3 minute read. Written by Yamini Bharadwaj, grade 9 student.
Throughout history there have been innumerable movements and developments in art. How else would we have reached from Pre-Historic Art to Contemporary Art, from Rembrandt (a Mannerist) to Picasso (a Cubist)? Type ‘art’ into the google search bar and you will find it saturated with diverse compositions with seemingly nothing in common. Such is the case because of the various art movements through time and space, which are discussed briefly in this article.
The Periods and Movements
You remember those cave paintings and rock carvings in the first chapter of almost every encyclopaedia? Well, from 40,000 BC till 4,000 BC these paintings were prevalent since language did not exist then. Natural pigments such as manganese oxide and hematite were often used. These paintings usually portrayed animals, cavemen, and their activities.
From 4,000 BC till 400 AD Ancient Artwork was prevalent. Ancient art refers to the art common in advanced civilisations like Egypt, Mesopotamia, Babylon etc. Natural pigments such as Cinnabar (Vermillion), Egyptian Blue, Saffron, Han Purple, Cochineal Red, Hematite, Maya Blue etc. What the paintings portrayed differed from civilisation to civilisation. For instance, ancient Greek and Egyptian paintings portrayed gods while Mesopotamian paintings portrayed animals
Medieval art was common during the Middle Ages or Dark Ages (i.e. 500-1400 AD) It was a period after the fall of the Roman Empire which is why most of the visuals were dark, dreary and brutal. Medieval art served a primary religious function, thus Christian art was dominant. Since oil paints were not available during the time, artist used egg tempera, paint in which egg yolk served as a binder to the pigment. Egg tempera wasn’t a very forgiving or slow-drying material which is why the artist had to work swiftly.
From the 1400s till the 1600s occurred the most renowned reformation known to us. During this period, art was decorative and focused mainly on the subject matter. Ideas present in the Medieval period like those of man being self-reliant and independent were developed during this time. Although the media of fresco and egg tempera were still used, it was now that oil paints became predominant. A popular Renaissance painting you may know is the Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli.
The mannerism period occurred during the late Renaissance when painters such as Michelangelo and Raphael emerged with their focus on technique and style. Compositions in this period were more stylised and complex.
Now we reach a period marked by the paintings of Rembrandt and Caravaggio. The Baroque period was one followed by Mannerism and characterised by dramatic and ostentatious visuals of grandeur and richness. Painters used a wide array of colours and sharp contrast between lights.
In the eighteenth-century emerged Rococo art and architecture in France. It was characterised by decorative and soft art. The charm of this period lies in its lightness, elegance, and tranquil colour scheme. A popular Rococo painting you may know is The Swing by Jean Honore Fragonard.
The period of Neoclassism began in 1750 and lasted a century. It was a period inspired by and idealised the archaeological ruins of Greek civilisations. Thus, in the artwork of this period, classical proportions and harmony are common. Jacque-Louis David was a prolific painter of this time, who painted The Death of Socrates, Napoleon Crossing the Alps etc.
Realism began in France in the 1840s with the intentions to capture the day to day real lives of people – something its predecessor, Romanticism was unable to do. For instance, take the painting A Burial at Ornans by Gustave Courbet which shows a mundane funeral, unlike the grand events Romanticism captured.
In the late 19th century, Impressionism was on the rise. Painter endeavoured to capture the ‘impression’ of the moment using quick brushstrokes and a loose feel. There is a tranquil mood in impressionist artists. A popular painter during this time was Claude Monet.
Post-impressionism emerged in 1885. Impressionists concentrated on subjective visions, perceptions and symbols. Although there is striking variety in the Post-Impressionist paintings, they are all characterised by abstract forms. For instance, Georges Seurat, a pointillist artist and Vincent Van Gogh are both Post-Impressionists.
Fauvism was an art movement that developed the ideas of Georges Seurat and Van Gogh. Intense and vivid colour and brushwork was employed. Henri Matisse was a remarkable Fauvist who served as a predecessor and inspiration to expressionists and cubists
As the name suggests, expressionist artwork sought to express the feelings of the artist using lurid colours to express raw emotions. It came about as a response to the loss of spirituality and a search for originality. A popular expressionist was a Norwegian artist, Edward Much, who painted the renowned painting, The Scream.
Whether you like art or not, you know Picasso – either for his questionable ways or his contribution to art. Cubists dismissed the belief that art must be a mirror to nature. Cubism uses multiple perspectives to show the same thing. Predominant colours used were grey, brown, and green although several cubists strayed from this model.
Surrealism was an art movement that emerged in 1916. This was an art movement with no roots in rationality. Surrealists were inspired by psychoanalysts like Karl Maxx and Sigmund Freud and drew from the subconscious mind for their compositions. The renowned artist Salvador Dali was a surrealist.
Let’s skip slightly further to the 1950s and 60s. Pop art was a striking art style of the 20th century. It is characterised by bright colour, irony and satire, and recognisable imagery. It was a reaction against traditional ways and art beliefs.
Contemporary art – as the name suggests – is a period of art from the 1970s till present day. Various other school have marked this period such as post-modernism, feminist art, neo-expressionism, street art, digital art etc.
These seventeen periods and movements in art are barely the tip of the iceberg but do their duty of illustrating how radically art has progressed through the years.
By Yamini Bharadwaj
Yamini is an artist and a writer. She loves to paint in her free time