Know Your Art Painting Styles: 7 Most Popular

Part of the appreciation of fine art is the range of art styles to admire and choose from. As a fan of art, you will enjoy the experience more when you understand which particular art style you happen to be viewing at the moment. Here is an overview of seven popular painting styles in no particular order.


bonnie and clyde car painting“Forgotten Roads of Bygone Days”
Landscape by Teresa Bernard
24″ x 18″
Oils on gallery wrap stretched canvas

>> More info


example of realism art
Realism art

1. Realism (a.k.a. naturalism) is a style of art regarded by most as “real art”. This is because it attempts to portray the subject as it actually appears in real life but stops short of appearing like a photograph. Realism art is without stylization or following the rules of formal artistic theory. Instead the artist spends a fair amount of time and effort paying attention to creating an accurate depiction of life forms and objects, perspective creating the illusion of reality, good composition, lights and darks, and color and tone.

example of photorealism art
Photorealism Art

2. Photorealism (a.k.a. super realism, sharp focus realism, hyper realism) is an art style where the artwork looks as realistic as a photo. The illusion of reality is so minutely fine tuned that the painting looks exactly like a large, sharply focused photograph on canvas or other paint support. It is a style where careful detail down to the last grain of sand on the seashore or the pores and wrinkles on a person’s face has been included. Nothing is left out or too insignificant or unimportant to not be included in the composition. Photorealism is that realistic.

Photorealism as a style of art became a movement in late 1960 and early 1970s in America. For more information on this art movement click here.

example of painterly art style
Painterly Art Style

3. Painterly is an art style characterized by visible brushstrokes and texture left in the paint medium. Artworks featuring this art style can be created using oils, acrylics, watercolors, gouache, or any medium where a brush is used. In the past, early painters took great pains to eliminate brushstrokes or texture from their paintings by working and blending their paint. Not so with painterly artists. They make no attempt to hide their brushwork that has been loosely and quickly applied. The paint doesn’t have to be applied in a thick manner either, thin layers of paint work just as well using the painterly art style.

example of Impressionism painting
Impressionism Painting

4. Impressionism is a style of painting that has the appearance of being rough and unfinished, and characterized by small, thin visible brushstrokes. The subject matter is usually of common and ordinary subjects, with an emphasis on the accurate depiction of light. Impressionistic paintings are often painted outdoors to capture the natural sunlight and color of their subjects. Black is rarely used since impressionist artists prefer mixing and using dark tones and complementary colors. Impressionism is more a representation of an artist’s impression. It does not try to be accurate in its detail, but rather, is more like an expression of the heart.

example of abstract art
Abstract Art

5. Abstract art (also called modern or contemporary art) is art that doesn’t resemble anything from “real life”. It’s an art style that is intentionally non-representational and seeks to achieve its point or subject using shapes, forms, colors, and textures. Every object on the canvas is represented by either colors and or shapes. For example colors can represent emotions and shapes can symbolize objects.

The purpose of abstract is to let the viewer interpret its meaning for him/herself. At its worst, abstract art looks like an accidental mess of paint. At its best, it has an impact that strikes you from the moment you see it.

example of surrealism
Surrealism art

6. Surrealism is a modern art style of painting that juxtaposes, various abstract concepts together to give a startling effect. It is characterized by fully recognizable images which are realistically painted, taken out of their normal setting and contexts then reassembled or organized within an ambiguous, paradoxical, or shocking framework.  Surrealist paintings are often illogical and express imaginative dreams with visions that emphasize the subconscious rather than rationale.

Surrealism originated in France and flourished as an art movement in the early twentieth century. For more information about the surrealist movement, click here.

example of pop art
Pop Art

7. Pop Art is a modern art style that started back in the 1950s and draws inspiration from commercial and consumer aspects of everyday life, especially in the American culture. Such imagery included advertising, mass media, comic books, celebrities and elements of popular culture, like magazines, movies, and even bottles and cans. Pop art paintings tend to focus on bold colors and realistic imagery. There is usually no hidden meaning in the composition either and pop artists rarely use any of the traditional techniques of perspective to create an illusion of realism in the painting. Some pop artists use mass production techniques such as silk screening to replicate their works, mirroring the manufacturing process of consumer goods. Because of its use of commercial imagery, pop art is one of the most recognizable styles of modern art.

The Rules of Perspective

Perspective Drawing—It’s As Easy As One-, Two-, Three-Point!

