Art styles and art movements

Art Styles and Art Movements

Many art styles and art movements have cropped up over the centuries. They each have their own distinct characteristics and cultural influences.

In this guide, we’ll run through each of the most famous art styles, with a focus on Western art movements, from the historic to the contemporary.

Use this guide to understand a bit more about art history and how styles have evolved over the centuries. Alternatively, get some inspiration for your own artworks.

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Ancient Egyptian Art

Time period: Ancient

Centuries: 3150 BC to 640 AD

Characteristics: Depiction of royalty and gods, symmetrical composition, use of hieroglyphics

Influences: Religion, politics

Ancient Egyptian art is known for its precise and detailed depictions of their rulers and gods. They were also skilled in sculpture, architecture and the use of hieroglyphics. There were no unique artistic styles recognised to be attributed to individual artists. Rather, the Ancient Egyptians created artworks based on the conventions that were held at the time. They aimed to represent the relationships between humans, kings and the gods.

The arrival of the Greeks and Romans in Egypt led to a fusion of styles and techniques. The ancient Egyptians made carvings, sculptures and used pigments to paint on tombstone walls.

The Ancient Egyptian period spanned thousands of years and can be divided into eight periods and dynasties, with different pharaohs and political leaders.

Ancient Greek Art

Gorgon’s face: Terracotta Kylix

Time period: Ancient

Centuries: 900 to 330 BC

Characteristics: Idealisation of human form, focus on philosophy and mythology

Influences: Philosophy, athletics, politics

Ancient Greek art focused heavily on the human form, often depicting athleticism in a realistic but idealised manner. The Greeks were also known for their intricate sculptures and pottery designs. The Ancient Greeks developed the contrapposto technique in sculpture, which was a natural pose, whereby the figure rests their weight on one knee. This post created a sense of balance and realism in their sculptures. The contrapposto technique was later picked up by artists from the Renaissance and Neoclassical periods.

Ancient Greek art can be further categorised into the Archaic, Classical and Hellenistic periods. The Archaic period saw the introduction of new techniques such as marble carving, while the Classical period is known for its portrayal of motion and emotion in sculpture and painting. The Hellenistic period saw an influence from Eastern cultures, leading to more elaborate designs and decorative elements. The Greeks used encaustic and tempera painting mediums and substrates such as wooden board to create portraits, figural scenes and still lifes.

Western Medieval Art

Medieval Art Movement
Pietro Lorenzetti: Beata Umiltà Transports Bricks to the Monastery

Time period: Medieval

Centuries: 5th to 15th century

Characteristics: Religious themes, use of gold and bright colours, stylised figures

Influences: Christianity, Byzantine art

Western Medieval art saw a shift towards Christian themes and the rise of religious institutions such as the Catholic Church.

With paintings often depicting biblical scenes and figures. Gold was commonly used in illuminated manuscripts and paintings, giving a sense of richness and importance to the subject matter.

One of the most famous artworks from this period is the Bayeux Tapestry. Which is a 230 foot long embroidered cloth depicting the Norman conquest of England.

The medieval time period encompasses many sub classifications of art styles and movements, including Byzantine, Romanesque, Gothic and Coptic art.


Renaissance Art
Leonardo da Vinci: Mona Lisa

Time period: Renaissance

Centuries: 14th to the 17th centuries

Notable artists: Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo

The Renaissance art movement, characterised by realism and classical themes, emerged in Italy during the 14th century and spread throughout Europe. 

During this period, there came a renewed interest in classical studies of Greek and Roman literature and art. The Mannerism period which marked the end of the Renaissance was characterised by expressiveness, theatricality and artificiality, which began to diverge from the style of the High Renaissance.

Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael and Donatello were some of the most influential figures in the Renaissance art movement. Their works often depicted classical themes, mythology and religious subjects. Their paintings demonstrated naturalistic techniques such as linear perspective to create a sense of depth in their paintings and sculptures.

Artists began to work with oil paints in this period and from working with this new medium came new paint application techniques that are still taught today. Artists would paint in layers, using techniques such as glazing. Techniques such as sfumato, where oil paints are blended to create a smoky appearance were invented by da Vinci. Sfumato was a technique used in the painting the Mona Lisa, around her mouth to create the illusion of a smile. The famous Mona Lisa, which came out of the High Renaissance period is regarded as the most famous painting in the world.


