Art Evolution: Painting Styles Throughout History | NZ Fine Prints

Art Evolution: Exploring Painting Styles Throughout History

Paintbrushes sitting in front of abstract-style paintinging in front of abstract-style painting

From ancient cave paintings to Warhol’s famous art prints, there’s no doubt that painting styles have evolved in numerous ways throughout history. In this blog post, we walk through some notable periods in art history. Read on to explore ancient artworks from around the world, gain a brief glimpse into their evolution, and reflect on how these styles are expressed in the art scene today.


Prehistoric Painting

Prehistoric paintings are the oldest known paintings of prehistoric man, found on the walls of caves, produced by people of preliterate cultures. Prehistoric paintings are now considered to be priceless artworks. During their time, they are thought to have symbolic or religious intent, and to have been used to keep records and track major historical events. Prehistoric art was observational, documenting the other cultures they had come across, the success of hunters, and more. 

The first examples of art are dated back more than 64,000 years, such as the 71 hand stencils found in the Cave of Maltravieso, alongside animal paintings and some linear designs. Other forms of prehistoric art include engraved stones and crosshatch designs, found throughout Europe and South Africa.


Egyptian Art

Egyptian art gained traction across the western world for its symbolic, vivid, and abstract design. A notable difference between Egyptian art and the record-keeping of prehistoric times is intent. Art was used in a more ritualistic way to express wealth, power, belief systems, history, and life after death. For example, statues were used to honour the deceased. This practice was a symbolic way for the spirit of the dead to remain connected from beyond the terrestrial realm.

There are many examples of ancient Egyptian art, both two and three-dimensional, used to honour the dead. Heavy symbolism was used to connect the Egyptian people with the gods, creating beautiful, usually front-facing statues to honour the royal and elite. Throughout all art styles, the ancient Egyptians used the imagery of people, animals, and other figures, accompanied by text. 

A notable attribute of ancient Egyptian art is the use of size. Many ancient art pieces found across Egypt use size differences to convey hierarchy. Royalty was portrayed in large scales while lower-ranking figures or average Egyptians were depicted much smaller.


The Middle Ages

The Middle Ages are of incredible importance in art history. During this time, medieval artworks around Europe were heavily influenced by Christianity. Societal and cultural developments lead to a boom in the visual arts and a shift in aesthetic values. Medieval artists developed secular art, a departure from the common religious themes at the time, and the wealthy and elite would commission works such as cathedrals, churches, and manuscripts. 

Medieval art encompasses many artistic styles, including the birth of Byzantine, Romanesque, and Gothic art, to name a few. Artists during this period would use mineral pigments and a layering technique for painting. With few options for creating a range of colours and textures, artists would paint over dry colour to create mixes of colour and thick-textured brushstrokes.


Renaissance Art

Renaissance art developed around the year 1300 and is associated with social changes within society. Art in the Renaissance period was influenced by the Middle Ages, with scholars studying literary texts from medieval scholars before them. With artists such as Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo, this is one of the most influential and widely recognised periods for art. 

This period saw a shift in painting and sculpture style, with the development of linear perspective, alongside a range of other techniques, used to give their work a more realistic feeling. The more abstract art of the medieval period had transitioned to a representational style that expanded the subject matter to go beyond biblical scenes. 

More and more artists began adding their own originality to artworks and the period is seen to represent the rebirth of human ideals and naturalism. As well as oil painting, the Renaissance saw the full development of mixing techniques, originally seen in medieval artworks.


Pop Art

Of the numerous modern art movements to date, some of the more notable styles included futurism, surrealism, minimalism, and of course, Pop art. Andy Warhol and other artists within the pop art movement used imagery from popular and mass culture to challenge historic styles of art. This movement utilised commonplace objects and imagery from popular culture or mass-produced objects.

The modern world rejected the history of realism in art and saw the rise of innovative and experimental art. The focus of artists shifted from depicting realistic scenes to the use of various materials, techniques, and other abstract elements. 

Warhol’s work with Marilyn Monroe and the infamous Campbell’s Soup Cans are some of the most recognised modern art pieces. The style has cemented itself in art culture for its use of humour and irony, communicated through the bright punches of colour in the various works.


Neo-Expressionism and Beyond

In the late 70s, Neo-Expressionism dominated the art world, with the portrayal of realistic and familiar objects returning, but often with a more abstract nature. The use of colour harmony and intense expressionism was used as a reaction to the high-concept, minimalistic styles previously seen. The post-modern era of art sees no clear direction for future styles, but it is thought that the world is moving toward pluralism. This means that different art and painting styles are being adopted from various cultures, with artwork and artists becoming more diverse and all-encompassing.


Find Your Favourite Art Styles at New Zealand Fine Prints

There are too many art styles and movements throughout history to cover in a single article. Here, we’ve highlighted some of the most influential periods from prehistoric times to today, showing a brief glimpse into the diverse evolution of art. Interested in delving deeper into the art scene? If so, we have a range of beautiful canvas wall art in NZ for you to explore. Browse New Zealand Fine Prints online today and find your favourite art prints from around the world.