Throughout history, different artistic trends have developed which, due to their characteristics and representatives, have had a great influence on art. Each of these trends emerged in a different period and has very particular characteristics. If you want to know more about the main artistic currents that exist, in this article you will find the information you need.
Talking about artistic movements can be complicated, especially because to know them we must analyze a very broad historical period. However, we will try to synthesize the most important information and briefly study some of the main artistic trends.
would you like to know more about the artistic styles and trends that have marked history? would you like to know what makes an artistic trend transcend in time?
If you are a person who works in the creative area, it is very important that you know the different artistic movements in the history of art, since they can serve as inspiration for any type of work you want to do: a painting, an advertisement, the design of a house, etc.
Each artistic movement shares certain technical, ideological and structural characteristics, so it can be easy to identify and distribute the artists into categories. Likewise, in each of these artistic movements there have been people who, because of their works of art, continue to be recognized no matter how distant they are in time.
start taking notes and learn more about the artistic currents and the main stages in the history of art!
The beginnings of artistic trends: Paleolithic and Neolithic art
Talking about art and the main artistic currents requires thinking about the beginnings of humanity and its socialization, considering that art is a way of communicating and recording a present to transcend it or, in other words, a way of generating a message for others. In fact, writing comes from the evolution of artistic representations that evolved into symbols, making arts and letters part of the same family.
Source: 3 minutes of art
All the peoples of the world have generated art, and contributed to different artistic trends that we know today. Such has been the case of the well known Cave Paintings, which were made by different cultures on cave and rock walls, tens of thousands of years ago, in all continents.
A magnificent example is in the Chauvet Cave, in Ardèche (France), considered the first masterpiece in the world. It is 36,000 years old, its extension is more than 250 meters, with more than 1,000 drawings and engravings captured inside rooms up to 17 meters high. These are quite detailed figures of animals such as panthers, bison, mammoths, lions, etc.
The Chauvet Cave was discovered in 1984 and is one of the most important examples of Paleolithic art. The representations found in this cave are divided into two groups: one containing red drawings and the other with black sketches made with charcoal or engravings.
Source: National Geographic
Curiously, these currents of Paleolithic and Neolithic art shared, beyond their geographic location, some common characteristics, such as the use of charcoal, dregs, clay, clay and charcoal.these were the use of vegetable carbon, feces, clay, manganese oxide, and other minerals, the predominance of red, black, brown and yellow colors, as well as the representation of wild fauna at the beginning, and of human figures later on.
Main artistic currents of the Middle Ages
According to National Geographic, it is estimated that the beginning of the Middle Ages took place in 476 with the fall of the Western Roman Empire, and ended in 1453 with the fall of the Byzantine Empire. Throughout this period there were many political changes, technological advances (such as the printing press) and numerous artistic trends.
Among the main artistic trends of the Middle Ages, we can highlight the Romanesque and Gothic.
This artistic trend is closely linked to Christianity, since the church sought to transmit the principles of religion through art, mainly because most of its followers were illiterate. In different churches or monasteries of that time, the influence of Romanesque art can be noticed.
Some of the characteristics of Romanesque art are the paintings with monochromatic backgrounds, the use of the fresco technique and the importance of the representation of biblical themes. Likewise, in the composition of its figures there was a certain anatomical disproportion and the color ochre and terracotta predominated.
In Romanesque art, architecture also achieved great recognition. They incorporated vaulted roofs in the temples, as well as the semicircular arch. In this artistic current, churches with paintings and reliefs with religious motifs on their wallsstand out. Some representatives of Romanesque art are Andrija Buvina and Master Biduino.
biduino’s “Portal”, church of San Leonardo al Frigido in the city of Tuscany
Source: Met Museum
Gothic art is an artistic movement that emerged in France and spread throughout Europe. In architecture, it contributed the use of the pointed arch in different buildings. In sculpture, stone was the most used material. Likewise, we can mention that this artistic current is easily recognized by the use of naturalistic motifs.