Rembrandt Self Portrait
Rembrandt: A Self Portrait

Time period: Post-Renaissance

Centuries: 17th century

Notable artists: Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Vermeer

The Baroque style followed, featuring exaggerated motion and clear detail to produce drama, emotion, and tension. Baroque paintings were often theatrical and used symbolism to convey narratives.

The Dutch Golden Age, a time of great prosperity in the Netherlands, saw artists like Rembrandt become famous for their portraits and genre scenes. Baroque art also spread to Catholic countries such as Italy. Caravaggio used the chiaroscuro or ‘tenebrism‘ techniques. This is the use of dramatic lighting and contrasted values to create emotion and tension in a scene. Portrait artists still use this technique today.


Rococo Art Movement
Jean-Honore Fragonard: The Swing

Time period: Post-Renaissance

Centuries: 18th century

Notable artists: Jean-Antoine Watteau, François Boucher

Rococo art emerged in France as a more lighthearted and playful art style, which contrasted to the serious and classical styles of the Baroque period. Pastel colours, ornate details, and scenes of leisure and pleasure characterise the Rococo art style. Artists often portrayed romanticised scenes of aristocratic parties, music concerts, and outdoor excursions in their paintings and sculptures. Notable Rococo artists include Jean-Antoine Watteau and François Boucher.


Pompeo Batoni: Philip Metcalfe

Time period: Post-Renaissance

Centuries: 18th to 19th centuries

Notable artists: Jacques Louis David, John Flaxman

Neoclassicism came about as a reaction against the vanity, frivolity and excess of the Rococo movement. Neoclassical artists looked to classical art and culture, particularly Ancient Roman and Greek, for inspiration and used it to convey moral messages and values.

The 18th and 19th centuries were labelled the periods of enlightenment due to the abundance of scientific discoveries across this time period. Artists wanted their artworks to live up to the standards of the Romans’ and Greeks’ art.

Neoclassical art often features heroic figures from history or mythology, depicted in a serious manner with strong lines and minimal colours.

The neoclassical style spread throughout Europe and beyond, influencing movements such as the American Federal style in architecture.


Romanticism Art
Caspar David Friedrich: Two Men Contemplating the Moon

Period: Post-Renaissance

Centuries: 18th and 19th centuries

Notable artists:  Eugene Delacroix, Caspar David Friedrich

Romanticism was an art style that emphasises emotion and individual expression. The art movement was spurred by a desire for liberty during times of political upheaval, such as the French Revolution. 

This art movement came about against the backdrop of the industrial revolution; artists were reacting to societal norms of the age of enlightenment, where the course of human history was changed by new scientific discoveries, rationalisation of nature and the modern sprawl of society.

Romantic artists depicted scenes of drama and passion, often including elements of nature or the supernatural. They also delved into personal emotions and expressions through self-portraits and depictions of the human psyche. Notable Romantic artists include Eugene Delacroix and Caspar David Friedrich who are known for their use of dramatic scenes, and emotive subject matter. Caspar David Friedrich painted ethereal looking scenes, of morning mist, ruins and mysterious figures in the landscape.

The Romantic movement was widespread throughout Europe and had a lasting impact on future art movements such as Symbolism and Expressionism. The themes in Romantic art are often the emphasis on sublimity in nature, individualism, emotion and the past.

The Romanticism art movement used medievalism as a source of inspiration, idealising fantasy, spontaneity and visceral reactions to the environment to revolt against the progressive rationalism at the time. The Romantic art style served almost as an escapism from the industrialised society.

Academic Art

Academic Art Style
Paul Delaroche: Portrait of Henrietta Sontag

Time period: Post-renaissance

Century: 16th to the 19th century

Notable artists:  Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, William-Adolphe Bouguereau

Academic art is an art style and method of teaching art developed in the 19th century. The Academies were official institutions where artists would learn the principles and techniques of fine arts, such as drawing from models and studying classical artworks. This movement was largely influenced by Renaissance art and the classical tradition, but also incorporated techniques from contemporary movements such as Neoclassicism.