Perspective is a technique used in drawing or painting to give an image on a flat surface a sense of depth. An artist uses this nifty tool to make his/her imagery look more realistic and accurate as we see it in real life. Perspective creates the illusion of depth and distance on an otherwise flat surface.

There are three basic types of perspective: one-point, two-point, and three-point. The one-, two-, and three-point refers to the number of vanishing points that are present when creating the illusion of depth and space. In addition to these, there is also zero-point perspective.


national park wall painting“Monument Valley”
Landscape by Teresa Bernard
16″ x 12″
Oils on stretched canvas

>> More info


One-Point Perspective
One-Point Perspective

One-point perspective is the simplest method of drawing perspective. It uses only a single vanishing point on the horizon line. A vanishing point is were two or more parallel lines converge into each other at “infinity.” A good example of this type perspective is a long hallway, railroad track or road where the viewer is positioned face-on looking down the center. As you can see in the illustration, the two tracks are parallel to each other and you know they will remain the same distance apart, however, the further away they get the closer they appear to be until they eventually disappear at the horizon.

Rule: Use one-point perspective to create the illusion of distance in a drawing or painting.

example of two point perspective
Two-Point Perspective

Two-point perspective comes in to play when a drawing contains two vanishing points positioned arbitrarily along the horizon line. This perspective positions the object where the viewer can look at the object from an angle and see two sides at one time. That is, looking at one corner, with two sets of parallel lines moving away.

An example of two-point perspective can be illustrated with the use of a box,  cube, or other objects with the same geometric shape, such as a house or building. When looking at the object from the corner, one side recedes toward one vanishing point and the other side recedes toward the opposite vanishing point. As can be seen in the illustration, each set of parallel lines has its own vanishing point. Two-point perspective is what gives a geometric object the illusion of 3-D.

Rule: Use two-point perspective to make a geometrical object appear to be three dimensional.

example of three point perspective
Three-Point Perspective

Three-point perspective is a little trickier than the other two because this type deals with three vanishing points. It includes two vanishing points somewhere on the horizon line and there is also a vanishing point either above or below the horizon that all vertical lines lead to. This type perspective is great for rendering objects, such as buildings and cityscapes, that are seen at an aerial or ground view. When the third vanishing point is above the horizon, then an image is created from an ant’s perspective, that is, looking up toward the image from below. When it is below the horizon, a bird’s eye point of view is created where it feels as if you are looking down on the object from above.

Rule: Use three-point perspective when you want to render building scenes, such as cityscapes, complex close-up objects and highly detailed interior scenes.

Zero-point perspective is the technique used to give the illusion of depth when there are no parallel lines in the image and therefore no vanishing points. Vanishing points can only exist with the presence of parallel lines. However, a perspective without vanishing points can still create a sense of depth, that’s where zero-point comes take effect. The most common example of depth without parallel lines or vanishing points is a natural setting, such as a mountain range or a landscape of hills and valleys.

In zero-point perspective, a sense of depth can be created in the following  ways:

  • Objects are larger the closer they are and decrease in size proportionally the further away they are.
  • The closer objects are, the more detailed they are. Objects loose detail the further away they are.
  • Color fades becoming more muted blending into background colors.
  • Objects placed higher on a plane create more of the feeling of depth or distance.
  • Overlapping shapes tend to create a feeling of depth.

Rule: Use zero-point perspective when there are no parallel line in an image to create the sense of depth.

Classification Of Fine Art Paintings By Genre

How are fine art paintings categorized?

The most common method for classifying fine art paintings is by genre (or theme). Genre is a French word that means “type” or “kind”, and what this means is, it refers to the type of image a painting portrays as its subject matter. Whether it is a landscape, portrait, still life, seascape, etc., paintings are categorized by what is depicted in them.

Common Painting Themes

Abstract Art
Abstract Art

Abstract Art is artwork that looks like it has been accidentally created by a two year old. It has no defined meaning and seeks to break away from the traditional representation of physical objects in real life. More often than not, abstract art is a collection of meaningless shapes, texture and colors thrown haphazardly onto a canvas. Its purpose is to let the viewer interpret its meaning for him/herself. Pictured is an example of abstract art.

cityscape urban landscape
Cityscape

Cityscapes, or as it is sometimes called Urban Landscapes, are paintings whose subject matter is the physical aspects of the city, urban life, city sections (like a city block, street corner, outdoor café, rooftops, etc.) or other urban area. A Townscape is similar to a cityscape, only it is of a township with a smaller population and perhaps less modern architecture as well. Shown is an example of a cityscape or urban landscape.

example of genre art
Genre Scene Art

Genre Art is scene art of everyday life which depicts real life in action with ordinary people at work or in recreational situations. These type artworks include intimate scenes of daily life, costumes, domestic settings, interiors, celebrations, tavern scenes, markets and other street situations. It could also show a busy street, a beach party, a dinner gathering, or anyplace where living goes on. The subject matter is often are portrayed realistic style. See example of genre art.