Other characteristics of Gothic art can be seen reflected in painting, which acquired a more somber tone. On the other hand, stained glass painting began to displace mural painting. Among the representatives of Gothic art are Giotto, Donatello, Duccio and Jan Van Eyck.
“Virgin and Child” by Donatello
Source: Met Museum
Main artistic currents of the modern age
According to the Historiando portal, the modern age took place between the 15th and 18th centuries. It began with the invasion of Constantinople by the Turkish Empire and ended with the French Revolution. The main artistic currents of this time were the Renaissance and the Baroque, the former being a movement that completely changed the way in which reality was interpreted at that time, so that artistic movements moved away from a religious vision and focused their interest on the human being.
Next, we will mention the characteristics of the main artistic currents of the modern age.
This could be considered one of the main artistic currents in the history of mankind due to its great ideological and cultural influence on different philosophers, artists and intellectuals of the time.
One of the main characteristics of Renaissance art is its interest in capturing the human figure as realistically as possible. Greater attention was paid to proportions and the detail of facial expressions.
In addition to religious themes, the Renaissance also depicted mythological scenes, portraits and nudes. The most commonly used technique was oil painting and its color palette had blue, black, white and earthy tones. Among the best known representatives of Renaissance art are Leonardo Da Vinci, Raphael and Michelangelo.
“David” by Michelangelo
Source: My Modern Met
Mannerism is an artistic current that functions as a transition between the styles defined during the Renaissance and the artistic trends developed with the Baroque. The representatives of this artistic movement sought to differentiate themselves from the great masters by creating works nourished by a deep sense of ambiguity and unbalanced composition.
In other words, artists stopped worrying about the symmetry and proportions of what they painted or sculpted. The idea was to expand the possibilities and take art to new limits. Likewise, it is one of the artistic currents in which subjectivity and the artist’s own tastes begin to take more importance for the development of the works.
Mannerism is located by art historians between the last decades of the sixteenth century, and developed mainly in Italy as a reaction against the classicist ideals of beauty of the Renaissance.
Ricardo Celma, professor of the course Painting and Drawing of the Great Masters, explains what are the characteristics and foundations of this artistic current:
“There begin to be problems of thinking about what the universe is like. We are going to have Giordano Bruno, figures like Galileo and Copernicus are going to appear, who are going to destabilize that calm universe [of the Renaissance]. We call this destabilization Mannerism, which is where in painting we can see that diagonals begin to emerge, and each painter begins to do things in his own way, no longer following classical canons or even real canons”.
The most prominent figures of this artistic current are Parmigianino and Guido Reni, whose works highlight some of the elements mentioned above.
guido Reni’s “Hippomenes and Atalanta”
Baroque art emerged after the Renaissance art movement and while they bear certain similarities, the Baroque leaned more towards extravagance and exaggeration. This period also marked a return to religious themes, moving away completely from the nude and polemical portraits that were popularized in the Renaissance.
Among other characteristics of Baroque art is the mastery of the technique of chiaroscuro, which consists of the contrast produced between the play of light and shadow. This allowed them to portray intense and highly expressive scenes. Among the representatives of Baroque art are Caravaggio, Johannes Vermeer, Rembrandt and Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
“A maid asleep” by Johannes Vermeer
Source: Met Museum
Main contemporary artistic currents
The contemporary age begins at the end of the 18th century and continues to the present day. It was a time in which there were many revolutions, such as the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution; and also several conflicts such as the First and Second World Wars. Finally, with the advance of technology we reached the globalized world we have today. Among the main artistic currents of this era, we can distinguish the following.
It was one of the main artistic currents of the 19th century. Impressionism broke with the tradition of painting behind closed doors, since the Impressionists began to paint outdoors, portraying diverse landscapes that allowed them to play with light and textures.
Another characteristic of impressionist art is that they applied well marked brushstrokes. They decided not to blur the colors and keep them as they are, obtaining paintings with vibrant colors and scenarios with a lot of movement.