Academic artists focused on creating realistic and technically proficient artwork, often depicting historical, mythological or religious scenes. These works were highly polished and precise, with clean lines and realistic representations of the human figure. Notable Academic artists include Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres and William-Adolphe Bouguereau.

The Academic art movement was highly influential in Europe and the United States, with many major art institutions teaching this method until the late 19th century when impressionism and other modern movements began to gain popularity. Despite its decline in mainstream art, the principles of academic art are still taught in many art schools and its influence can be seen in representational figurative art today.


Realism Art Movement
Gustave Courbet: The Wheat Sifters

Time period: Post-Renaissance

Century: 19th century

Notable artists: Gustave Courbet, Jean-Francois Millet

Realism was an art movement from the mid-19th century; artists sought to depict everyday life and contemporary society in a realistic manner, without idealisation or romanticisation. Realist artists focused on objective reality and the mundane, often drawing inspiration from the working class and rural subjects. Symbolism and supernatural themes were often omitted, in favour of depicting the “real” world as it was.

Famous Realist artists include Gustave Courbet and Jean-Francois Millet, who were known for their depictions of peasant life and natural landscapes. The Realist movement had a significant impact on future art movements such as Hyperrealism and Photorealism. 

Realism veered away from the stylised and exaggerated depictions of life in previous art movements, in favour of embracing the everyday world. The naturalism movement was closely related to the realism movement; artists aimed to represent nature as they saw it, without stylisation.


Claude Monet: Banks of the Seine at Jenfosse – Clear Weather

Time period: Modern

Century: 19th century

Notable artists: Monet, Edgar Degas, Renoir

The Impressionist movement was a popular art movement in France in the mid-19th century. The goal of the Impressionism art style is to capture nature, with a focus on the appearance of light and colour, as opposed to a focus on realism or rendering details.

Impressionism is one of the most well known art movements and it emerged in France in the late 19th century. Artists like Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir focused on capturing the fleeting impressions and effects of light in their paintings.

Painters would apply paint in thick, loose brushstrokes, using a technique called impasto painting to create texture on the canvas surface.

Monet would apply unmixed paint colours to the canvas to create a sense of diversity and movement on the surface. This leads to the viewer mixing colours optically rather than physically, as the eye blends them together.

Impressionist artists in France rejected the notion of exhibitions and academies controlled by the state, in favour of independent exhibitions. From this, more individual and painterly art styles flourished that exemplified the joy of using colour and of painting itself. This contrasted to the more restrictive and realistic representations of subject matter that the academies taught.


Van Gogh Irises
Vincent Van Gogh: Irises

Time period: Modern

Centuries: 19th century

Notable artists: Paul Cezanne, Edgar Degas, Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin

Post-Impressionism was closely related to the Impressionism art style and art movement, however, artists expanded upon its principles to create more expressive styles. Artists used individual creativity, techniques and style to represent their subject matter, as opposed to using techniques taught in academies to achieve realism. Post-Impressionist artists such as Paul Cezanne focused on creating a sense of structure and order in their work, while others like Vincent Van Gogh experimented with bold colours and expressive brushstrokes.

There are lots of overlaps between impressionism and post-impressionism, with the emphasis on the painterly nature of the artworks and the use of bright colours. However, Post-Impressionism focussed more on the structure and composition of the artwork alongside incorporating symbology, rather than using fleeting, transitory moments as references. Impressionism focussed on capturing moments with light and colour, whilst Post-Impressionists focussed on creating more expressive artworks.

Post-Impressionist artists also often drew inspiration from non-Western art, including African and Japanese art, as well as folk art. Post-Impressionism had a significant impact on later movements such as Fauvism, Cubism, and Expressionism.


Edvard Munch: White Night

Time period: Modern

Centuries: 20th century

Notable artists: Vincent van Gogh, Edvard Munch, Wassily Kandinsky

Expressionism was a modern movement that emphasised the artist’s inner emotions or response to the subject matter, rather than an accurate depiction. It often featured distorted or abstracted forms, bright colours, and exaggerated gestures.

Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh is well-known for his expressive brushstrokes and intense use of colour in works such as “The Starry Night.” Norwegian painter Edvard Munch’s painting “The Scream” is a famous example of Expressionist art, depicting a figure with an exaggerated facial expression and distorted figure. Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky is known for his abstract works, which emphasised spiritual and emotional expression.

Expressionism evolved from Post-Impressionist movements that focused on psychological and expressive elements in art, as well as influences from Symbolism, Romanticism and Fauvism.


Pointillism Art Movement
Georges Seurat: A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte

Time period: Modern

Century: 19th century

Notable artists: Georges Seurat, Paul Signac

Pointillism, also known as Divisionism, was a technique developed in the late 19th century by artists like Georges Seurat and Paul Signac. These artists used small dots or “points” of unmixed colour to create the impression of a wider range of hues and tones.

Pointillist artists placed great emphasis on scientific theories about vision and the perception of colour contrast. They believed that using dots of unmixed pigments would allow for greater luminosity and vibrant colour in their artworks.

The Pointillist movement also had connections with Neo-Impressionism and the Japanese art of Ukiyo-e woodblock printing. Pointillist artists often painted landscapes and scenes from modern life, creating a sense of harmony and order in their compositions through the use of geometric elements like lines and shapes.

Notable works include Seurat’s “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” and Signac’s “Signal at Grandcamp.” The technique was briefly popular but had declined by the early 20th century, with movements like Cubism becoming more influential. However, its impact can still be seen in art movements such as Abstract Expressionism.

Naïve Art

naive art
L. S. Lowry: Going to Work

Time period: Modern

Centuries: 19th century

Notable artists: Paul Gauguin, Frida Kahlo, L.S. Lowry

Naïve art, sometimes referred to as Primitivism or outsider art, is an art style defined by simplicity. Some artists who painted in this art style had a lack of formal training in art techniques. This led to artists producing unique styles and interpretations of subject matter.

Well known artists from this movement include French painter Henri Rousseau and Mexican artist Frida Kahlo.

French artist Paul Gauguin is well-known for his travels to Tahiti, where he painted scenes inspired by the culture and indigenous people. Mexican artist Frida Kahlo also drew upon the Pre-Columbian cultures of her home country in her work, often including elements of folk crafts and traditional dress in self portraits. Frida Kahlo is also recognised as being a part of many other art styles and art movements that were happening at the time, such as Symbolism, Naturalism, Social Realism and Magical Realism.

Naïve art was closely related to the trend of “primitivism” in modernist literature, as well as movements such as Symbolism and Surrealism, which shared an interest in dreamlike or non-Western imagery.

However, this movement has also been criticised for its appropriation and misrepresentation of non-Western cultures by Western artists.


George Inness: Sunset

Time period: Modern

Centuries: 19th century

Notable artists: George Inness, James McNeill Whistler

Tonalism was a style of painting developed in the late 19th century. It was characterised by an emphasis on subtle colour harmonies and soft atmospheric effects. It was often used to depict landscapes or scenes with a quiet, meditative mood.

American painter George Inness is considered the leading figure of Tonalism, often depicting scenes of nature with a hazy, dreamlike quality. American-born British painter James McNeill Whistler was also known for his tonalist works, such as his famous painting “Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket.”

Tonalism was related to the American “Hudson River School” movement, which focused on realistic depictions of nature, but Tonalist works were often more abstract and atmospheric. It also had connections to European movements such as Impressionism and Symbolism, with their emphasis on mood and atmosphere in art.


Gustav Klimt: Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I

Time period: Modern

Centuries: 19th century

Notable artists: Odilon Redon, Gustav Klimt

Symbolism was a late 19th century art movement that emphasised the use of symbols and suggested meanings in art, rather than literal representations. It often explored dreamlike or fantastical subject matter, and drew on influences from mysticism and Romanticism.

French artist Odilon Redon is known for his haunting charcoal drawings filled with surreal, dreamlike imagery. Austrian painter Gustav Klimt’s famous painting “The Kiss” also exemplifies Symbolist art, with its highly stylized, abstract figures and decorative elements.

Symbolism had a significant influence on later movements such as Surrealism, as well as on writers and poets such as W.B. Yeats and Rainer Maria Rilke.


