Ever since humans first discovered the possibility of creating paint, which actually stretches as far back as thousands of years, we started a revolution in terms of art. From the first cave drawings to modern-day 3D digital art, the evolution has been tremendous and the different branches of painting have spread out in numerous different directions. If we were to describe every single style of painting throughout the millennia, it would take years and thousands of working hours. See, painting has been a prominent part of human culture for as long as man can remember, and in different parts of the world simultaneously. So, let us cover the basic forms of painting in the Western world, and leave Islamic, Indian, African and Far Eastern styles for other articles.
Up until the 18th and beginning of 19th centuries, realism was an integral part of painting. As an artist, you had to make your painting as real as possible, and refrain from experimenting with colours and forms. This is actually quite understandable, since there were no photo cameras at the time, and hence, an artist was judged by his or her ability to get as close to “the real thing” as possible. Modernism revolted against this idea, and since the end of 19th and beginning of 20th centuries artists evolved into a bunch of different directions, each and every one painting exactly what they wanted. From here on forth, painting became a form of expression, instead of a way of depicting the surrounding world.
This was the first branch of modernism in art, and came to be in the 19th century. Impressionism is all about the moment, about movement and light. See, impressionists came to believe that human beings saw light being bent and hence could see shapes, not the other way around. Paintings by Claude Monet are perfect examples of early impressionism. Monet managed to capture the essence of our vision, and created paintings that looked almost to be moving. He captures a silent moment out of everyday life, and used different light settings to create the impressions and atmosphere that his paintings depicted.
When artists noted the possibility of stepping away from realism and painting their emotions instead of their visuals, abstract art quickly arose. Abstract art is all about stepping away from reality, or, better yet, creating an alternative reality. Abstract paintings are built up from different shapes, colours and forms that do not necessarily depict anything, but are solely meant to awaken certain emotions or feelings in the mind of the viewer. Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso are brilliant examples of abstract painters. Instead of painting what everyone saw, they painted what they felt. Picasso later evolved his art into what came to be known as Cubism.
Once abstract art had firmly settled in the world of painting, surrealism was inevitable. Surrealism is all about mixing the unmixable. Blending the unblendable. Putting dreams on paper and joining them with reality. Salvador Dali is probably the best known surrealist painter in the world, with The Persistence of Memory being his most celebrated work.
At the same time as Surrealism and Abstract art came into the light, Expressionism arose. Also a part of Modernism, this was a way for artists to focus directly on emotions. Expressionism is, just like the name suggests, about expressions. About our inner emotional experiences and feelings, instead of reality. The best example of Expressionism is probably “Scream”, by Edvard Munch, the prominent Norwegian painter. Expressionism also embraced the term “Angst”, which derives from Germanic and translates to English as “anxiety”. Expressionists sought to awaken these deep emotions in their paintings.