Among the different representatives of impressionist art we can highlight Claude Monet, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Frédéric Bazille and Edgar Degas.
“Water Lilies” by Claude Monet
Source: My Modern Met
It is one of the main artistic currents of the 19th century. Post Impressionist art maintained the use of the strong brushstrokes and vivid colors of Impressionism, and was also interested in portraying landscapes and scenes of everyday life. One of the characteristics of impressionist art is that the painters of this period sought to capture in their paintings the subjective way in which they saw the world. The result: a collection of art pieces that broke reality.
Being one of the main artistic currents of the 19th century, impressionism allowed the appearance of other painting techniques such as pointillism, symbolism, abstractionism, etc. Among the representatives of post-impressionist art we find Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Ferdinand Hodler.
“The Starry Night” by Vincent Van Gogh
Source: My Modern Met
The novel use of geometric shapes in artistic compositions made Cubism one of the main artistic currents of the 20th century. This period moved away completely from the use of perspective and presented flat, distorted figures. They also used a limited color palette, which considerably reduced the effect of shadows in the painting.
As representatives of Cubism we can find Pablo Picasso, Juan Gris and Georges Braque.
“The Young Ladies of Avignon” by Pablo Picasso
Source: My Modern Met
Another of the most popular contemporary art trends is surrealism, which had as its source the psychoanalytical theories of Sigmund Freud. One of the main characteristics of surrealist art is the interest in exploring the subconscious as a source of creativity to make art.
Although surrealism was one of the main artistic currents in painting and art in general, it did not have specific techniques, since it was based on the thoughts and longings of each artist. However, the evocation of chaos and incongruous elements are constant in the works of this period. The most influential representatives of surrealism are Salvador Dalí, André Breton, René Magritte and Max Ernst.
salvador Dalí’s “The Persistence of Memory”.
Source: Cool Culture
Pop art was one of the best known contemporary art movements due to its peculiar interest in popular culture. Pop art sought to portray the society of consumerism, that is why in his works appeared celebrities, packaged goods, comics, advertising posters, etc..
Among the characteristics of pop art we can highlight the use of bright colors, dotted backgrounds and series of repeated images. The most important representatives of pop art are Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Jasper Johns.
andy Warhol’s “Campbells Soup Cans”
Source: Cool Culture
The main characteristic of minimalism is its taste for extreme simplicity, leaving behind ostentatious and exaggerated elements. In this artistic current, art pieces are much less elaborate but without losing visual appeal.
The philosophy of minimalism holds that “less is more” and that is why this artistic movement is recognized for its preference for neutral colors and for the space that is usually left between elements. The most important representatives of minimalism are Donald Judd, Yayoi Kusama, Frank Stella and Jo Baer.
“The Risen” by Jo Baer
Source: Pace Gallery
Main artistic trends in the East
We have already taken you through the different art trends in the West, but what happened in the meantime with the art trends in countries like China or India? Let’s see how in the East, art was also influenced by religion and ideology.
You may not identify this artistic trend by name, but you have surely seen it many times, and you may even have a decorative object in your home, for example in a tapestry or a piece of clothing. islamic art has widely influenced artistic trends in the world of design, architecture and decoration in general, from antiquity to the present day.
The arabesque, according to its etymology, means “related to the Arabs”, and is defined in several dictionaries and art books as “…ornamentation of vegetal geometric figures and extravagant patterns that imitates forms of leaves, flowers, fruits, ribbons, animals (…) considered as a pictorial art”.
Source: Islam East
Islamic art and its arabesques became an artistic current that reached high levels of elaboration thanks to a religious prohibition. For the most orthodox Islam, images or representations of humans and animals were forbidden because they were considered to be equated to the creative work of God and, therefore, an offense.
That is why Muslim artists, from countries such as Egypt, Persia, Mesopotamia, North Africa, etc., were driven by Muhammad to the world of geometric and serial schemes, the combination of different decorations, colors and symmetries, being a current of art applied especially to architecture, textiles and other decorative elements.
