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.


Earth and Sky Merging

Earth & Sky Merging

24 x 30   Watercolor

Earthy tones for landscape and sky.  The electrical storm adds a turbulence to the landscape, with an acoustical effect to the atmosphere.  Once again the color temperature of the earth could be represented by the abstract shapes.  The mystical vortex is represented by the white area of the painting as a door to another dimension as in the paperback written by Neanna Miller and the Sedona red rocks sleepy artist community.

The color red in most red and brown rocks are small amounts of  hematite.  Native Americans used this to make pigments.   Hematite is an important pigment as well. It is known as “red ochre” used on cave walls, painting faces and bodies all over the world.   Most paint is made from pulverized minerals.  The blue here could be Azurite, the orange – Cinnabar, and the yellow – Jarosite.

I named my homestead Red Rock Ranch because we have so much Iron in our rock here too, in Tuolumne County.  With it’s share of lightning storms, rivers, and Red Hills.

Art Matters – A Blog About All Things Artful

Grabbing the Unexpected Accident

Painting in an Abstract or Non-Objective manner is, for me, a different process than painting a planned landscape or portrait. It requires a willingness to carefully observe and listen well during the painting process, to let go while at the same time tuning in at a more intense level. A mastery of technique is essential, but that is only the beginning baseline. I intend to grab the unexpected accident and turn it into a skilled composition.

“Listen” may seem like the wrong word to apply to visual art yet that is what it feels like [to me] while painting. It is an intuitive activity. The inspiration can come in a flash or take a long time to reveal itself. But [for me] the sense of intuitive observation is heightened while painting this way.

Mark Rothko (1903 to 1970) set the bar for sitting and observing a painting before he would apply another brush stroke. He was famous for sitting and just staring hours on end at his developing painting. Then jump up in a rush to madly apply just the right colors in the right amounts. I’ve caught myself doing a similar albeit more brief routine of staring. It’s a kind of intuitive waiting. Waiting for the accident to be recognized as a link between convention (conditioning) and or deep secrets that need to surface; and working them into the over-all theme….

Step Away From the Painting

I teach an ongoing art class in my home studio/gallery in East Sonora called, “Finding Your Own Visual Voice”. Frequently, I’ll see a student struggling with their painting and I’ll blurt out, “step away from the painting”. And we all chime in with that mantra until someone starts laughing. But it’s necessary. Be still. Listen. Watch. Observe. The painting will tell you what it wants, if you allow it to.

It will tell you the next thing that is required; a little more blue, a darker value, a line here or there. To me it is similar to what I think is the difference between prayer and meditation. In prayer, one might ask for something – in meditation one must just be still and listen.

A bit of contemplative music on, and I am lost. If I am fortunate, I experience magical moments when my outer surroundings drop away and paradoxically I become more in tune with the world through my painting. Or I might put some high energy music on and just let the paint fly. Same process; different tempo.

The paintings become non-linear, non-descriptive and contain very little of recognizable images. They become an exploration of those momentary insights of the intuitive, internal and personal interior landscape.

When painting this way, there will usually come a time during the painting process wh



Angelic Cosmos