Sunday, January 11, 2015

Art Collector Tip #5 - Artistic Styles

In Art Collector Tip #2, I proposed that there's one best reason to collect fine art...  you love it, and you want to see it in your home or office every day, for a long, long time.  Nevertheless, it can be useful to think a bit about the various styles of art, to assist in developing your own personal artistic taste.

In my opinion, the art "professionals" have gone a bit overboard in defining various styles of art.  Wikiart describes no less than 140 different art styles!  This can be overwhelming for most folks who enjoy art, including me.  So here I suggest a simpler way for art collectors to think about or "characterize" the art that they see.

I myself imagine various art styles spaced along a continuum, a line stretching from photorealism to completely non-objective abstract art.  All of the 140 art styles mentioned above fall somewhere along this spectrum:

    photo                 painterly            objective          non-objective
                  realism                                            abstraction

Photorealism is a method of painting which reproduces exactly the actual subject being painted, with all of its details.  It may include some slight exaggeration of graininess, color, and/or value, but only in a way to further emphasize the reality of the subject.  Photorealistic paintings can be very impressive, although they resemble very clear photographs (perhaps with some color and value enhancement) of the subject.  I'm not a photorealistic painter - I don't have the patience for it.  However, some of my paintings do have a very realistic center of interest, which is closer to photo- than to painterly-realism.  The sailboat in this painting is an example of this:

As we move along the line between photorealism and non-objective art, we next encounter realistic art that is in some way "painterly".  This art represents an actual subject, although it may be "simplified" and have very obvious color, shape, and texture distortions and enhancements to differentiate it from a photograph.  Many identifiable painting "styles" fall into this category, including impressionism, a favorite of many collectors.  I'd put most of my artwork into this category.  Here is an example:

In this painting the barn and landscape are very recognizable, but with simplified shapes and figures, and exaggerated color.

As we proceed along this continuum, we reach the zone of abstraction.  We first encounter abstract, objective art based on an actual subject, but with significant changes so that the artwork is inspired by, rather than directly representing, the subject.  Colors may have no relationship to the original subject, shapes and lines may be very distorted, and much of the painting achieves its impact via color, shape, and line.  Here is perhaps my only painting in this style - the "story" is clear, but it's certainly not an accurate depiction of a "real" subject:

Finally, we reach non-objective abstraction.  These paintings achieve their impact and interest entirely through abstract design, color, and texture, and are uninformed by any real subject.  The following example is a painting that depends entirely on lines, shapes, color, and value unrelated to any real-world subject.  One fun aspect of abstract art is that viewers can often "find" meaning in a painting that is specific to themselves.  This painting reminds me of kites flying, although I had no thought of kites when I composed it:

I imagine that some serious art students who read this article may feel that I've done a disservice to the many important styles of painting that have been developed through the years.  But my goal here has been not to give a comprehensive historical review of artistic styles but to present a simple "model" of painting styles to give collectors a way of thinking about the various paintings that appeal to them.

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