Art Periods and Art Movements

When learning art history, it’s important to know how the details and nuances of individuals, but it’s also really helpful to understand how things are simplified and grouped together.

Art history is divided into periods and movements. The difference between the two is time and intent. While art periods are usually based on historical eras, art movements are decided by artists as a collective.

The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo (c. 1512) (High Renaissance period)
The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo (c. 1512) (High Renaissance period)

Art Periods:

Art periods are grouped together by art historians because they are made in the same time period, share similar art subjects, and have a common religion and culture.

For example, Medieval period art refers to art made during the medieval era, after the fall of Rome and before the Renaissance. Pretty straight forward right?

Examples of art periods: prehistorical period, Mesopotamian period, Egyptian period, byzantine period, renaissance period, baroque period, just to name a few.

Bal du moulin de la Galette by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (Impressionist art movement)
Bal du moulin de la Galette by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (Impressionist art movement)

Art Movements:

An art movement is formed by a group of artists, usually with a set goal, associated art style and shared ideology. They usually meet together and hold meetings, have publications and manifestos to discuss and declare their goals. (Remember Dada’s Cafe Volitare?)

Examples of art movements: realism, Impressionism, Expressionism, cubism, surrealism, pop art and post modernism.

The line between periods and movements aren’t always clear, But while periods were designated after the fact, Movements were formed by artists - they may have not called themselves the same name, such as in Mannerism, the artist didn’t call themselves mannerists - but they had a same set of ideology or goals, set apart from the church or state’s definition of “good art”.

Art made today is grouped into a broader category of contemporary art, but maybe in the future there’ll be a more specific name other than “modern” or “contemporary” (which still confuses people today).

Contemporary artists are more independent, rather than forming art collectives as all the “-isms” did, so it’s pretty hard to give them a more descriptive name like the Impressionists or Cubists.

Out of all the periods and movements of art, what’s your favorite? Let me know and may be there’ll be a video about it! ;)


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