We all have opinions about the many styles of art out there, and what we like or don’t like in the work of other artists. That doesn’t mean we think the work we don’t like is necessarily bad, just not to our personal tastes. But what is it about a particular style that we find interesting or appealing, or off-putting? How do we talk about stylistic differences?
According to a quick Wikipedia search, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Style_(visual_arts)):
“In the visual arts, style is a ‘…distinctive manner which permits the grouping of works into related categories.’ or ‘…any distinctive, and therefore recognizable, way in which an act is performed or an artifact made or ought to be performed and made.’ It refers to the visual appearance of a work of art that relates it to other works by the same artist or one from the same period, training, location, ‘school’, art movement or archaeological culture: ‘The notion of style has long been the art historian’s principal mode of classifying works of art. By style he selects and shapes the history of art’.
Style is often divided into the general style of a period, country or cultural group, group of artists or art movement, and the individual style of the artist within that group style. Divisions within both types of styles are often made, such as between ‘early’, ‘middle’ or ‘late’. In some artists, such as Picasso for example, these divisions may be marked and easy to see, in others they are more subtle. Style is seen as usually dynamic, in most periods always changing by a gradual process, though the speed of this varies greatly, between the very slow development in style typical of Prehistoric art or Ancient Egyptian art to the rapid changes in Modern art styles. Style often develops in a series of jumps, with relatively sudden changes followed by periods of slower development.”
Without going into the many permutations within each, here are some broad definitions of basic styles…
“Realism (or naturalism) in the arts is the attempt to represent subject matter truthfully, without artificiality and avoiding artistic conventions, implausible, exotic and supernatural elements.”
“Abstract Art uses a visual language of shape, form, color and line to create a composition which may exist with a degree of independence from visual references in the world.
Abstraction in early art and many cultures: Much of the art of earlier cultures – signs and marks on pottery, textiles, and inscriptions and paintings on rock – were simple, geometric and linear forms which might have had a symbolic or decorative purpose. It is at this level of visual meaning that abstract art communicates.”
Author’s Note: I am lumping “stylized” and “primitive” in this category, as forms of abstraction…
Stylized (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abstract_art):
“Stylization and stylized (or ‘stylisation’ and ‘stylised’ in British English, respectively) have a more specific meaning, referring to visual depictions that use simplified ways of representing objects or scenes that do not attempt a full, precise and accurate representation of their visual appearance (mimesis or ‘realistic’), preferring an attractive or expressive overall depiction. More technically, it has been defined as ‘the decorative generalization of figures and objects by means of various conventional techniques, including the simplification of line, form, and relationships of space and color”, and observed that ‘Stylized art reduces visual perception to constructs of pattern in line, surface elaboration and flattened space’.”
Primitive (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Primitivism):
“Primitivism is a Western art movement that borrows visual forms from non-Western or prehistoric peoples, such as Paul Gauguin’s inclusion of Tahitian motifs in paintings and ceramics. Borrowings from primitive art has been important to the development of modern art.”
I could not find a good definition for this style, so I went for the dictionary… though we all know “whimsical” when we see it.
adjective1 playfully quaint or fanciful, especially in an appealing and amusing way: a whimsical sense of humor.2 acting or behaving in a capricious manner: the whimsical arbitrariness of autocracy.”
I like to think of “whimsical” as something that makes me smile, laugh, swoon from cuteness, or some other similar reaction. There is an emotive quality to work in this category.
There are other style definitions that one can use, or even, style expressions within the above definitions, such as “Organic”, “Curvilinear”, and “Rectilinear / Geometric”. And quite often, more than one definition may apply to a given work of art, or architecture. For example, an art nouveau building might be described as “abstract / organic, with curvilinear detailing” and it might even have naturalistic characteristics. The range of potential style definitions and areas of potential overlap can go on and on, and can get rather complicated. But let’s stick to the above basic categories and do a little old fashioned style analysis.
But first, why bother? Why do we care about style and where a particular work of art fits within our universe of styles? For one, it helps us as artists to understand our own style in the work we create. By seeing our work in the context of other styles, we come to see what is unique (or not) in our own efforts. It helps us to grow and define our own voice. And secondly, it gives us a “handle” to communicate with our fellow artists and the public in general, about our work, the work of others, and cultural / historical contexts. And on a personal level, when we like or don’t like something, understanding the language of style provides a means of identifying more specifically, characteristics that cause us to react the way we do.
By way of a brief survey, I’m going to share some examples of bead and component designs. To get our feet wet, let’s start with the Feather concept.
|Laura Mears renders her feathers in a hyper realistic style,
with both elaborate carving and glaze detailing.
|Caroline Dewison’s feather is very realistic with delicate carving to bring out the details.
She chose, however, a simple glaze treatment for a slightly more abstract, interpretative style.
|Terri Del Signore, also renders a fairly realistic feather, but with
a primitive stylization that keeps the realism in check.
|Rebekah Payne’s feathers are both whimsical and stylized.
