Art Movements Reference Guide


This post acts as brief reference guide to some of the major art movements, helping you to find out more about the development and history of art.

Photo by krazedkat

Photo by krazedkat

Contemporary Art

Created and produced by modern artists, contemporary art often revolves around today’s society and may showcase a technologically advanced, multifaceted and diverse global environment. It’s different from modern art in a sense that it is art from the ‘60s or ‘70s up to today, rather than from the Impressionists era up to ‘60s or ‘70s.

Pop Art Key Dates: 1950-1960

Prominent in America, Pop Art also known as Popular Art was fascinated with  popular culture reflecting the affluence in post-war society. Advertising, comic strips, canned goods, popular entertainment, and science fiction provide the stimulus for creativity, which artists then present in a manner that challenges perception and long-held acceptance about objects in the world of pop culture.

Some of the key artists: Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns , Robert Rauschenberg, Jeff Koons, Claes Oldenburg

Abstract Expressionism Key Dates: 1940-1960

This is the first movement in painting that has the American stamp all over it. Gaining ground after the World War II, Abstract Expressionism established roots in New York and later achieved international influence. It was also referred to as action painting, and artists moved from the conventional to the unconventional, using house paint and opting for large-scale canvas that skips the easel altogether. 

Some of the key artists: Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning

Cubism Key Dates: 1908-1914

Cubism marked the movement away from representational art and into the French movement of the early 20th century. It was pioneered by artists Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, following their meeting in Paris in 1907. It uses geometric shapes to represent what the artists are trying to convey with their masterpiece. Figures, landscapes, and traditional subjects are created using cubes and other geometrical components.

Some of the key artists: Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque

Art Deco Key Dates: 1920-1930

This is a visual art style that was developed in France just before World War I as a reaction against the Art Nouveau style. It is also known as style moderne, and is represented by glamour, exuberance, and technology. It is characterized by zigzag forms and the use of plastic and chrome ornaments. It is used in design and architecture, the most prominent example of which is the Chrysler Building in New York.

Some of the key artists: Tamara de Lempicka, Rene Lalique

Art Nouveau  Key Dates: 1800 -1920

This is a style in graphic arts, architecture, and interior design in the 1890s that is characterized by asymmetrical forms and curving lines. It was developed as a means to break away from the historical styles that have dominated the art scene for centuries. It was most popular between the 19th and early 20th centuries and is most prominently seen in decorative, architecture and graphic arts than painting and sculpture.

Some of the key artists: Gustav Klimt, Antonio Gaudí, Charles Rennie Mackintosh 

Post Impressionism Key Dates: 1880-1920

This predominantly French art movement was developed from the last Impressionist exhibition to the birth of Fauvism, which is roughly between 1886 and 1905. Unlike other art styles, Post Impressionism encompasses different artistic styles, but are concentrated on the artist’s subjective vision. Its aesthetic vision is dominated by order, structure, and a color’s optical effects.

Some of the key artists: Paul Cézanne, Georges Seurat, Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh

Impressionism Key Dates: 1867-1886

A late 19th-century art movement in France, it is characterized by visible brush strokes that are relatively small and thin, but with open composition and depict the changing qualities of light with amazing accuracy. Light and color are of primary importance, which will result in a totally different picture when any of these two elements are changed. It is a visual impression caught under a certain light or at a certain time of day.

Some of the key artists: Edouard Manet, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas,

Minimal Art Key Dates: 1962- Onwards

Minimal Art started in New York in 1960s and early 1970s. and was seen as a reaction to abstract expressionism. It was of great significance for the development of conceptual art and land art. With minimalism, art is reduced by eliminating all non-essential forms, features or concepts. Thus, the minimalism is characterized mainly by diagrammatic clarity, objectivity and logic. Its simplicity characterizes the direct power of its art.

Some of the key artists: Frank Stella, Kenneth Noland, Al Held, Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Ryman, 

Surrealism Key Dates: 1920-1930

This early 1920s cultural movement aims to explore the dream world and the subconscious and put it into visual artworks and writings. It is characterized as fantastic, weird or a distorted reality. Familiar objects may be used, but they are painted in such a way that they appear mysterious, different and strange. The idea behind Surrealism is to challenge the way people feel about things. 

Some of the key artists: Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, René Magritte