The Difference Between Art Styles, Schools, and Movements

Understanding the Artspeak

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You will come across the terms style, school, and movement endlessly in art. But just what is the difference between them? It often seems that each art writer or historian has a different definition, or that the terms can be used interchangeably, though there are, in fact, subtle differences in their usage.


Style is a fairly encompassing term which can refer to several aspects of art. Style can mean the technique(s) used to create the artwork. Pointillism, for example, is a method of creating a painting by using small dots of color and allowing color blending to occur within the viewer's eye. Style can refer to the basic philosophy behind the artwork, for example, the 'art for the people' philosophy behind Arts and Crafts movement. Style can also refer to the form of expression employed by the artist or the characteristic appearance of artworks. Metaphysical Painting, for example, tends to be of classical architecture in distorted perspective, with incongruous objects placed around the image space, and an absence of people.


A school is a group of artists who follow the same style, share the same teachers, or have the same aims. They are typically linked to a single location. For example:

During the sixteenth century, the Venetian school of painting could be differentiated from other schools in Europe (such as the Florentine school). Venetian painting developed from the school of Padua (with artists such as Mantegna) and the introduction of oil-painting techniques from the Netherlands school (van Eycks). The work of Venetian artists such as the Bellini family, Giorgione, and Titian is characterized by a painterly approach (form is dictated by variations in color rather than the use of line) and the richness of the colors used. In comparison, the Florentine school (which includes such artists as Fra Angelico, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael) was characterized by a strong preoccupation with line and draughtsmanship.

Schools of art from the Middle Ages until the eighteenth century are typically named for the region or city around which they are based. The apprentice system, through which new artists learned the trade ensured that styles of art were continued from master to apprentice.

The Nabis was formed by a small group of like-minded artists, including Paul Sérusier and Pierre Bonnard, who exhibited their works together between 1891 and 1900. (Nabi is the Hebrew word for prophet.) Much like the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in England some forty years earlier, the group initially kept their existence secret. The group met regularly to discuss their philosophy for art, concentrating on a few key areas – the social implication of their work, the need for synthesis in art which would allow 'art for the people', the significance of science (optics, color, and new pigments), and the possibilities created through mysticism and symbolism. Following the publication of their manifesto written by the theorist Maurice Denis (a manifesto became a key step in the development of movements and schools in the early 20th century), and their first exhibition in 1891, additional artists joined the group – most significantly Édouard Vuillard. Their last combined exhibition was in 1899, after which the school began to dissolve.


A group of artists who have a share a common style, theme, or ideology towards their art. Unlike a school, these artists need not be in the same location, or even in communication with each other. Pop Art, for example, is a movement which includes the work of David Hockney and Richard Hamilton in the UK, and also Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, and Jim Dine in the US.

How Can I Tell the Difference Between a School and a Movement?

Schools are generally collections of artists who have grouped together to follow a common vision. For example in 1848 seven artists banded together to form the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (a school of art).

The Brotherhood lasted as a tight-knit group for only a few years at which point its leaders, William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, went their different ways. The legacy of their ideals, however, influenced a large number of painters, such as Ford Madox Brown and Edward Burne-Jones – these people are often referred to as Pre-Raphaelites (notice the lack of 'Brotherhood'), an art movement.

Where Do the Names for Movements and Schools Come from?

The name for schools and movements can come from a number of sources. The two most common are: being selected by the artists themselves, or by an art critic describing their work. For example:

Dada is a nonsense word in German (but means hobby-horse in French and Yes-yes in Romanian). It was adopted by a group of young artists in Zurich, including Jean Arp and Marcel Janco, in 1916. Each of the artists involved has his own tale to tell of who actually thought up the name, but the one most believed is that Tristan Tzara coined the word on 6 February while at a café with Jean Arp and his family. Dada developed across the world, in locations as far afield as Zurich, New York (Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia), Hanova (Kirt Schwitters), and Berlin (John Heartfield and George Grosz).

Fauvism was coined by the French art critic Louis Vauxcelles when he attended an exhibition at the Salon d'Automne in 1905. Seeing a relatively classical sculpture by Albert Marque surrounded by paintings with strong, brash colors and a rough, spontaneous style (created by Henri Matisse, André Derain, and a few others) he exclaimed "Donatello parmi les fauves" ('Donatello amongst the wild beasts'). The name Les Fauves (wild beasts) stuck.

Vorticism, a British art movement similar to Cubism and Futurism, came in to being in 1912 with the work of Wyndham Lewis. Lewis and the American poet Ezra Pound, who was living in England at the time, created a periodical: Blast: Review of the Great British Vortex – and hence the name of the movement was set.

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Boddy-Evans, Marion. "The Difference Between Art Styles, Schools, and Movements." ThoughtCo, Dec. 6, 2021, Boddy-Evans, Marion. (2021, December 6). The Difference Between Art Styles, Schools, and Movements. Retrieved from Boddy-Evans, Marion. "The Difference Between Art Styles, Schools, and Movements." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 21, 2023).