Bunratty Ireland canvas panel“Bunratty Ireland”
Landscape by Teresa Bernard
12″ x 9″
Oils on canvas panel board

>> More info


history painting
Historical Painting

History Paintings or Historical Paintings portray a moment in history and are not to be confused with a genre painting which is scenes of everyday life. History paintings can include a range of subjects and topics and these paintings often illustrate a part of a story or a significant event. An example of historical or history painting is shown.

national park painting
Landscape Painting

Landscape paintings depict the beauty of the great outdoors with its natural scenery of mountains, valleys, meadows, trees, rivers, forests, sky and weather. It can even include the countryside, farms, and structures that one would expect to find there. For instance fencing, a bridge, barn, windmill, or farmhouse. See example of landscape painting. Title: The Grand Teton Mountains

example of marine maritime art
Maritime Art

Marine Art or Maritime Art derives its inspiration from the sea. This genre of art depicts life on the open seas, boats and ships, fishermen, etc. It includes art showing shipping on rivers and estuaries, beach scenes and all art showing boats and ships.  It almost always includes some element of seafaring vessel. Ship-portraits is a type of marine art that is still popular in which a single vessel is portrayed. Notice example of marine or maritime art.

example of naive art
Naïve Art

Naïve Art is works of art characterized by a childlike simplicity that possesses minute detail, bright saturated colors, disproportionate figures and lack of perspective. It portrays simple, easy-to-understand and often romanticize scenes of everyday life. The absence of perspective often creates the illusion that figures within naïve paintings are weightless or floating. Naïve artists are often self-taught artists with very little or no formal art training. An example of naïve art is pictured to the right.

Portrait Painting of Tera
Portrait

Portraits are artistic representations of a person, especially the face. Besides the likeness, the essence of a portrait also captures the mood and personality of the subject. A portrait of an individual may be of the face-only, or it may be head and shoulders, or the full-body. Many portraits are composed of the person in a still position and often the subject is looking directly at the painter. Included in this genre are Group-portraits (consisting of more than one individual), self-portraits and pet-portraits. A Self-portrait is one in which the artist does an artwork of him/herself. Pet-portraits of a beloved pet could also be in this category, however, animals usually fall into the wildlife category.


Garden Tomb, Jerusalem painting“The Garden Tomb at Sunset”
Landscape by Teresa Bernard
12″ x 9″
Oils on stretched canvas

>> More info


Communion Table still life
Religious Art

Religious Art or Sacred Art is any artistic representation using religious inspiration to express a message intending to elevate the morals of the one observing the artwork. The subject matter can be either a scared story or a profession of the artist’s faith. Religion means any set of individual beliefs, either Christian or non-Christian, which are regarded as sacred, holy, spiritual or divine. Shown is an example of religious art and is titled The Communion Table.

lunar footprint painting
Space Art

Space Art (sometimes referred to as Astronomical Art) is a genre of art that attempts to communicate ideas and appreciation related to the infinite variety and vastness of outer space by depicting interstellar and interplanetary elements as its subject matter. All this is made possible with the invention of telescopes making it possible to look off our world. Artists can now render what is seen out there and attempt to capture the wonders and majesty of our universe. Planets, stars, constellations, spacecraft, astronauts, black wholes, moons, comets, and other heavenly bodies can found in space art. Some other art terms related to this category include lunar landscape, moonscape, moonset, etc.

OR coast south of the sea lion caves
Seascape Painting

Seascape paintings are much like landscapes, only this genre of art depicts the sea with marine landscapes, beach scenes, fish and marine animals, or views of the ocean itself. Fish and other marine animals can also be categorized as wildlife. Seascapes should not be confused with Maritime Art which depicts life out on the open sea, not necessarily a marine landscape.

Still Life with Fruit and Candle art
Still Life

Still Life paintings feature an arrangement of everyday inanimate objects laid out on a table or similar surface. The objects used can be either natural or man-made. Examples of natural objects could be flowers, food, wine, rocks, seashells, dead animal skulls, etc. and manufactured items could be drinking glasses, books, bottles, pottery, coins, dishes, musical instruments and so forth.

african wildlife painting
Wildlife Art

Wildlife Art is characterized as works of art which portray the natural world and the wildlife or domesticated animals that inhabit it. It is one of the earliest forms of art dating back to prehistoric cave paintings. Portraits of animals or fish (whether wildlife or family pets) could also fit into this genre. The wildlife art sample shown is titled Raging African Elephant.