Maurice de Vlaminck: Landscape

Time period: Modern

Centuries: 20th century

Notable artists: Henri Matisse, André Derain, Maurice de Vlaminck

Fauvism was a brief but influential art movement in the early 20th century. Artworks that can be classified into this art movement can be recognised by their bold colours and expressive brushwork. This art style embraces expressive freedom in the use of colour.

French artist Henri Matisse is considered the leading figure of Fauvism, with works such as “The Joy of Life” depicting figures and landscapes with vibrant blocks of colour. Other notable Fauvist artists include French painters André Derain and Maurice de Vlaminck, known for their bold use of colour in landscapes and figure paintings. There are lots of overlaps woth Fauvism, Post-Impressionism and Cubism.

Fauvism had a significant influence on later movements such as Expressionism, as well as on artists like Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, who incorporated Fauvist ideas into the development of Cubism.

Art Nouveau

art nouveau
Alphonse Mucha: Zodiac

Time period: Modern

Centuries: 19th-20th century

Notable artists: Alphonse Mucha, Gustav Klimt, Antoni Gaudí

Art Nouveau was an international modern movement that emerged in the late 19th century. This art style is distinguished by organic and flowing lines inspired by nature. It was often used in architecture, interior design, and decorative arts.

Czech artist Alphonse Mucha is well-known for his Art Nouveau posters and advertisements, featuring elegant figures with flowing hair and floral motifs. Austrian painter Gustav Klimt used the style in his paintings, incorporating gold leaf and abstract patterns inspired by organic forms. Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí used Art Nouveau in his unique and highly decorative buildings, such as the famous La Sagrada Família in Barcelona.

Abstract Expressionism

Time period: Modern

Centuries: 20th century

Notable artists: Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko

Abstract Expressionism was a post-World War II art movement in America, characterised by non-representational abstract paintings created with spontaneous and gestural brushwork.

American painter Jackson Pollock, known for his famous drip paintings, is considered the leading abstract artist from the Abstract Expressionism movement. Dutch-born American painter Willem de Kooning’s abstract works also exemplify the movement, with their bold and expressive lines and brushstrokes. American painter Mark Rothko is known for his large-scale, colour-blocked abstract paintings, often with a meditative mood.

Abstract Expressionism had a major impact on later movements, and continues to be influential today in contemporary art. It is also closely associated with the postwar New York School of artists, which included other prominent Abstract Expressionists such as Arshile Gorky.

Art Deco

Art Deco art style
Tamara de Lempicka: My Portrait (Self-Portrait in the Green Bugatti) © Tamara de Lempicka Estate LLC

Time period: Modern

Centuries: 20th century

Notable artists: Tamara de Lempicka, Erté, Louis Comfort Tiffany

Art Deco was a popular design movement of the 1920s and 30s, with bold geometric shapes and luxurious materials.

Polish-born artist Tamara de Lempicka became well-known for her Art Deco portraits of glamorous figures, often rendered with sleek lines and metallic colours. French designer and illustrator Erté is famous for his elegant fashion designs in the Art Deco style. American artist Louis Comfort Tiffany was known for his stained glass lamps and windows in the Art Deco style, incorporating geometric shapes and rich colours.

Art Deco inspired visual artists, architects, and industrial designers. The Empire State Building in New York City and the Chrysler Building in Detroit are both famous examples of Art Deco buildings.


Andre Derain: Landscape

Time period: Modern

Centuries: 20th century

Notable artists: Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Juan Gris

Cubism was a revolutionary art movement developed in the early 20th century, defined by its abstract, fragmented style that rejected traditional notions of perspective and representation. 

The movement was pioneered by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso and French artist Georges Braque, who were later joined by artists such as Juan Gris in exploring Cubism’s distinct visual language.

Cubist works often depicted multiple viewpoints or facets of a subject at once, deconstructing traditional forms into geometric shapes. The movement also drew upon influences from African and Iberian sculpture, as well as the later developments of Analytical Cubism and Synthetic Cubism.


