Looking back through Western history, it is incredible to see how many types of art have made an impact on society. By tracing a timeline through different art movements, we are able to not only see how modern and contemporary art has developed, but also how art is a reflection of its time.
These 10 visual art movements are fundamental to understanding the different types of art that shape modern history.
ITALIAN RENAISSANCE ART
From the 14th through 17 century, Italy underwent an unprecedented age of enlightenment. Known as the Renaissance—a term derived from the Italian word Rinascimento, or “rebirth”—this period saw increased attention to cultural subjects like art and architecture.
Toward the end of the Renaissance, the Baroque movement emerged in Italy. Like the preceding genre, Baroque art showcased artistic interests in realism and rich color. Unlike Renaissance art and architecture, however, Baroque works also emphasized extravagance.
REALISM Realism is a genre of art that started in France after the French Revolution of 1848. A clear rejection of Romanticism, the dominant style that had come before it, Realist painters focused on scenes of contemporary people and daily life. What may seem normal now was revolutionary after centuries of painters depicting exotic scenes from mythology and the Bible, or creating portraits of the nobility and clergy.
IMPRESSIONISM It may be hard to believe, but this now beloved art genre was once an outcast visual movement. Breaking from Realism, Impressionist painters moved away from realistic representations to use visible brushstrokes, vivid colours with little mixing, and open compositions to capture the emotion of light and movement. The Impressionists started as a group of French artists who broke with academic tradition by painting en plein air—a shocking decision when most landscape painters executed their work indoors in a studio.
Again originating from France, this type of art developed between 1886 and 1905 as a response to the Impressionist movement. This time, artists reacted against the need for the naturalistic depictions of light and colour in Impressionist art. As opposed to earlier styles, Post-Impressionism covers many different types of art, from the Pointillism of Georges Seurat to the Symbolism of Paul Gauguin.
CUBISM A truly revolutionary style of art, Cubism is one of the most important art movements of the 20th century. Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque developed Cubism in the early 1900s, with the term being coined by art critic Louis Vauxcelles in 1907 to describe the artists. Throughout the 1910s and 1920s, the two men—joined by other artists—would use geometric forms to build up the final representation. Completely breaking with any previous art movement, objects were analysed and broken apart, only to be reassembled into an abstracted form.
A precise definition of Surrealism can be difficult to grasp, but it is clear that this once avant-garde movement has staying power, remaining one of the most approachable art genres, even today. Imaginative imagery spurred by the subconscious is a hallmark of this type of art, which started in the 1920s. The movement began when a group of visual artists adopted automatism, a technique that relied on the subconscious for creativity. Tapping into the appeal for artists to liberate themselves from restriction and take on total creative freedom, Surrealists often challenged perceptions and reality in their artwork. Part of this came from the juxtaposition of a realistic painting style with unconventional, and unrealistic, subject matters.
ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM Abstract Expressionism is an American art movement—the first to explode on an international scale—that started after World War II. It solidified New York as the new centre of the art world, which had traditionally been based in Paris. The genre developed in the 1940s and 1950s, though earlier artists like Wassily Kandinsky also used the term to describe work. This style of art takes the spontaneity of Surrealism and injects it with the dark mood of trauma that lingered post-War.
POP ART Rising up in the 1950s, Pop Art is a pivotal movement that heralds the onset of contemporary art. This post-war style emerged in Britain and America, including imagery from advertising, comic books, and everyday objects. Often satirical, Pop Art emphasized banal elements of common goods, and is frequently thought of as a reaction against the subconscious elements of Abstract Expressionism.
KINETIC ART The seemingly contemporary art movement actually has its roots in Impressionism, when artists first began attempting to express movement in their art. In the early 1900s, artists began to experiment further with art in motion, with sculptural machine and mobiles pushing kinetic art forward. Russian artists Vladimir Tatlin and Alexander Rodchenko were the first creators of sculptural mobiles, something that would later be perfected by Alexander Calder.