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I was always a little confused as to how certain types of art are placed into certain genres at art shows. For one thing, it seemed to be purely subjective, depending on each artist’s concept of what that particular Genre was and some art didn’t seem to fit into any division at all!
Categorize this for me and put it in the proper Genre: imaginary people, imaginary house, imaginary scene of a modern family on Christmas morning (Mom and Dad in the kitchen making coffee or whatever, a young girl curled up in a chair with an I-Pod or phone, two teenage boys playing a video game on the wide-screen TV and grandparents coming in the kitchen door with packages). It’s not a portrait because the people aren’t real, yes or no?
I did find a definition on the internet: “Genre is the general classification of your image.” One of the best examples of saying nothing while seeming to say everything I’ve ever found! Most artists I know seem to classify their art first by the media used to create it and then by the subject matter. For instance, many artists will describe their work as a “watercolor landscape” or an “oil still life”. From the internet, I also got a list of what was considered genre classifications. In many cases, the definition of a Genre was very narrow. Obviously, not all images fit into the Genre categories and I found myself taking issue with the clearness of the description of some them as well so I went looking for comparisons of the definitions and sure enough, everyone has a different opinion! Like many fields, the definition of a Genre seems to depend on which expert you consult. I also found about 30 different genres described, with many of them having sub-genres. For the purpose of this blog, I will confine myself to the genres and sub-genres of interest in the one-dimensional Fine art shown at art shows: Abstract/non-objective, Botanical & Still Life, Contemporary, Drawing, Landscape, Portrait, Realism, and Representational.
Abstract/non-objective art seemed to be images, which did not reflect pictorial reality as opposed to Realism, which tries to show exactly what is seen. On About.com, I found this 1“In its purest form in Western art, an abstract art is one without a recognizable subject, one which doesn't relate to anything external or try to "look like" something. Instead, the colour and form (and often the materials and support) are the subject of the abstract painting. It's completely non-objective or non-representational.” I also found sub-genres in abstract art as well: geometric, figurative, etc. In other words, it did seem to me that anything they couldn’t find a Genre for at art shows got stuck here. Occasionally, I found this category confused with Contemporary art at art shows, which as I later discovered was not the same thing at all!
Botanical & Still Life is usually art about flowers and plants. However many different objects other than plants and flowers have been used in still life art. I placed Still Life with Botanical because so much still life art does use botanical subjects. Wikipedia defines botanical art as “the art of depicting the form, colour, and details of plant species, frequently in watercolour paintings. Historically, these paintings were often printed with a botanical description in books, magazines, and other media. Art of this type required an understanding of plant biology and access to specimens and references. These works were often composed in consultation with a scientific author.”3 Currently, Photographs have replaced most botanical art in textbooks or other pharmacopoeia (medical textbook). The second most common subject matter found in Still Life is food and the third is the décor stuff my mother called “dust-catchers”. Still Life in art is all about lighting and composition; keeping a painting of inanimate objects interesting is much harder than it looks and I have nothing but respect for those who paint this type of art successfully.
Contemporary art was defined on the internet as “Artwork that has been produced employing techniques made popular after World War II”. This was interesting because it certainly didn’t agree with what I have seen in the “Contemporary” categories at art shows! In fact using this definition, most painting materials available are made using modern techniques all artwork painted by living artists could be considered contemporary. At art shows put on by local art groups, I have generally found art depicting abstracts, non-representational art, expressionism, etc., all in this category. It seems to me that oftentimes the subject matter was being used to define the category.