Umberto Boccioni: The Street Enters the House

Time period: Modern

Centuries: 20th century

Notable artists: Umberto Boccioni, Fortunato Depero, Luigi Russolo

Emphasising the speed, technology, and violence of modern times, Futurism was a short-lived but influential modern art movement that surfaced in Italy in the early 20th century,

Italian artist Umberto Boccioni was a leading figure in the movement, developing the concept of “dynamic form” to depict motion and change in his paintings and sculptures. Italian artist Fortunato Depero made a name for himself with his Futurist book covers and advertising designs. Composer Luigi Russolo also played a significant role in the movement, creating experimental musical instruments to evoke the sounds of modern life in his compositions.

Futurism had a major impact on other modern art movements, including Vorticism and Constructivism, as well as influencing Futurist architecture and literature. However, the movement’s glorification of war and technology would eventually lead to its decline, particularly after the devastation of World War I.


Piet Mondrian: New York City I

Time period: Modern

Centuries: 20th century

Notable artists: Marcel Duchamp, Joan Miró, Piet Mondrian

Modernism was a broad movement that encompasses many other movements and art styles within it. It took place in the early 20th century, rejecting traditional forms and structures in favour of experimentation and abstraction.

French artist Marcel Duchamp became notorious for his conceptually-based works, such as his infamous “Fountain” sculpture. Spanish artist Joan Miró combined abstract forms with Surrealist elements in his paintings and sculptures. Dutch artist Piet Mondrian explored geometric abstraction in his famous grid-like “Broadway Boogie Woogie” painting.

Modernism paved the way for various artistic movements, including Dadaism, Surrealism, and Abstract Expressionism.

Magical Realism

Magical Realism Art Style
Remedios Varo: Eyes on the table

Time period: Modern

Centuries: 20th century

Notable artists: Frida Kahlo, Remedios Varo, Leonora Carrington

Magical Realism is a style of art and literature that blends realistic depictions with elements of the fantastic or mythical. Mexican artist Frida Kahlo was a major figure in the movement, incorporating mythological elements and dreamlike imagery into her self-portraits. Mexican artist Remedios Varo also explored fantastical elements in her Surrealist paintings. British-born, Mexico-based artist Leonora Carrington often depicted magical creatures and surreal situations in her works.

The origins of Magical Realism can be traced back to the 1920s, with influences from Surrealism and German Expressionism. The movement gained wider recognition in the late 20th century, with contemporary artists adopting its techniques and themes as well.


M.C. Escher: Twon Tree

Time period: Modern

Centuries: 20th century

Notable artists: Salvador Dalí, René Magritte, Frida Kahlo

Surrealism was a cultural movement that emerged in the 1920s, emphasising the power of the unconscious mind and rejecting rational thinking.

Spanish artist Salvador Dalí became renowned for his dreamlike and bizarre paintings, such as “The Persistence of Memory.” Belgian artist René Magritte also gained fame for his thought-provoking surrealist works, including his painting “The Treachery of Images,” which featured a pipe with the caption “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (This is not a pipe). Mexican artist Frida Kahlo also incorporated surreal elements into her self-portraits.


Bauhaus art movement
Paul Klee: Separation in the Evening

Time period: Modern

Centuries: 20th century

Notable artists: Walter Gropius, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee

The Bauhaus was a German art school that combined crafts and the fine arts, with a focus on functional design. Founded by architect Walter Gropius in 1919, it became one of the most influential movements of its time.

Notable artists associated with the Bauhaus include Russian-born painter Wassily Kandinsky, known for his abstract works, and Swiss painter Paul Klee, known for his playful and inventive use of colour and shape. The school’s emphasis on minimalist design had a major impact on architecture and graphic design, and can still be seen in contemporary aesthetics. The Bauhaus was shut down by the Nazi government in 1933, with many of its teachers and students scattering across Europe and the United States.

Social Realism

Jacob Lawrence: The Library

Time period: Modern

Centuries: 20th century

Notable artists: Diego Rivera, Grant Wood, Jacob Lawrence

Social Realism is a style of art that depicts the everyday realities and social issues of a particular time and place.

Mexican artist Diego Rivera is well-known for his politically charged murals depicting Mexican history and labour movements, while American artists Grant Wood and Jacob Lawrence also explored Social Realist themes in their work, often addressing issues affecting working class communities and African Americans.

