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Modern Art Appreciation - Influences on Artists' Styles

Andre Derain, Madame Matisse au Kimono, 1905

Artists, writers and composers alike respond to the world around them, acting as mirrors to established cultural norms, challenging the way society behaves and proposing new or different ways of relating to the outer and inner world.

Conflict can be created for artists as they seek to find a balance between making a living by painting as society expects, and in developing new styles of art unrelated to the norm. Those with the most influence in setting the standards for what is acceptable art are the decision makers about what will be hung in art museums and other public places and taught in art schools; art critics; patrons; dealers and buyers.

Generally, people are most comfortable with what they already know, so rapid and unexpected change often meets with disapproval. People with limited exposure to art are generally more likely to prefer art with which they can readily identify, such as landscapes and portraits etc, painted using traditional methods.

The issues of societal norms and having sufficient funds for living has particularly been an issue for women, who have not had the same artistic freedom as their male counterparts. At the same time, art critics and historians have tended to define art (particularly of domestic scenes) by female artists as 'feminine art' and of being of lesser value than painting by men. In large measure, particularly up until this century, art by women has mostly been invisible in galleries and publications.

Most well known artists are part of a wider artistic community, who support, challenge, and learn from each other. Being part of a community, however loosely, also provides artists with greater access to exhibitions and other methods of promoting their work. Such communities also included patrons, dealers, art schools, and other creative groups, such as writers, designers, composers and musicians etc, all of whom influence the direction of art from their particular perspective.

Art and art styles have also been very much a reflection of established norms in the physical act of applying paint (or other media) to a surface, and in advances in technology over time, such as new types of paint, the introduction of paint tubes, portable easels, and new bristles on bushes. These, together with responses to other advances in technology, such as photography and printing processes, have enabled artists to be more creative, more mobile (for example, being able to move out from the studio and paint outdoors) and be able to replicate images and produce multiple copies of artworks.

Paintings are also a response to the individual artist's own environment, and their psyche. A number of artists spend many years in formal study and continually strive to improve their professional technique, and to explore such things as composition, form, colour and the other elements of art to create 'works of art' which reflect their unique style. Other artists are more influenced by the need for creative self expression, in response to religious or other beliefs, or as a way of dealing with personal issues. Some artists have used alcohol and/or drugs to heighten their approach to expression.

Artists tend to be 'products of their time', responding subtly or overtly to the broader political, economic and technological environment that marks the point in history in which they are living and working.

This is an excerpt from my e-course on Modern European Art.

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