They also have a distinct primitive quality to them.
|Lesley Watt’s highly stylized bronze feather, has a strong abstract feel to it, as seen in
how she integrated the heavy textural pattern into a simple, almost geometric shape.
|Kylie Parry’s feather is a simple primitive design.|
In my own work, I have been playing with stylized primitive treatments of woodland objects and critters. I deliberately strive for a look that hints at – but does not imitate – american indian and other historic primitive styles. Lately, I especially love WOOD. I form and carve clay in a stylized homage to all things tree-born. Wood in jewelry components is a popular trend right now, with many designers using actual branch and twig elements in their work. While I like this look, as a designer, it is overly realistic for my tastes. My opinion is not surprising, given my penchant for primitive stylization.
|Wood Twig beads by Rich Kibbons|
|My ceramic leaves overlaid onto a real birch branch slice. As you can see here, I was intrigued by the idea of using actual wood elements in some of my work. But I eventually abandoned
the idea as it seemed a bit too realistic for my tastes.
|Assorted “log slices”, leaf, tree bark, and other nature elements,
all in a simple primitive style. (Starry Road Studio)
|Ceramic twig beads, again, largely a primitive style, though I do verge
on a naturalistic rendering of the bark. (Starry Road Studio)
|Ceramic branch with leaf charms; while the branch – like my twigs –
are primitive with shades of realism, the leaves are very abstracted,
with simple broad “strokes” indicating leaf veins. (Starry Road Studio)
|On a more whimsical note, a little bird on a log. (Starry Road Studio)|
|Arrow and wood beads. (Starry Road Studio)|
Another popular subject for expression in beads, are birds and owls. Here are a few examples in a broad range of styles.
|Rebekah Payne’s Sleepy Owl has both naturalistic and whimsical qualities.
In the latter case, in the playful treatment of the eyelashes.
|Laura Mears‘ treatment of her barn owls, is highly realistic, with a touch of stylization
in the simplified dark line work around the eyes, beak and heart-shaped face.
|Linda Landig’s little clay bird is adorably primitive and whimsical.|
|This little owl by Caroline Dewison screams primitive in it’s highly
abstracted form, complimented by the rustic glaze.
|Jenny Davies-Razor’s fierce looking owls are naturalistic
with an expressive, almost whimsical feel.
|These little guys actually made me chuckle. They are Lesley Watt’s
Owls with Sweater Vests. Talk about whimsy! And very stylized.
|A bird by Gaea, with strong abstract qualities in the use of
a simple overall shape and a bold painted pattern.
My own owls and birds tend to be abstract and stylized. And, again, I go for a primitive look, with simple shapes and details. In some cases, the shaping is highly stylized, inspired by american indian art of the Pacific North West.
|Owls in their tree homes. The owls are simple little shapes (stylized),
while the trees are rendered with a bit more detail, making them more
realistic but still relatively simple and primitive. (Starry Road Studio)
|A little woodland bird, primitively rendered in both carving
and glaze treatment, on a tree stump. (Starry Road Studio)
|Owls, rendered in a rigorously primitive style, inspired by Pacific
North West american indian art. (Starry Road Studio)
More recently, I’ve been playing with barn owl ideas. Two takes: one more stylized and simple, the other with a touch of realism in the face details. I’m still not sure where I want to go with this. I’m balking at the latter because it seems antithetical to the style I prefer. But we’ll see…
|My simple version of a barn owl. I feel more comfortable with the overall style of this, vs….|
|…this take, with it’s very detailed face carving.|
(Starry Road Studio)
So why the dilemma? Well, though I prefer a simpler treatment, I felt that it does not fully express the amazing pattern of feathers in a barn owl face…. as seen in this photo by Mark Whittaker. This pattern is a key element of what makes the barn owl so spectacular.
|“Melanistic” European Dark Breasted Barn Owl – by Mark Whittaker (Twit Twoo)|
And yet, in my second take, I feel that the detailing is overdone and inconsistent with the style I tend to prefer working in. I will eventually resolve the issue (probably after glaze testing and seeing how the final result looks), but I share this as an example of how we might step back to examine our own work for style characteristics, to better understand what works or doesn’t work. However, to be clear, this is a fluid process. Developing a style is not a matter of artificially shoe-horning one’s work into a style not discovered by the creative process itself. Doing that only results in imitation or derivative work that in the end, would probably not be very satisfying.
Next time you look at your own work, think about the style you are working in. Is there a consistent style across your body of work? Is it eclectic, with a variety a styles? Is it evolving? How do you feel about the style(s) you are working in? Have you ever stepped back and said “I don’t like this or that”, or “wow that really works for me!”
Finally, a point I want to clarify is that style is never static. It is natural and necessary for us as artists to explore new ideas, forms and media, that challenge us to evolve. Even when a signature style emerges out of our work, we still need to experiment and make course adjustments for what feels right. It is always a journey of discovery.