google painting style and you'll see what I mean. The most relevant short winded explanation I've come across as to how the style of a painting is determined involves "how it relates to already established classifications" or, "to the work of other artist from the same period". Fairly straightforward but often problematic due to the scores of stylistic classifications, the lack of uniformity regarding their use and their propensity to overlap. So, to simplify this discussion let's break down the classification of painting style into what is said to be the "three basic categories of visual art": Representational, Abstract and Non- Objective.
As defined by Tate.org/UK - Representational Painting - also referred to as Figurative Painting - is "art that represents some aspect of reality in a more or less straightforward way". However reality can range from virtual photographic reality - referred to as Photorealism - to bare-bones reality like the style referred to as Minimalism. The defining characteristic of a representational painting is the inclusion of a "straightforward illustration" of something real (an object or subject).
Along with Photorealism and Minimalism many other painting styles can be tagged as subcategories of Representational Painting including: Realism, Impressionism, Expressionism, Precisionism, Modernism and Pop. However, painting being art not science smudges the line between what is representational and what is abstract potentially causing disagreement and overlap regarding classification.
An example is my painting "Take Out". It's a "straightforward" three dimensional illustration of a white Chinese Food takeout carton suspended in a pink and purple checkerboard grid. The realistic depiction of the carton should classify the painting as representational, while the abstract background sub-classifies it as Pop. However, a review of a gallery show in which the painting was exhibited referred to it as "Abstract Realism"; a style seemingly invented by the reviewer as a sub-category of Abstraction.
Another example is "San Giorgio Maggiore at Dusk" by Claude Monet. It's the painting used in the movie The Thomas Crown Affair and it's said to be worth as much as 200 million dollars. It's an Impressionist view of the dome of Santa Maria Salute - a Roman Catholic Church on the island of San Giorgio at the mouth of the Grand Canal in Venice. And, though faintly visible - presumably due to weather conditions and time of day lighting - it's presented with a reasonable degree of reality yet it's often referred to as Abstract.
San Giorgio Maggiore at Dust
by Claude Monet
Representational Painting presents a "straightforward illustration of something real" in total or in part. In contrast, Abstract Painting presents no realism only an artists rendition of something real. However deciding between what's real and what is a rendition reality is not always a clear choice and thus can result in disagreement as to how a painting is categorized.
The next post in this series will discuss the remaining basic categories of visual art:
Abstract and Non- Objective painting.