The Secret of Style

Are you a beginner hoping to learn to paint? Or maybe you're talented amateur, maybe even a professional. How do you learn, how do you get better, get out of a rut, open new doors, expand your vision, regain enthusiasm? Try a new style! The majority of artists and the public are most comfortable with Realism. Each of the many varieties of realism are more or less an abstraction of reality by necessity. We have only paint and canvas. Then there's the long list of styles that go beyond realism. Find one that will help you communicate your idea.

It's like cooking. You decide to make dinner, do you start from square one? Do you hike the fields and forests tasting roots and berries to see which are good tasting, which go well together and which make you ill? That's been done long ago and is knowledge which is available to anyone seeking it. You can choose Mexican, Thai, Chinese, Southern, French, Italian or many, many other styles of cooking. After internalizing the standard cook book you might well dream up any number of new dishes within an existing cuisine. Inventing a new cuisine would be a different matter, like inventing a new painting style, pretty hard to do.

As long as there have been human beings there has been art. What was the first art? Body paint, a design in the dirt? Clothing, bead work, pottery? We know painting goes back at least eleven thousand years to a painting on a rock wall. And cave paintings of course...about 40,000 years. The oldest artwork of any kind that we know of goes back almost to 100,000 B.C.! For any practical purpose it has all been done.

11,000 year old painting found in northern Syria.

Your job as a painter is not to struggle mightily to make an innovation, to invent a new style. Nor is your goal to settle on one style now and stick with it forever. Your job is to communicate something of yourself to the viewer, the essence of your subject, if any, in most cases an emotion or feeling tone. Why re-invent the wheel? Take advantage of art history. Learn the many recognized styles that are available for you. If one day you do happen to discover a new style you'll realize what you've done!

The list below has links to entries on Wikipedia. Follow the link for a definition, example images, and lists of artist and museums. Bookmark this site and open a new tab or window because you're almost certain to get side tracked. This list isn't complete and there is considerable overlap in some cases. See also ArtLex. You can also search the National Gallery of Art collection here. Don't miss The Metropolitan Museum of Art "Timeline of Art History" - an amazing resource. A fairly complete list of style periods is found here. A World History of Art online at

I'm currently exploring Tonalism. In fact, I'm the one who added the term to the Wikipedia list.

Niki de Saint Phalle was born in Neuilly-sur-Seine in Paris. In 1961, she became known around the world for her Shooting paintings. A shooting painting consisted of a wooden base board on which containers of paint were laid, then covered with plaster. The painting was then raised and de Saint Phalle would shoot at it with a .22 caliber rifle. The bullets penetrated paint containers which spilled their contents over the painting. This "painting style" was completely new, and she traveled around the world performing shooting sessions.

Giovanni Antonio Canal, better known as Canaletto, was born in Venice. Much of Canaletto's early artwork was painted 'from nature', differing from the then customary practice of completing paintings in the studio. Some of his later works do revert to this custom, as suggested by the tendency of distant figures to be painted as blobs of colour - an effect produced by using a camera obscura, which blurs farther-away objects... Later Canaletto became known for his grand scenes of the canals of Venice and the Doge's Palace. His large-scale landscapes portrayed the city's famed pageantry and waning traditions, making innovative use of atmospheric effects and strong local colors. For these qualities, his works may be said to have anticipated Impressionism.

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More Painting Secrets:

The Secret of Values New
The Secret of Emotion

The Secret of Critiquing
The Secret of Composition

The Secret of Visual Idea
The Secret of Borrowing
The Secret of Tonalism 
The Secret of Style
The Secret of Maxfield Parrish

The Secret of Plein Air
The Secret of No Solvents
The Secret of Water Mixable Oils

The Secret of Thumbnails
The Secret of the Process
The Secret of Knife Painting


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