Social Realism emerged as a response to the Great Depression and social tensions of the 20th century, with its depictions serving as a means to shed light on pressing political and social issues. 

Classical Realism

Classical Realism Art Movement
D. Jeffrey Mims: Jessica

Time period: Modern

Century: 20th century

Notable artists: D. Jeffrey Mims, Abbey Ryan

Classical Realism is a modern art movement that draws upon the techniques and principles of classical Greek and Roman art.

Influenced by the works of old masters such as Paul Rubens, Jacques-Louis David and Thomas Eakins, Classical Realists strive to depict the human figure realistically through careful observation and skillful draughtsmanship. The movement also emphasises the use of traditional materials and techniques in creating artworks, as well as a focus on themes of heroism and virtue.

Notable Classical Realist artists include D. Jeffrey Mims and Abbey Ryan, who often portray the human figure in both historical and contemporary settings. The movement has influenced a range of modern realist painters, as well as figurative sculptors such as Carole A. Feuerman.


Time period: Modern

Century: 20th century

Notable artists: Donald Judd, Carl Andre, Dan Flavin

Minimalism was an art movement that came about in the 1960s; it moved away from Abstract Expressionism and other forms of exaggerated artistic expression. Minimalist artists sought to strip away nonessential elements, instead showcasing simplicity and repetition. 

Famous Minimalist artists include Donald Judd, whose sculptures consist of simple geometric forms, Carl Andre, known for his arrangement of industrial materials on the floor as sculpture, and Dan Flavin, who used fluorescent light fixtures to create minimal installations. Minimalism continues to inspire various forms of contemporary art, notably in its emphasis on reductive forms and materials.

Pop Art

pop art Art style
Roy Lichtenstein: Crying Girl

Time period: Modern

Century: 20th century

Notable artists: Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Jasper Johns

Pop Art emerged in the mid-20th century, artists began incorporating imagery from popular and commercial culture into artworks.

American artists Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein gained fame for their bold, colourful depictions of mass-produced products and advertisements, while Jasper Johns incorporated iconic American symbols into his paintings and sculptures. Pop Art reflected the growing influence of mass media and consumer culture in postwar society, often with a sense of irony or critique.

The movement had a major impact on later forms of contemporary art, such as Neo-Pop and Street Art, and continues to influence popular culture through its appropriation of everyday imagery.

Pop artists started using acrylic paints to create their paintings. Due to the fast drying nature and high pigment load of acrylic paints, this enabled Pop Artists to create paintings with vivid, block colours, hard edges and distinct lines.

Contemporary Art

Time period: Modern

Century: 20th-21st century

Notable artists: Ai Weiwei, Kara Walker, Yayoi Kusama

Contemporary art encompasses a wide range of artistic styles and movements that have emerged since the 1960s.

Influenced by rapidly changing technologies and global events, Contemporary artists often incorporate a range of materials and media in their works, challenging traditional notions of what it means to be an artist. Themes explored in Contemporary art include identity, consumer culture, politics, and the environment.

Notable Contemporary artists include Chinese activist Ai Weiwei, American artist Kara Walker known for her explorations of race and gender, and Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama known for her immersive installations and use of repetition. While Contemporary art is diverse in its styles and approaches, it continues to push the boundaries of artistic expression and engage with contemporary issues.

Photo Realism

Richard Estes: Brooklyn Bridge

Time period: Modern

Century: 20th-21st century

Notable artists: Richard Estes, Robert Bechtle, Audrey Flack

Using techniques such as airbrushing and precise draughtsmanship, Photorealist painters create hyper-realistic representations of everyday scenes and objects. The movement has roots in Realism and Classical Realism, as well as the technical innovations of photography and printing technology. As artists use photos as references, often emulating photographic techniques such as shallow focus, this genre emerged in the late 1960s, when film cameras produced more sophisticated images and had therefore become widespread.

Richard Estes is known for his paintings of urban landscapes, Robert Bechtle portrays American suburban scenes, and Audrey Flack paints still life compositions of consumer products. The genre continues to intrigue viewers with its uncanny depictions of reality.