Islamic art developed a style or artistic current that perfected Byzantine mosaic techniques, relief sculpture, stucco and tiling. Later, outside of religious art, beautiful scenes with characters began to be represented, especially in manuscripts or books.
In China, on the other hand, the artistic trend par excellence was completely different from the Muslim arabesques or the rigid straight lines of the Egyptians. Influenced by Buddhist meditation, Chinese art was inclined to the use of curves. An art considered as a high poetic creation, far from the banal details that sought realism or ornamentation.
This type of artistic current, shared with Japan, takes pleasure in contemplation and meditation, and is once again related to writing, since the development of the written word in this oriental culture is closely linked to art, with its sinograms or Chinese or Japanese characters, which are a logo-like writing system.
But it is not only a tool for writing, this calligraphy is integrated, along with painting, in one of the most significant artistic trends in the history of art, whose mastery requires practice and important levels of spiritual elevation.
Relationship between some artistic trends and politics
Some artistic currents have been fed in such a way by politics and their social historical context, that they have assumed an aesthetic clearly shaped by a political thought or a critical stance towards reality. Let us look at some examples.
This is an artistic movement that emerged in Mexico, legitimized in 1920 with the Mexican Revolution. The artists identified themselves sensitively with some social realities that they recreated in their large format paintings made in public buildings.
Artists such as Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, José Clemente Orozco and Aurora Reyes, among others, sought to transmit a vision of national and popular identity that would reach everyone, without losing the artistic style that characterized each of them.
This artistic current transcended a country and an era, and today there are many muralists who have portrayed their own realities, with styles so particular that they can be easily recognized.
Source: Aura Galleries
Soviet Art: Russian Constructivism
This movement was a response in tone of rejection to what they considered ornamental excesses of bourgeois art. Let’s remember that in the 1920s, the predominant artistic styles in Europe were neoclassicism and Art Nouveau.
On theother hand, with the arrival of the Revolution and the creation of the Soviet Union, artists considered that art should be a tool at the service of this transformation and that aesthetics should be subordinated to the message.
With an artistic tendency towards simplicity, they were inspired by cubism and futurism, developing that aesthetic of pure lines and geometric forms so characteristic of graphic design, sculpture, painting, photography, cinema and especially architecture.
Source: Connections by Finsa
Street Art: Basquiat, Banksy and other street art exponents
The origin of urban art as an artistic trend is very unique, as it is a movement that seeks to appropriate public space. It is common to see it on empty walls or vacant buildings that serve as a canvas to give a message.
The painting of slogans on walls has been present in all the convulsive processes of modern history, but urban art itself seems to have been born in Paris with the French May, where a culture of political messages made with stencils proliferated. the truth is that since the first graffiti, this artistic trend has been nourished by muralism, stencil, sticker, graffiti and many other artistic disciplines or currents.
Source: NT International
This is what the walls of New York experienced at the end of the 1970s, in the Soho neighborhood, when graffiti with messages signed by the pseudonym SAMO began to appear. That would be the character created by Basquiat, an artist who inhabited the street. When his work began to come to life (no longer on walls but on canvas), SAMO “ceased to exist” and Basquiat, of Haitian and Puerto Rican origin, became the “Radiant child” of American art.
Thanks to these and many other artists, urban art has positioned itself today as a recognized and accepted contemporary artistic current to the point that several Latin American cities such as Tijuana, Guadalajara, Buenos Aires or Rio de Janeiro, do not consider it a crime, and even promote and organize the use of certain spaces destined to this art.
This has led to another debate: the loss of a sense of protest or alternative by this apparent entry into the system. But the truth is that urban art has not ceased to be a type of free and multifaceted artistic expression, which always finds a way to express itself.
One of the most controversial urban art exponents, because of the places and type of intervention he has done, and because of his clandestine identity management is Banksy. He has a very recognizable artistic style and his works reflect a quite graphic and synthetic message about issues such as consumerism, police repression, war, homophobia, among other interventions. Many other urban artists do really interesting work in this underground type of art.