Drawing is defined as images created with conventional drawing materials – pen and ink, pencil, chalk, charcoal… “Drawing is often exploratory, with considerable emphasis on observation. Drawing is regularly used in preparation for a painting, further confusing the distinction between drawing and painting. Drawings created for these purposes are called studies. There are several categories of drawing: figure drawing, cartooning, doodling and shading (cartooning and doodling are not usually considered to be fine art). There are also many drawing methods, such as line drawing, stippling or shading. A quick, unrefined drawing may be called a sketch. In fields outside art, technical drawings or plans of buildings, machinery, circuitry and other things are often called "drawings" even when they have been transferred to another medium by printing.”3 Upon review, I found that although drawing is often considered a Genre at art shows and competitions the internet doesn’t consider it a genre at all. According to Wikipedia “Drawing is a form of visual art that makes use of any number of drawing tools to mark a two-dimensional medium. Tools can include graphite pencils, pen and ink, inked brushes, wax color pencils, crayons, charcoal, chalk, pastels, various kinds of erasers, markers, styluses, and metals (such as silverpoint). A small amount of material is put on a surface or support, leaving a visible mark. The most common support for drawing is paper, although other materials, cardboard, plastic, leather, canvas, and board, may be used. The readiness of drawing tools makes drawing more common than other art media. Drawing is one of the major forms within the visual arts. Old-style drawings were monochrome, or at least had little colour, while modern colored-pencil drawings may cross the boundary between drawing and painting. In Western vocabulary, drawing is distinct from painting, even though similar media is often used in both. Dry media, normally associated with drawing, such as chalk may be used in pastel paintings. Drawing may also be done with a liquid medium applied with brushes or pens (Chinese art). Similar supports can serve both: painting generally involves the application of liquid paint onto prepared canvas or panels, but sometimes an under-drawing is first drawn on that same support.”3 For the purpose of an art show, the Drawing category is often divided by medium, with Pastels most frequently considered a separate category all others lumped into “Graphics”.
Landscape as a Genre was defined as images of landscapes, real or imaginary. This is a category where I wanted to place several “sub-genres”: Seascapes, Cityscapes, interior scenes, etc. I once asked a master artist her definition of a landscape and she told me “anything with a horizon”. Well obviously, a street scene might or might not have a horizon line, but a painting of the inside of a house sure wouldn’t have a horizon although I suppose the floor line might be considered in the same definition. This raises another question: does a painting of say a group people on a city street come under the sub-genre cityscapes or portrait/figurative? And what about an indoor scene of a party or a scene in a restaurant that looks out the window to the landscape? Where does this go? Does a scene inside a house or other building come under landscape? If there are people in the scene, does it then become a portrait painting?
Portraits are images that focus on the personality and representation of a person or animal. This is another category where I wanted to put sub-genres. Portrait implies a single subject, group or object for which that person(s) posed so the art could be created, even if it is a group being painted. Into what Genre then, does a group of people, who are incidental to the painting (there by happenstance) go? For instance into what genre would you place a painting of a street scene or a party or a family dinner where the subjects are imagined?
Realism Art is artwork that focuses on portraying subjects and objects accurately, as they appear in reality. Wikipedia defines this genre as “the attempt to represent subject matter truthfully, without changing it and avoiding artistic principles, implausible, exotic or supernatural elements.”3 Another source, absolutearts.com, says, “Realism is defined by the accurate, unembellished, and detailed depiction of nature or contemporary life. The movement prefers an observation of physical appearance rather than imagination or idealization.” There is a type of art called Photorealism, defined as “the Genre of painting based on using cameras and photographs to gather visual information and then from this creating a painting that appears to be photographic.” I have most commonly seen this art done with either graphite or colored pencil and it allows for more detail. However, some master artists do not consider photorealism to be art at all since the image reproduced on paper or canvas is usually copied exactly from a single photograph. However, I have also seen this done purely from imagination of the artist. If several photos are used as reference material and elements from them combined into a painting then you have produced Representational art rather than Realism art.
Representational Art in the dictionary means to symbolize or to stand for. According to Wikipedia, all art is representational if it shows a recognizable object. “The degree to which an artistic representation resembles the object it represents is a function of resolution and does not bear on the denotation of the word. For example, both the Mona Lisa and a child's crayon drawing of Lisa del Giocondo would be considered representational, and any preference for one over the other would need to be understood as a matter of preferences.”3 So if you paint a landscape and leave out elements that are actually in the scene, shift things around or add in things, to make the painting look better then you have created a piece of representational art.
2John Douglas is head of artist’s commissions for Kings Galleries