Light and Space

Time period: Modern

Century: 20th-21st century

Notable artists: James Turrell, Robert Irwin, Larry Bell

The Light and Space movement started in California in the 1960s, with artists exploring the sensory and perceptual effects of light, space, and materials.

Using materials such as glass, resin, and mirrors, Light and Space artists create immersive installations and sculptures that play with the viewer’s perception of space and the environment. Notable artists include James Turrell, known for his light installations in modified spaces such as observatories, Robert Irwin, who often incorporates natural elements into his work, and Larry Bell, who uses reflective materials to create illusions of space and depth. The Light and Space movement continues to influence contemporary installation art, with its focus on perceptual experience.

Street Art

Time period: Modern

Century: 20th-21st century

Notable artists: Banksy, Keith Haring, Shepard Fairey

Street Art took off in the late 20th century, created on and around urban structures such as walls, buildings, and streets. Often using nontraditional materials such as spray paint and stencils, Street Artists create works that engage with political and social issues, often with an element of rebellion against the establishment. The art style of street art is characterised by bold colours and simple renderings of figures and shapes.

Banksy is one of the most famous street artists, known for his thought-provoking and often controversial works addressing issues such as consumerism and war. Other noteworthy artists include Keith Haring, whose vibrant graffiti-inspired figures address HIV/AIDS, and Shepard Fairey, who is known for his signature “Andre the Giant Has a Posse” street posters and Barack Obama “Hope” campaign poster. Street Art continues to thrive as a means of artistic expression and activism in cities around the world.

Digital Art

Time period: Modern

Century: 20th-21st century

Notable artists: Mike Winkelmann, Alberto Seveso, Erik Johansson

Digital art refers to artwork created through digital technology, including computer graphics, digital manipulation of images, and 3D animation.

The genre came about in the late 20th century with the development of computer technology and has continued to evolve as new technologies emerge.

What is an art style

An art style describes a grouping of artworks based on their aesthetic appearance. The artworks may share similar techniques, themes or subject matter, or have been created during a specific time period. Artists within art movements that exhibit particular styles may have been influenced by one another, or learnt at the same academies.

As art evolves over time, new styles and movements emerge while others fade in popularity. Some styles may also overlap, as artists borrow and combine elements from different movements to create their own unique style.

Western and Eastern Art Styles

Historically, Eastern art movements have been categorised by dynastic or political eras and markers, whereas Western art movements are categorised by aesthetic criteria and cultural changes in society.

Examples of Eastern art styles include Chinese Brush Painting, Sumi-e (Japanese Ink Painting), Ukiyo-e woodblock prints and Mughal miniature paintings. Western art styles include Renaissance, Baroque, Art Deco and Pop Art.

Contemporary art styles are often influenced by globalisation and the rise of technology, with movements such as Digital Art and Street Art becoming increasingly popular.

While art styles provide a framework for understanding and categorising artworks, they should not be seen as rigid limitations on artistic expression. Many artists choose to work outside of particular styles, creating their own unique visual language. Ultimately, the important thing is to appreciate art for its ability to provoke emotion and inspire creativity.

Art style vs art movement

Art movement denotes a period of time where cultural or political changes inspired changes in the  artistic community, resulting in a collective style or shared way of creating art. An art style is the visual appearance of an artwork that may have been influenced by an art movement, but can also be developed independently by the artist. For example, artists have painted with a realistic art style throughout history, but the purpose of the realistic art movement in the 19th century was to represent the lives of common people, rather than the idealised lives of religious figures, aristocrats or social elites. The realism movement centred around the way in which subjects were presented, rather than ultra realistic appearances. However, we’ve covered both movements and styles in this guide, because they are interlinked in the way they are described, their influences and their classifications.

For a look at the 12 most famous paintings in art history, check out our complete guide!

Developing your own art style

As an artist, it is important to experiment with different techniques and subject matter. By doing this, you will find your own unique art style. This process can take time, as you develop and refine your skills through practice and experience.

Look at the work of other artists for inspiration, but don’t try to imitate their style. Instead, use it as a starting point to find your own voice and vision. As you continue to create art, pay attention to any recurring elements or themes in your work. Use those as building blocks for developing your personal style.

Remember that there is no right or wrong way to approach art. The most important thing is to stay true to yourself and enjoy the process.