Source: El País
Current artistic movements
Talking about the artistic currents that are currently developing can be more complicated than reviewing the historiography on the artistic movements of the past. In particular, because we have no way of seeing the effect that each of the trends will have in the long term.
However, just like every artistic trend, the works that are currently being produced respond to the characteristics of our time, in which technology is increasingly taking on a major role in the development of our lives.
In the following points we will explain which are those artistic currents that have emerged in the 21st century, in our present, and that little by little have transformed the representations of reality in art.
This is one of the main artistic movements of our time, although it does not yet appear in the history books and is still developing. The main characteristic of Digital Art is the use of technology as part of the creative process, in particular, because tools such as a tablet for digitizing or computer software are used to create the works.
We should also mention that the use of technology to make art, has made this artistic current one of the most accessible in history, so its production is massive and can be done by anyone who has both the talent and access to the tools.
This artistic current is a form of digital art that is characterized by the construction of images in pixel format. Its appearance is easily recognizable because it is similar to images from 8-bit and 16-bit video games.
This style of art is also characterized by using a very small color palette, with most works only using a little more than two shades of color. Pixel art is usually stored in formats that maintain the integrity of the data, the best for this are GIF and PNG.
This type of art is one of the few artistic trends that partially excludes the human factor in the production of the work. It is an artistic style characterized by works created digitally by an algorithm in a computer system. It can also be known as computer-generated art.
Within this artistic current we can find many variants, of which fractalism stands out. The artists linked to this movement are only in charge of introducing some data or parameters in the form of code, so that a computer system is in charge of performing mathematical calculations to create the works.
Although the artistic currents nowadays are drastically different from what we regularly know as art, the acceptance of digital art and all its variations is increasing. We can even mention the work “Everydays – The First 5000 Days”, a piece of NFT digital art that was auctioned for $69.3 million in mid-2021.
To get a more precise idea about the impact of digital art currents in the world, just look at some of the data from NonFungible, an NFT art trading site where digital art pieces are sold daily and exceed sales prices in the millions of dollars.
books to learn more about art trends?
The best way to learn about artistic currents is to review the work of historians and art specialists. And although the bibliography on the subject is very extensive, we will recommend some of the best options you have to get started.
The information we shared in the previous points will help you to have a general idea about the main artistic currents, and with these books you will be able to complete your learning.
The history of art
This is one of the most popular books to learn about the history of art and learn about the main artistic currents around the world. The book was written by the historian Ernst Gombrich, and is a classic that should not be missing in any artist’s library.
With it, in addition to reviewing the artistic currents that we have mentioned in this article, we can study about the currents of art in antiquity. The book begins by analyzing the characteristics of art developed in the period commonly known as prehistory and progresses through the different periods of art history until reaching the artistic currents of the twentieth century.
All editions of the book come with graphic material attached to each of the artistic currents, which will be of great help in understanding the specific characteristics that define them.
Brief history of art
This book by Carlos Javier Taranilla has a very similar structure to that of Gombrich’s book, however, it differs because, in addition to the traditional artistic currents, it also studies the art styles that developed outside Europe. in the development of the book he explains the characteristics of the artistic currents developed in countries such as India, China and Japan, and dedicates a special section to pre-Columbian art.
The history of art explained to young people
If you don’t have much free time and prefer to read a book that synthesizes information about artistic currents in a simple way, then this book by Miquel Caralt and Fernando Casal may be the best option for you.
Although this book also deals with the development of the main artistic currents in history, it is shorter in length compared to the other books mentioned above, and the language used is less specialized, making it ideal for beginners in the subject.
Likewise, the book is structured chronologically and progresses from the first artistic manifestations of the human being to the current artistic movements. Its greatest advantage is that it does it through questions and answers that people usually have about each topic, so it is a good option to learn and solve common doubts.