The Many Styles of Painting

abstract painting by Patricia Cherry

A few decades ago, it was fashionable to have all the art in one’s home fit within a certain confined motif or genre. Since a home art collection reflects the taste of the owner, there is still a natural inclination to have wooded landscapes in a mountain home and ocean scenes in a coastal home. Yet in today’s more complicated world the contemporary collector more often than not reflects the much more eclectic and diverse world in which we live, regardless of the location of one’s home.

Paintings and other art works are more than a great way to dress up one’s living room, bedroom, business or any space. Many people value contemporary paintings according to how well they can spark a conversation with house guests or office clients. Paintings can open one’s mind to a new perspective of the world, while others stir the emotions. Other paintings and works of art simply set a tone for the room or space.

Not only can art be appreciated for its beauty, shock or just fascination it can also be a sound investment, retaining its value for generations to come.

To help buyers of contemporary paintings here is a simplified guide to a few of the most popular painting styles and how to distinguish one from the other. Disclaimer: this is by no means a comprehensive list. Space is much too limited to be comprehensive. Further qualification: this list is to Art what a cook tasting a spice is to a king’s banquet. It is by no means complete but rather a simple beginning to identify styles and characteristics of paintings.

Taking poetic license I’ll cover just a few with huge sweeping generalizations. Please feel free to pick these apart and add your own comments and experiences.

Photo-Realism, Super Realism, Sharp-Focus Realism, Hyper-Realism. We can argue for days about the details but this is a style where the illusion of reality is created through paint so the result looks more like a large, sharply focused photo. Camera’s and projectors are sometimes employed to achieve this look but the artist must bring a high level of technical expertise to pull it off well.

Realism: This is the art style most folks regard as “real art”, where the subject of the painting looks very much like it appears in real life. Created by a skillful use of paint, color and tone. The artist uses perspective to create an illusion of reality, setting the composition and lighting to make the most of the subject.

A sub-set of Realism is Painterly: which is close to realism but celebrates more the use of paint, through evident brushwork and texture in the paint. Unlike Realism scant use of blending techniques are used.

Impressionism: Americans love this style. In its earliest stages in Europe in the last 1800’s it was hated and considered rebellious. It was regarded as unfinished and rough. It celebrated light and color with an emphasis on nature filtered through the artists eye.

Expressionism/Fauvism: With these styles the artist does not feel compelled to use realistic colors or perspective to recreate a sense of reality. The emotional impact is of utmost importance. The artist wants to convey a mood or evoke an emotional response.

Abstraction: This is about painting the essence of a subject rather than the detail while still retaining an echo of the subject. Think reduced reality. The subject is “abstracted” out of reality. A keen development of composition is required to paint this way.

Abstract or more aptly stated, Non-Objective: This art does not try to look like anything from the “real world”. It is intentionally non-representational. The subject or point of the painting will be the colors, the textures and the materials. The uninitiated may think it an accidental mess, but at its best this kind of art has an impact that strikes you from the moment it is seen.

Finding the Emotions in Art

Patricia Cherry Artist

Art is an emotional experience. Each painting, each sculpture, each drawing was created through an emotional process endured by the artist. Their work is a reflection and a message from them to you. But how do you get in touch with the emotional side of art? In this blog post we talked about how to go in depth and read paintings. Now we’ll talk more about the emotions of paintings.

Sometimes the emotions that we feel from art are not necessarily the emotions that the artist intended. The beauty of art is that it can evoke so many diverse reactions from each individual. Our own experiences are brought to the table when we examine art. We’re all going to feel something that is completely our own.

Look at the art piece as a whole.

  • Does it appeal to you through your senses? It doesn’t have to be beautiful to be good, but it must grab your eye in some way. Perhaps it grabs your attention through its subject matter, its use of color, an interesting juxtaposition of objects, its realistic appearance, its lack of anything recognizable, a visual joke or any number of other factors.


  • Does it speak to you? Perhaps there are some symbols in the painting. Skulls in the older Master paintings were often used to remind people that wealth is temporal, worldly and in the grand scheme of things, meaningless. But don’t get caught in the trap of figuring out what the artist meant, but focus instead on what the work says to YOU.


  • What do you feel? A large part of the appeal of art is emotional. Some artists go out of their way to inspire strong reactions, ranging from awe, to lust, to anger and even disgust. It’s easy to dismiss work that upsets our notions of what art could be. Ask yourself why you are having the response you are having. What is it about the work that is upsetting to you, what purpose might the artist have in upsetting you? Likewise, if your feelings are positive, why are they?

Perhaps you are now getting that it is your reaction, your own emotions in the presence of the painting that are important. As Shakespeare said, “This above all, to thine own self be true”. Giving serious attention to art will indeed tell you much more about yourself than it could ever tell you about the artist.

The best art speaks to our souls. The pieces that speak to me might not speak to you in the same way. What truly matters is that viewing the art helped you to learn something about yourself.


How To “Read” A Painting & Open up A Whole New World

Patricia Cherry Artist

Can you recall learning to read? Struggling with the sounds-one-letter at a time. Then moving into inference and comprehension. Learning symbols to establish meaning, deduction to deepen understanding.   Learning what you agreed or disagreed with or what you liked or disliked, came only after you learned discernment and critical thinking skills. Was learning to read valuable to you?


I contend learning to “read” a painting can bring you the same value.


