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Neoclassicism To Minimalism

An art movement is a style in art with explicit common philosophy which is adhered to by a group of artists during a restricted period of time or its heyday. Over the years, various art forms have been developed. Neoclassicism, Romanticism, Impressionism, Surrealism, cubism, Futurism, Post-Impressionism and Realism has been discussed here-in on a basis of characteristics, themes and examples of artwork.

Neoclassicism was an art and style developed during the late 1700’s in the French revolution. It has various visual characteristics: It is solidly modeled using strong direct lights and darks to show form, the compositions are rational in that they are balanced and orderly, presence of strong acidic colors, there are no marks left by the artist since brush strokes are carefully controlled to hide individual strokes and it stresses virtues of classical civilizations of the Greeks and Romans such as discipline, athleticism, education, and moral principles, honesty and charity. Angular and sculptural shapes are normally assigned to males while soft and curvilinear forms depict women. Neoclassical themes are normally centered on classical stories heroic acts and virtues carried out by males who are depicted as gallant and stoic. Felinity in women, on the other hand, is depicted and confined to the domestic and private realm. Neoclassicism is therefore depicted as masculine whereby the male body depicts topical issues on politics, society and sexual attributes. The Neoclassic painting of the famous violinist Paganini by Ingres shows this form perfectly. (Brumfield, 1991)

Romanticism was an art style during the mid 1800s that was a resultant of the revolt against Neoclassicism. The major characteristics of Romanticism are: It attempts to display ideal beauty through dramatic scenes, individual marks of the artist can be viewed, it is a form of art that is based on feelings basically of love rather than thoughts hence gets the viewer to experience strong emotions and it is based on an exotic subject matter. In its theme, it is normally based on atmospheric landscapes with a nostalgic depiction of the past especially the Gothic with a bias towards the primitive such as traditional folk culture, cult of individual heroic figures who are often revolutionaries in art or politics, mysticism, the cult of sensibility that emphasizes on women and children, passion for romance and a fascination with death. The romantic painting of Paganini by Turner attempts to show the feeling of his music through the emotional qualities of the man and physical traits of the composer. (Tekiner, 2000)

Impressionism is an art movement or style that started in the mid 1800s in France. There are various characteristics of Impressionism such as: Asymmetrical balance whereby the plunging perspective, cropped forms  and art work compositions are balanced asymmetrically; use of pure color whereby pure, prismatic colors fresh from the new tin tubes unmixed on the palette are laid directly on the canvas; use of Impasto or thick paint applied in thick raised strokes  to create a roughened uneven texture; use of a high horizon line in order to create a plunging perspective; use of colored shadows and the use of broken color and broken brushstrokes. The theme expresses perceptions of nature by covering rural landscapes, maritime landscapes, pastoral landscapes, bucolic visions of nature and aquatic art. Neo-Impressionist paintings have gone further to entail urban scenes and joyous modern life in working class scenes. One of the famous pieces of art was Girl with a Hoop done by Pierre-Auguste Renoir in 1885. (Denvir, 1990)

Surrealism is a form of art and a cultural movement that started in the 1920s which drew elements from both Cubism and Expressionism. Over the years, the members have produced great works in visual artworks and writings. There are various characteristics of this style which entail a blend of the depictive, the abstract, and the psychological. Some devices applied are levitation, changing of scale in an object, transparency and use of repetition in creating a typical art form. The juxtaposition of objects that would otherwise not be grouped together is also used in order to convey a certain message or show a metaphor.  Most artworks have simple titles that simply state the subject matter for easy comprehensibility. The major theme is the ability of love to overcome reason which has been widely depicted by the French surrealist Desnos’s in Deuil pour Deuil whereby the narrator is in a ruined desert city close to a river yet he insists on ‘us’. This illustrates a blind quest for love. Other themes covered are sexuality as depicted by Metamorphosis of Narcissus painted in 1937; artistic intention, chance and fatalism; relation between dream and reality and taboos. (Breton, 1924)

The basics of cubism can be seen in another art movement such as pointillism and fauvism. Cubism is the art form entailing creation of abstract shapes in three dimension on a two dimensional surface.  Artists such as Pablo Picasso have popularized this art form. The artist's attempt to show several views on multiple planes of a particular subject is the most distinguishable feature. Cubist art forms are also shallow in depth and perception. It preserves a warped two-dimensional look via a presentation of subjects that are broken up along geometric planes. Analytic Cubist art applies monochromatic color scheme while synthetic cubism adopts multiple color schemes. The most popular theme is still life as depicted by the Still Life with Open Window painting by Rue Ravignan in 1915. This is a work of art that depicts inanimate subject content, commonplace objects such as flowers and manmade objects such as jewellery. Religious and allegorical symbolism is attached to the art. (Cooper, 1970)

Futurism is an art form that emerged in Italy under the Italian poet, Filippo Marinetti . There are various essential characteristics of futurism such as it includes irregular, agitated lines communicating the movement’s energy and images being displayed as if in perpetual motion. Futurism is based on a theme of violence, war, anarchy, technology and speed based on an urban background which is conveyed through the artwork’s energy. Paintings and sculptures glorify life and the changes in technology that transforms objects.  Carrà's Funeral of the Anarchist Galli displays police attacks and the riot aftermath in 1904 Italy. Broken panes and diagonals rendered energetically distinguish this art form. (Conversi, 2009)
Post-Impressionism is a resultant art form as a widely felt reaction against impressionism. These paintings apply the bright Impressionist palette but create art in a formalized order and structure. Paint application technique applied enables the viewer to see the image from multiple angles. In the art work, one can easily see brushstrokes, the style used and the personal experience of the painter over fidelity, multiple viewing angles and the personal expressiveness of the painter. Paintings are based on realistic scenes of modern life which are displayed by visual effects rather than inclusion of details. This is particularly the case in Alfred Sisley’s 1872 painting Bridge at Villeneuve-la-Garenne. (Rewald, 1978)

Realism is an art form that aims at faithfully representing reality and various aspects of actualities in life. It mainly represents the middle class without any prejudice, romance or idealism. It is characterized by a representation of reality in comprehensive detail with characters being of more importance than the action or plot. There is a complex relationship between characters, nature, social class and their past. The diction applied in the compositions is natural but poetic. This art form deals with ethical issues and choices in its themes. The socio-economic class conflict is addressed in these compositions as a major theme. The widening gaps between rich and poor are depicted by the characters used. Charles Dicken’s work on David Copperfield, the suffering of impoverished children who have to work in industries illustrates realism explicitly.  (Morris, 2003)


Breton. (1924). Manifesto of Surrealism. Pierre Reverdy .

Brumfield, W. C. (1991). The Origins of Modernism in Russian Architecture. University of California Press.

Conversi, D. (2009). Art, Nationalism and War: Political Futurism in Italy. Sociology Compass.

Cooper, D. (1970). The Cubist Epoch. Phaidon Press Limited.

Denvir, B. (1990). The Thames and Hudson Encyclopaedia of Impressionism. London: Thames and Hudson.

Morris, P. (2003). Realism. Routledge.

Rewald, J. (1978). Post-Impressionism: From Van Gogh to Gauguin. London : Secker & Warburg.

Tekiner, D. (2000). Modern Art and the Romantic Vision. University Press of America.




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