Art…A to Z (G-K)

To explore a little of what art has been, is now, and possibly will become; I present to you an ongoing (5 part) post of Art…A to Z, which gives a glimpse into twenty-six major art movements. Though there have been hundreds of art movements throughout history (over twenty starting with the letter “a” alone), I choose some of my favorites as well as attempted to provide a variety of styles, mediums, and artistic philosophies, so here is part II of Art…A to Z, letters G – K!  (and if you missed part I letters A – F click here)


G is for Graffiti

Graffiti (also called urban art or street art) by definition is illegal art, “writtings or drawings that have been scribbled, scratched, or sprayed illicitly on a wall or other surface, often in a public place.” It is this fact however, that makes it so unique in comparison to other art movements. The longest lasting, and I’d say probably the most recognizable of all art movements, graffiti art (some say art, some say vandalism, there are clearly differences) is literally everywhere. Though graffiti has been around since there have been walls and since kids have had mark making tools; graffiti’s big boom didn’t occur until the advent of aerosol paint in the early 1960’s. From then on, all bets were off. Images of graffiti-laden subway stations, cars, trains, and buildings in major metro areas illustrate the extent of graffiti, and why it became such an issue in the 1970’s and 80’s, ultimately giving graffiti a bad reputation. Today most of us can agree that tagging someone’s house or gang-related graffiti is unsightly and unwanted, but we can also agree that most graffiti artists’ underlying social and political messages make this genre of artistic expression positive. Since the 80’s things have certainly changed, cities have cleaned up the “unwanted” graffiti and have even reserved space for graffiti artists’ colorful murals. Though purists would argue that graffiti is most exciting and is at its best when it’s illegal; tucked under a bridge or on the side of a train car, many graffiti artists have, however, made the transition and brought their work into galleries, such as BanskyJean-Michel Basquiat (made this transition in the 80’s and is now known as a fine artist), Swoon and Taki 183. To some, graffiti’s roots in vandalism and violence may run too deep, and its “urban” aesthetic may seem too uncouth to fully accept into the fine art world; but to many, this colorful, chaotic, expressive, and informal art movement is much more relatable and meaningful than say Modernism or Classical Realism. So in the vein of graffiti’s rebellious spirit, to those who don’t like graffiti, I say f*@# your conservative ideas and ideals and get with the program; as long as there is angsty youth, there will be graffiti art.

H is for Hyperrealism

To capture reality in a painting or sculpture so precisely that it fools the eye, is a skill unobtainable by most artists. Between the extreme attention to detail and exorbitant amount of time alone it takes to complete one of these works; not including the years of practice these artists must have to master their materials, such as to accurately transform paint into flesh, is enough to make one go mad. It is a skill I wish I had, but know I never will. Not to be confused with Photorealism (its twin art movement) which strictly imitates a photograph and emphasizes the banality of everyday life; Hyperrealism goes beyond optical illusion and into the realm of emotion and “new” reality. By employing little tricks such as narrative emotional content, scale, and exaggerated detail; Hyperrealist art becomes something else entirely. Though some artists, such as Chuck Close and Richard Estes (shown above) sway between Photorealism and Hyperrealism, their works can be considered Hyperrealism as well because they feel almost too real; details, such as the pores on a nose or the reflection of a neon sign in a window, are emphasized beyond what the naked eye would see in real life. Also unlike Photorealism, which often omits details for compositional sake, Hyperrealist artists utilize the oddities in photographs such as blurring or fish eye perspectives to stretch the limits of said “reality,” to create works that dance between reality and fantasy, truth and lie, belief and disbelief.

I is for Impressionism

Ironically the very popular and now iconic 19th century art movement Impressionism was not so popular when it first debuted in the French art community in the mid 1800’s. The genre’s characteristic loose brushwork, thick paint, jarring colors, and lack of definitive lines or contours was in opposition to the current style supported by The Salon and Royal Academy; therefore it was condemned by critics; who argued that these paintings looked unfinished and were at best a “sketch,” a mere “impression,” of the scene. Ah ha! (that was the magic word!) Though the critics were trying to insult these radical painters, they, regrettably, hit the nail on the head and gave this art movement its name – Impressionism! That is exactly what these painters were trying to do; create an impression of a transient moment in time, so as to portray the changing qualities of light, imitate the flow of wind and water, or even capture fleeting human emotion and expression. However, to do this well, they had to paint on site, en plein air, as well as paint fast – equating to quick, short brushstrokes, colors applied next to each other instead of blended together, painting wet paint into wet paint…basically breaking every academic painting rule. Before the Impressionists artists only spent time in the great outdoors to make sketches and studies for the final paintings they would then later create in the studio. The major reasons for doing this was that first, earlier painters didn’t have manufactured tubes of paint that they could bring with them (the invention of pre-mixed tubed paint in the 1850’s certainly had a lot to do with Impressionism’s success) and secondly, one could not render extreme detail of say a man in a row boat floating down a river, without the light changing or subject matter moving. So basically the Impressionists said “screw the details,” let’s just bring the paints outside with us to accurately paint the feeling or impression of the scene; so a new style was born out of both creativity and practicality.

