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The Difference Between Art Styles, Schools and Movements

Understanding the Artspeak


You will come across the terms style, school, and movement endlessly in art. But just what is the difference between them? It often seems that each art writer or historian has a different definition, or that the terms can be used interchangeably, though there are, in fact, subtle differences in their usage.

Style is a fairly encompassing term which can refer to several aspects of art. Style can mean the technique(s) used to create the artwork. Pointillism, for example, is a method of creating a painting by using small dots of color and allowing color blending to occur within the viewer's eye. Style can refer to the basic philosophy behind the artwork, for example the 'art for the people' philosophy behind Arts and Crafts movement. Style can also refer to the form of expression employed by the artist or the characteristic appearance of artworks. Metaphysical Painting, for example, tends to be of classical architecture in distorted perspective, with incongruous objects placed around the image space, and an absence of people.

A school is a group of artists who follow the same style, share the same teachers, or have the same aims. They are typically linked to a single location. For example:

During the sixteenth century the Venetian school of painting could be differentiated from other schools in Europe (such as the Florentine school). Venetian painting developed from the school of Padua (with artists such as Mantegna) and the introduction of oil-painting techniques from the Netherlands school (van Eycks). The work of Venetian artists such as the Bellini family, Giorgione, and Titian is characterized by a painterly approach (form is dictated by variations in color rather than the use of line) and the richness of the colors used. In comparison the Florentine school (which includes such artists as Fra Angelico, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael) was characterized by a strong preoccupation with line and draughtsmanship.

Schools of art from the middle-ages until the eighteenth century are typically named for the region or city around which they are based. The apprentice system, through which new artists learned the trade ensured that styles of art were continued from master to apprentice.

The Nabis was formed by a small group of like-minded artists, including Paul Sérusier and Pierre Bonnard, who exhibited their works together between 1891 and 1900. (Nabi is the Hebrew word for prophet.) Much like the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in England some forty years earlier, the group initially kept their existence secret. The group met regularly to discuss their philosophy for art, concentrating on a few key areas – the social implication of their work, the need for synthesis in art which would allow 'art for the people', the significance of science (optics, color, and new pigments), and the possibilities created through mysticism and symbolism. Following the publication of their manifesto written by the theorist Maurice Denis (a manifesto became a key step in the development of movements and schools in the early 20th century), and their first exhibition in 1891, additional artists joined the group – most significantly Édouard Vuillard. Their last combined exhibition was in 1899, after which the school began dissolve.

A group of artists who have a share a common style, theme, or ideology towards their art. Unlike a school, these artists need not be in the same location, or even in communication with each other. Pop Art, for example, is a movement which includes the work of David Hockney and Richard Hamilton in the UK, and also Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, and Jim Dine in the US.

Read more of this feature:Part 2. Telling the difference and how they're named

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