The most common method for classifying fine art paintings is by genre (or theme). Genre is a French word that means “type” or “kind.” It’s the type of image a painting has as its subject. For instance, the classification of fine art paintings by genre means a painting is categorized as a landscape, portrait, still life, seascape, wildlife, or other themes.
Common Painting Themes
Abstract Art is artwork that looks like a two-year-old did it. It has no defined meaning. It 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, textures, and colors thrown haphazardly onto a canvas. Its purpose is to let the viewer interpret its meaning for themselves.
Cityscapes, often known as Urban Landscapes, are paintings that depict the physical characteristics of a city, urban life, sections of a town (such as a city block, street corner, outdoor café, rooftops, etc.), or other metropolitan areas. A Townscape is similar to a cityscape; only it is of a township with a smaller population and perhaps less modern architecture. See the example of a cityscape.
Genre Art is scene art of everyday life. It depicts real life in action with ordinary people at work or in recreational situations. These 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 is frequently represented in a realistic manner.
History Paintings or Historical Paintings feature subject matter borrowed from classical history and mythology, as well as the Bible. A wide range of historical issues and topics can be shown in history paintings. It frequently depicts a scene from a story or a significant event from the past. It should not be mistaken with genre paintings that reflect events from ordinary life.
Landscape paintings showcase the natural beauty of the great outdoors with its mountains, valleys, meadows, trees, rivers, woods, sky, and weather. It can even include the countryside, farms, and structures that one would expect to find there, such as fencing, bridges, barns, windmills, or farmhouses. See the example of a landscape painting. Title: The Grand Teton Mountains
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 waterways and all art showing boats and ships. It almost always consists of some element of a seafaring vessel. Ship portraits are a style of maritime art that is still popular today and depicts a single vessel.
Naïve Art is characterized by its childlike simplicity, which includes minute detail, vibrant colors, disproportionate figures, and a lack of perspective. It depicts basic, easy-to-understand situations of ordinary life that are frequently romanticized. The absence of perspective often creates the illusion that figures within naïve paintings are weightless or floating. Naïve artists are frequently self-taught. They have very little or no formal art training.
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. Portraits usually portray 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 (one in which the artist does an artwork of him/herself), and Pet Portraits (a beloved pet, however, animals usually fall into the wildlife category).
Religious Art, also known as Sacred Art, is a kind of visual expression that draws on religious inspiration to convey a message intended to improve the morals of those who view it. The subject can be either a sacred story or a profession of the artist’s faith. Religion means any set of individual beliefs, either Christian or non-Christian, regarded as sacred, holy, spiritual, or divine. Shown is an example of religious art and is titled The Communion Table.
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 are not to be confused with Maritime Art which depicts life out on the open sea. The example shown is titled: Oregon Coast Looking South of the Sea Lion Caves.
Space Art also 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. It often depicts interstellar and interplanetary elements as its subject. Since the invention of telescopes, artists can now depict the grandeur and majesty of our universe by rendering what they see out there. Planets, stars, constellations, spacecraft, astronauts, black holes, moons, comets, and other heavenly bodies can be found in space art. Some additional art terms related to this category include lunar landscape, moonscape, moonset, etc. The sample shown is a commission painting titled: First Footprint On The Moon.
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 are flowers, food, wine, rocks, seashells, dead animal skulls, etc. Examples of manufactured items are drinking glasses, books, bottles, pottery, coins, dishes, musical instruments, and so forth. The sample shown is titled: Still Life With Fruit and Candle.
Wildlife Art depicts the natural world and the wild or domesticated animals that live there. It dates back to prehistoric cave paintings as one of the earliest forms of art. Portraits of animals or fish (whether wildlife or family pets) would fit into this genre. The wildlife art sample shown is titled Raging African Elephant.
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