All art; film, music, performing, literature are ways to share the very human need to communicate, express emotions and ideas as well as to connect with others. There is one big deviation with visual art; the visual artist has only one frame through which to communicate his/her idea. And once committed to a 2D format the artist must then let go. Now it becomes strictly up to the viewer to interpret. Here is the paradox, what the viewer sees or interprets may or may not have anything at all to do with what the artist intended. The viewer is in charge, and the more open the viewer the more exciting the viewing.


A painting can challenge you, lift your spirit, call you to play, open a new world, change your perspective, delight, or annoy or any other possible human emotion imaginable. There is no ‘should’ in your reaction to a painting nor is there a ‘should’ in what one will like or dislike. But learning to look will enrich one’s life.


So….. how do you read a painting?


  • A fine art gallery is part of the art world on a mission to show you why looking is worth it. But to do so, one must first slow down. Looking is not a drive by sport. Now does one have to talk art or know about art to truly read a painting? No, no and no.


  • O.k. you’ve slowed down, now what?   Pay moderate attention to detail, and offer up a willingness to reflect on your own feelings.


  • What do you see? Consider style or technique. There are periods of time in history when well-established styles were in vogue. Consider Renaissance portraits which looked almost exactly alike to the casual viewer. We are not living in such a time. All bets are off and all styles are relevant. Some artists create closely detailed, finely controlled works while others slap paint around almost haphazardly.



Of course this is an incomplete introduction to art. It’s just a little nudge to get you thinking about art appreciation. The better you can read art the better the experience will become. Slow Down. What are you seeing, what are you feeling? What is the style, subject matter, story of the piece? Most importantly what did you learn about yourself?

Yosemite Memory

Yosemite Memory

30 X 40   Oil


In a place where dreams live, there are waterfalls in the recesses of our mind ideas like water flow……


Living in the foothills of the Sierras is a (no pun intended) golden opportunity to be in touch with nature.  I came late to a love of nature having been a city person all of my life – until we moved here 12 years ago.  Now, I love nature  and well executed realistic landscapes.  But, I’m not the kind that will sit for hours with mosquitoes and blazing sun.  also, there are many who paint them beautifully.  I prefer to exaggerate what I see; or to minimize.  For instance I will often paint in the sunset vertically instead of horizontally.  Why I have often been asked.  It just seems to me to be a more fun and speedy way to get to the outer ranges of the cosmos that way.  I want the colors to be vertical so I paint them that way.  Maybe it’s my childhood training with the bible, I want to fast track to heaven.

I live in Yosemite’s backyard, consequently my husband and I often go there just for the day, to picnic, sketch, take photographs or bring whatever grandchild we can capture for the day.  Since I’m primarily a studio painter, I bring home my impressions and photos and then go to paint.  Not striving for realism, although that often does happen.  I am looking for the feeling I experienced and I try to express that.

I have done many paintings of this area, but the paintings I love most are the more abstracted from memory.  I love to re-capture the feeling with just a hint of what it actually is.  I am utterly fascinated by the water falling in Yosemite.  A trickle turning into a torrent, is fascinating to watch.  The colors and shapes of the waterfall are ever changing while remaining steady.  That is hypnotizing and meditative to me.

I will probably never complete this series but will continue to bring them forth on canvas or paper, when the mood strikes.  Since I have sold many of these, I can only assume others like them as well.


What Is Serial Painting?

Over the years I have done many serial or what some call a series of paintings with a particular theme.  Simply put, Serial Art is a kind of modern art where there are a series of paintings or sculptures of related themes and/or techniques. Serial painting also employs techniques from styles such as hard edge painting, systems art, and op art.

It can be more mathematical in its genesis, and requires a bit more planning than other styles of painting and sculpture.  Especially if one is using technology in the creative process.    Needless to say, I don’t spend anytime thinking of mathematical equations in my art.  That just feels a bit too confining for me, but I admire those who can combine this kind of linear thinking with the creative process.  I just want to keep the spontaneity so I let my intuition take over instead.

Serial paintings often seem more deliberate and less spontaneous that other painting forms, and less immediately emotional. However, their effects on the viewer can be as powerful as other painting styles.  They therefore require an artist who is very organized, and also someone conversant in mathematics – particularly in geometry and mathematical congruence.  When I think of this statement I think of David Hockney.  His works are so well thought out.  He uses video and technology in remarkable ways.  His most recent exhibit at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art demonstrated what Serial painting is all about.

Serial paintings can offer a certain style or technique, but within those confines, still show a wide variety of colors, textures, and subject matter, depending upon the particular artist’s conceptual intentions, ideas, and perceptions.

Serial paintings also give an artist an opportunity to develop his or her conceptual ideas in more than one painting. This allows the artist to “grow” the pieces as they progress, and therefore make a definitive statement about the paintings. Serial paintings can be of any number, so there are many variations on a theme or technique possible for the artist. So, what can appear like a very restrictive form, can actually be quite freeing for the painting. And also very expressive.

Serial paintings are contemporary but not new. Many artists have employed the serial concept in their work. Claude Monet is a very famous serial painter, and both Corot and Turner also tried the style. Josef Albers, Max Bill, and Richard Paul Lohse are other well-known serial painters. So the concept of serial paintings has existed for a while, and the opportunities it presents for the artists that use it are endless.