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more about the classification of artists, art movements, and their works

Establishing a correspondence between a work and a movement is a three-step process. One must: 1) establish the characteristics that define a specific movement, 2) establish the characteristics that define a specific work of art, 3) decide whether the characteristics correspond sufficiently to declare a match. This process demands inherently difficult and complex aesthetic decision-making.

more About classification

Classifying Fine Art is a daunting enterprise because any art is (and should be) a fluid enterprise. Here are some of the reasons:

  • Art experts differ on their definition of art movements and their periods; they sometimes they apply different names when they mean the same thing.
  • Often it is difficult to pin down when a movement begins or ends.
  • Questions arise as to which artist belongs to which movement.
  • Should a movement be defined according to medium? For example, should there be one movement for Impressionistic sculpture and another for Impressionistic painting?
  • Movements overlap in time as well as in technique, subject matter, and other ingredients.
  • A movement may take place in different countries at different times. It may take different forms in one country or another.
  • Some would argue that it is the work that belongs to a movement, not an artist, or vice versa.
  • Some artists are multifaceted; they concurrently produce work in different genres and mediums. During his lifetime, an artist may transition from one movement to another. Does such artists belong in more in one movement, or should they be classified according to a center of gravity?
  • Genres don't fit into neat packages.
  • A given work or artist may embody the characteristics of different movements. Where does such a work belong?
  • Some artists or works simply defy classification.
  • Many artists are ambidextrous; they work in any style or medium that pleases them, for example, oil paintings or sculpture.

then why classify?

Because of issues like these, any classification system will inevitably stimulate differences of opinion; it will commit aesthetic excesses, make factual mistakes, and produce errors of judgment.

Nevertheless, classifying fine art is a process that is well worth the attendant risks because it inevitably results in structure. Any well-conceived classification scheme will result in a structural underpinning by which to understand the cultural settings in which artists work, the forces that cause change, and the kind of changes that result. In this, being right is not as important as being organized.

As with all such efforts, this Capsule History suffers from the kinds of difficulties cited above. But it also offers some of the benefits. To illustrate this point, one can scan the History to discern important trends in the evolution of Western art, in the development of mankind's urge to produce fine art, and in man's ability to do so.

Looking over this History, which covers a period of roughly 20-40 thousand years (The Muse includes cave, Minoan, and Egyptian art for context), and especially looking over the portion covering the last twenty-five hundred or so years (starting with pre-Classical Greece), one cannot help but be impressed by the tremendous expansion in the depth and breadth of mankind's artistic accomplishments, in the persistence of man's urge to create art, and in the growth in his technical capacity to do so. The technical quality of this art is generally high, often superb; and its expressive quality is astonishing.

Also, one sees clearly the more or less continually accelerating rate of fine art production and the consistent growth in quality and quantity of imaginative ideas, viewpoints, styles, techniques, worldly perceptions, and maturity of creative accomplishment. This is surely a momentum that cannot and will not be stopped.

These are the kinds of insights that might be difficult to achieve or might be lost entirely without the structure that comes from classification.

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