Art History Lesson: The “isms”

Jude Barton By Jude Barton, 8th Jun 2010 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>Art>History

An overview of how art history movements are understood and play a roll in the evaluation and appreciation of art.

The "isms"

Art comes in many “isms”; cubism, modernism, fauvism, impressionism, expressionism, futurism… it goes on and on and sometimes the distinction between “isms” is not always clear. For example pointillism is a form of impressionism and the transitions between art movements within art history can be a little muddy and one cannot always state with absolute certainty in which category to classify a certain work of art.

Who Creates a Movement in Art History

Let’s take a moment and talk about art movements as a segment of art history. Do artists just get bored and gather together on a Saturday night and just decide to start a new movement? Yes, actually sometimes they do. Or do movements just mysteriously start by themselves in some organic fashion and then some art critic comes along and assigns a name to it? Is it a little of both? Who gets to decide whether a style or technique in the context of art history is actually a movement? Usually it is a combination of the passage of time and recognition by art critics that will legitimize and define a movement. It is only then that the movement takes its rightful place in art history.

Why Do We Study Art History?

One of the keys to understanding and interpreting art is to know what came before. What is the precedent and what is the art theory that a particular work is relying upon? Yes, there is indeed theory and precedence in art history that an artist relies upon. For example Modernism is a theory of art that is different from Postmodernism. Contextual art is different from Abstract art. An artist might reject a theory or embrace a theory.

When people approach a work of art they often make a pretty quick decision on whether they like it or don’t like it and sometimes they even declare that it is not art. It would be a better approach if one would take a moment and explore the work with a little more thought with an understanding of art history. A great activity for your family would be to take advantage of the docents at your local art museum. Docents are trained tour guides and lecturers in museums and galleries.


Art Criticism, Art History, Art Movements, Art Theory, Artists, Cubism, Expressionism, Home School, Impressionism, Lesson, Modernism, Post-Modernism

Meet the author

author avatar Jude Barton
I am an artist, mother, grandmother, Christian and traveler on a wonderful journey of life. My interests are art, art history, world culture, literature, film, children, and all the things that make us tick and tick us off.

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author avatar Erik Van Tongerloo
8th Jun 2010 (#)

Thanks for sharing this info; it is really a wonderful piece of writing.

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author avatar Mark Gordon Brown
9th Jun 2010 (#)

What a delight to find a post about Art History! A favorite class of mine in school too.

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author avatar Ecne Rapheala
10th Nov 2011 (#)

Thank you soooo much for your post it helped a lot for my enhancement in art.

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