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The Stylistic Spectrum
Yesterday, a friend and I were discussing how all the hundreds of art styles today, and those down through the centuries, all related to one another. That's some pretty deep "spit" as one might say. It's difficult enough to understand all of today's painting styles, but quite another to have to consider that each style has a historic pedigree to consider. But there is a way to make some degree of sense out of it all. And being as this is a very much a political season, I suggest using a political analogy.

Basically, think of it as a spectrum, from (shall we say) conservatism (Realism) on one end (add adjectives to taste) to radical liberalism (Minimalism) on the opposite end. There are all manner of stylistic "isms" in between and most (some would say all) of them involved some degree of abstraction. At some point (left, right, or centre) recognisable subject matter disappears; that point depending upon the viewer's imagination. From there on into the extremes of Minimalism work is considered non-representational.

Now, that's a simple but somewhat rough picture. There are others promulgated by various art philosophers. One, for instance, is analogous to the colour wheel. However, I for one fail to see how one might tie the two tails together into the smooth colour transition of the colour spectrum without something a bone-jarring bump between the subjective Photo-realism and non-representational Minimalism, except for the fact that they both tend to be emotionally, rather cold and dehumanising.

Stylistically, for the staunch conservatives, there is the extreme, cold, hard realism of Richard Estes. Add a little warmth and diversity and you get work not too unlike my own where the photo, though still important, does not rule. Move a little further along the spectrum and you move into a kind of pre-Impressionist territory. This Realism includes much of the painting being done today--what one might call painterly Realism. Impressionism quickly follows. When Impressionism begins to get a little wild we would call in Expressionism. Impressionism takes its cue from external nature filtered through the artist's vision onto canvas. Expressionism has as its input emotional experiences and memories distilled internally by the nature of the artist. When that internal output from within begins to get out of hand (so to speak), we find Abstract Expressionism (content becoming quite difficult to recognise). And when seeing any recognisable content at all is left totally in the hands (or head) of the viewer, the work may still be abstract (debatable) but at any rate, also becomes non-representational. Non-representational art may have some emotional content left over from Expressionism but it is more and more about formalistic art elements as it becomes more and more extreme, finally ending in purely formalistic arrangements of colour, shape line, texture, and space. This extreme form we call Minimalism.

So, just as we all find a comfortable little niche on the political spectrum (even if we sometimes squirm around a little if there's a politically attractive candidate nearby); likewise, as artists, we tend to plop down somewhere along the stylistic spectrum as well (though over the course of a lifetime some of us put on hiking boots and explore a little).

Contributed by Lane, Jim
10 March 2000

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