What is Fine Art?

Auvers, France church painting
Van Gogh’s Church At Auvers, France

Fine art is a visual expression or application of human creativity involving both technical know-how (skill) and the ability to think of new things (imagination). Artists who create fine works of art do so primarily for aesthetic reasons and they usually specialize in a specific type of art, such as painting or sculpture.

It is helpful to note the word “fine” does not indicate the quality of the artwork, but rather, the purity of the discipline. In other words, creations considered as fine art include calligraphy, drawings, paintings, printmaking and sculpture. It excludes applied art, decorative arts, and crafts. (See What are the Classifications of Art? for more information.)

Types of Fine Art

  • Drawings—chalk, charcoal, color wax pencil, crayon, graphite pencil, inked brush, marker, pen and ink, pastel, stylus, or various metals like silverpoint
  • Paintings—acrylic, aerosol paint, enamel, fresco, gouache, hot wax, inks, oils, pastel, tempera, or watercolor (For more information on the various styles of paintings see Know Your Art Painting Styles: 7 Most Popular)
  • Printmaking—engraving, etching, foil imaging, Giclée print, lithography, monoprint, monotype, screenprinting, stencil, or woodcut
  • Sculpture—clay, glass, metal, plastic, stone or wood
  • Calligraphy—the art of beautiful handwriting or fancy lettering (See Calligraphy for more information.)

Holy Lands wall art“Sea of Galilee at Capernaum”
Landscape by Teresa Bernard
20″ x 16″
Oils on stretched canvas

>> More info


Fine Art Skills

The creation of fine artworks requires knowledge in art theory, design techniques and adequate usage of the tools of the trade that is necessary for composition, design and the creation of fine works of art. The skills necessary can be developed in a variety of ways. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Apprenticeships under other accomplished fine artists
  • Attending college courses at all levels
  • Attending workshops and classes conducted by other artists
  • Joining artists’ collectives
  • Studying the Old Masters and other works of art by modern day artists

Creative Imagination

Creative thinking is the ability to form a mental image of new ideas or something that has not yet been thought of or beforehand experienced. It involves:
1) picturing within one’s mind familiar objects or concepts in a new light,
2) digging down beneath the surface to find previously unnoticed patterns, and
3) finding connections between seemingly unrelated attributes.

Bible Scripture And Visual Art

Biblical Art

What does the Holy Bible reveal about the visual arts?

Let’s see what the Bible tells us about this topic. It is always best to study scripture in context. If possible, you might want to read the verses that come before and after the verses listed to establish its context. From Scripture we learn:


Holy Lands wall art“Sea of Galilee at Capernaum”
Landscape by Teresa Bernard
20″ x 16″
Oils on stretched canvas