J is for Japonism

Japonism or Japonisme is a term to describe the incredible influence of Japanese art, fashion and aesthetics on Western culture and European art during the second half of the 19th century. In 1853 Japan reopened its ports to trade with the West which brought in a plethora of exotic imports from spices and fine silks, to porcelain china and woodblock prints; tantalizing European minds and inciting a passion for all things oriental. Though European aristocrats certainly fancied the rare spices, teas, and oh so lovely silks brought from the Far East, it was the bohemian artists of the day who were inspired by Japanese art in particular. Many artists such as Degas, Bonnard, and Lautrec took inspiration from the flat, colorful, and asymmetrically composed Japanese woodblock prints, mimicking their dramatic point of perspective, flat areas of color, and overall compositional freedom; compare Degas’ painting “The Dance Class” and Hiroshige’s “Station of Otsu,” pictured above (see the same diagonal composition and birds-eye view?). Additionally, artists such as Tissot, Monet, and Derain readily dressed their models in gorgeous silk kimonos, creating a both pleasing composition of color and pattern as well as arousing fantasies of the orient. The Japanese aesthetic had a profound and lasting effect on the art world, its influence on the flattened picture plane led to the beginnings of flattened paintings during the Impressionist movement which later developed into Cubism. Lastly, Japonism is one of the few style and design influences, of which I can think of, that inspired diverse, concurrent art movements such as, Impressionism (like Degas) Fauvism (like Derian) and Salon-Style academic painting (like Tissot.) In that sense, Japonsim is simultaneously its own art movement as well as a sub-genre of other art movements at the time.

K is for Kinetic Art

Art that moves, you’d think that would be the simple definition of kinetic art, HOWEVER…kinetic art encompasses art that demonstrates the perception of motion as well, which surprisingly enough includes two dimensional paintings…just blew your mind right?! I’ll admit, kinetic art was something I knew very little about off the top of my head, especially in an art historical sense, and I kind of thought it was pretty straight forward. But as I researched its development into the complex contemporary kinetic sculptures we see today I found, like every other art movement (and I thought I found an “easy” one to cover), kinetic art has a fascinating and rich past. Alright, so here we go. Europe –  mid to late 1800’s – the Industrial Revolution had occurred and brought with it machines, inventions, and lots of other things that moved; making the once slow paced agrarian lifestyle a thing of the past. Villages turned into towns, towns into cities, and cities into booming metropolises. Things were-a-changing, and the once sedentary paintings of bowls of fruit and seated ladies, made way for the Impressionists’ paintings of things that moved: i.e. dancing ladies and racing horses. If you were paying attention, you should remember from above, the Impressionists sought to create art that had the essence of life and movement in it; it wasn’t photorealistic by any means, but it did have the perception or suggestion of motion. This is where kinetic art was born. Yes, I would agree these early Impressionist paintings are nothing like the contemporary kinetic art we see today; but they had to start somewhere. Another major contributor to the urge to paint motion was photography- Eadweard Muybridge’s motion study photography in particular (shown above). The problem with the Impressionists’ portrayal of motion, is that it was more like a painting of suspended animation, a picture of potential momentum; it just wasn’t convincing enough. Now enter the Futurists. It’s the early 20th century and photography and the study of motion and the development of the first motion picture cameras was taking place, all thanks to Muybridge. The Futurists took notice of this, as well as other mechanical evolution and began creating paintings and sculptures that emphasized speed (like the peppy little puppy above). Though it was a short-lived art movement, 1909-1915, I feel the Futurists succeeded ten-fold over the Impressionists in portraying movement in stationary art. As the industrial cities continued to grow it only makes sense that art, specifically sculpture, became more mechanical, and  more abstract. The Surrealists were really the first to step away from recognizable subject matter (dogs walking on a leash) and work with non-objective elements (like a sphere dangling from a rope) opening up a world of possibilities in terms of abstract kinetic art. So let’s fast forward to the 1960’s, much closer to present day, so that means I’m almost done lecturing. Kinetic art seems to have developed two ways 3D (think Calder’s mobiles) and 2D (think Op art), both however, remain pretty consistently abstract. The 3D form of kinetic art at this point conforms to our simple definition and preconceived notions of what kinetic art “is.” (a machine-like sculpture that moves) However… 2D kinetic art, just like all the other attempts at painting motion, wavers a bit; causing some to argue that trippy Op art is in fact not really kinetic art, but its own thing. You can debate this on your own, but let’s go back to the whole idea of the perception of motion within kinetic art, to try to sort this out. Just because the canvas isn’t really jiggling like Jello (see Yaacov Agam’s print above) doesn’t mean my eyes don’t see it that way, so therefore, it’s kinetic art right? Complex lines, contrasting colors, hues  and pattern all create vibrating optical illusions that our eyes see and make our brains think the picture is moving when it’s not…it’s quite fascinating, really. Now to wrap things up (finally!) I had to include some videos of some spectacular contemporary kinetic sculpture…we’ve come a long way from a painting of a ballerina to this…

 Stay tuned for part III letters L, M, N, O and P!


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