THE ISMS OF ART – A Brief History

Works of art can bring a lot of things to a space: depth, history, colour, texture, personality, interest and focal points. The list goes on. But the style of that artwork can create a very different look and feel in a room. Every period in history gives birth to a new style of art that is reflective of the culture at that time. From Impressionism to contemporary art, each style has its own meaning and characteristics that helps us understand more about the era from which it was born.

Impressionist art captures an image or scene as if someone just caught a glimpse of it. The style developed in France during the late 19th century, when a group of artists attempted to accurately recreate the transient effects of light and colour. Impressionist artworks emphasised the artist’s perception of the subject matter as much as the subject itself.




Post Impressionism
Painters such as Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec abandoned Impressionism to each form their own highly personal art. They rejected the objective recording of nature in favour of a more ambitious expression, yet retained the pure and brilliant colours, short brushstrokes and freedom of subject matter.




Portrait on Slumped Glass - Glass XpressionsSymbolism
Symbolism flourished in the decades around the turn of the 20th century and showed a preference for exploring feeling, rather than giving a literal representation. Artists created more suggestive and evocative works to convey their ideas and emotions, with a fascination for the mystical, visionary, erotic and debaucherous.







The Cubist art movement began in Paris in the early 1900s and was conceived as a new way of representing the world; one that attempted to show objects as the mind, not the eye, perceives them. Cubist artists rejected the single viewpoint in favour of fragmenting and rearranging three-dimensional subjects into abstract form, in order to offer different viewpoints simultaneously.




Expressionist artists attempted to depict their subjective emotions and responses to objects and events rather than objective reality. The movement first surfaced in literature in the early 20th century, when distortion and exaggeration were used for emotional effect. This translated into art with intense colour, agitated brushstrokes and disjointed space.







Kazimir Malevich founded the Russian art movement Suprematism in the 1910s. It was revolutionary, non-objective art that rejected the representational world. Malevich used flat geometric shapes and a limited palette of pure colours.








Like so many of the styles that went before it, Surrealism was a literary and art movement. Artists expressed their imagination free of reason and convention. Surrealism was shaped by emerging theories on the subconscious and perceptions of reality, with some of the major artists being Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, René Magritte and Joan Miró.







Abstract Expressionism
Abstract Expressionism emerged in the 1940s and ’50s in New York City, with key figures such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning leading the charge.

Abstract Expressionist paintings are often on massive canvases, with sprawling and spontaneous brushstrokes, paint splatters and textures that embrace the idea of chance. This freedom of individual expression is intended to convey powerful emotions by glorifying the act of painting itself.