>> More info


  1. Artistic ability is God-given
    • Exodus 28:3 – English Standard Version (ESV)
      You shall speak to all the skillful, whom I have filled with a spirit of skill, that they make Aaron’s garments to consecrate him for my priesthood.
    • Exodus 31:1-11 – The Message (MSG)
      1-5God spoke to Moses: “See what I’ve done; I’ve personally chosen Bezalel son of Uri, son of Hur of the tribe of Judah. I’ve filled him with the Spirit of God, giving him skill and know-how and expertise in every kind of craft to create designs and work in gold, silver, and bronze; to cut and set gemstones; to carve wood—he’s an all-around craftsman.6-11“Not only that, but I’ve given him Oholiab, son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan, to work with him. And to all who have an aptitude for crafts I’ve given the skills to make all the things I’ve commanded you: the Tent of Meeting, the Chest of The Testimony and its Atonement-Cover, all the implements for the Tent, the Table and its implements, the pure Lampstand and all its implements, the Altar of Incense, the Altar of Whole-Burnt-Offering and all its implements, the Washbasin and its base, the official vestments, the holy vestments for Aaron the priest and his sons in their priestly duties, the anointing oil, and the aromatic incense for the Holy Place—they’ll make everything just the way I’ve commanded you.”
    • Exodus 35:30-35 – The Message (MSG)
      30-35Moses told the Israelites, “See, God has selected Bezalel son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. He’s filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability, and know-how for making all sorts of things, to design and work in gold, silver, and bronze; to carve stones and set them; to carve wood, working in every kind of skilled craft. And he’s also made him a teacher, he and Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. He’s gifted them with the know-how needed for carving, designing, weaving, and embroidering in blue, purple, and scarlet fabrics, and in fine linen. They can make anything and design anything.”
  2. Art is a skill
    • 2 Samuel 5:11 – New International Version (NIV)
      Now Hiram king of Tyre sent envoys to David, along with cedar logs and carpenters and stonemasons, and they built a palace for David.
    • 1 Chronicles 22:15 – English Standard Version (ESV)
      You have an abundance of workmen: stonecutters, masons, carpenters, and all kinds of craftsmen without number, skilled in working
    • 2 Chronicles 2:14 – English Standard Version (ESV)
      the son of a woman of the daughters of Dan, and his father was a man of Tyre. He is trained to work in gold, silver, bronze, iron, stone, and wood, and in purple, blue, and crimson fabrics and fine linen, and to do all sorts of engraving and execute any design that may be assigned him, with your craftsmen, the craftsmen of my lord, David your father.
    • 2 Chronicles 24:12 – New American Standard Bible (NASB)
      The king and Jehoiada gave it to those who did the work of the service of the house of the Lord; and they hired masons and carpenters to restore the house of the Lord, and also workers in iron and bronze to repair the house of the Lord.
    • Proverbs 31:24 – New American Standard Bible (NASB)
      She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies belts to the tradesmen.
    • Jeremiah 18:1-6 – English Standard Version (ESV)
      1The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2“Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” 3So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.
      5Then the word of the Lord came to me: 6“O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.”
  3. Art is beautiful
    • 1 Kings 6 – As you read through this particular passage, you should note that God goes into great bit of detail on how He wants his temple to be constructed. Some of the instructions even require craftsmen and artisans to complete. From reading these verses, it is clear that God wants a beautiful place of worship for his people.
    • 1 Kings 7:13-51 – In addition to specific instructions regarding the temple construction, God also goes into detail about how he wants the furnishings for the temple constructed.
    • Song of Solomon 7:1 – New American Standard Bible (NASB)
      How beautiful are your feet in sandals, O prince’s daughter! The curves of your hips are like jewels, The work of the hands of an artist.
    • Philippians 4:8 – English Standard Version (ESV)
      Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
  4. Art glorifies God
    • Psalm 50:2 – New American Standard Bible (NASB)
      Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God has shone forth.
    • 1 Corinthians 10:31 – English Standard Version (ESV)
      So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
    • Colossians 3:23 – New American Standard Bible (NASB)
      Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men,
  5. God is the original Artist, the prime Master Craftsman

    Garden Tomb, Jerusalem painting“The Garden Tomb at Sunset”
    Landscape by Teresa Bernard
    12″ x 9″
    Oils on stretched canvas

    >> More info


    • Genesis 1:1, 27 – English Standard Version (ESV)
      1In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
      27So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
    • Genesis 2:7 – English Standard Version (ESV)
      then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.
    • Job 10:8-9 – New International Version (NIV)
      8Your hands shaped me and made me. Will you now turn and destroy me? 9Remember that you molded me like clay. Will you now turn me to dust again?
    • Job 38:4 – New American Standard Bible (NASB)
      “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.”
    • Psalm 139:13-16 – English Standard Version (ESV)
      13For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. 14I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. 15My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them
    • Isaiah 29:16 – English Standard Version (ESV)
      You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, “He did not make me”; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, “He has no understanding”?
    • Isaiah 45:9, 18 – New International Version (NIV)
      9“Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker, those who are nothing but potsherds among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘The potter has no hands’?
      18For this is what the Lord says—he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited—he says: “I am the Lord, and there is no other.
    • Isaiah 64:8 – New American Standard Bible (NASB)
      But now, O Lord, You are our Father; we are the clay, and You are our potter; and all of us are the work of Your hand.
    • Zachariah 12:1 – New International Version (NIV)
      A prophecy: The word of the Lord concerning Israel. The Lord, who stretches out the heavens, who lays the foundation of the earth, and who forms the human spirit within a person, declares:
    • Romans 9:20-21 – New International Version (NIV)
      20But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” 21Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?
    • Ephesians 2:10 – English Standard Version (ESV)
      For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
    • Colossians 1:16 – New American Standard Bible (NASB)
      For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.
    • Hebrews 1:10 – New International Version (NIV)
      He also says, “In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth,
      and the heavens are the work of your hands.
    • Revelation 4:11 – English Standard Version (ESV)
      “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”