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  • An Approach To Understanding Art Styles

    - Ricardo Bess

  • But how do we order them?

    The best way I find to put some order in this chaos is to use the pyramid presented by Scott McCloud in his book Understanding Comics.

    He basically envisions a triangle in which you have realitylanguage and the picture plane in each vertex. Reality is the concrete world we perceive (a photo is the closest to reality an image can be). Language are the written words (the closest an image can get to this is a simple, concise doodle). The picture plane is pure abstraction, when there is no commitment in portraying anything.

    Take a look at the image below, it may be easier to understand. But if you're still not confident, I strongly suggest you buy Scott Mccloud's book and read it.

    What I like the most about this approach is that "Stylized" (Picture Plane) isn't just the half-way from "Cartoon" (Language) to "Realistic"(reality). It is another end in itself.

    Let's try to fit the above examples into this triangle:

    Now it feels like everyone has a proper place.

    This may be an overstretch, but as I keep looking at this organization, I start to perceive 2 tendencies that could be represented as gradients (please don't take them as rules).

    The first has to do with the overall age appeal. As far as I can see, younger audiences tend to be drawn to styles closer to the bottom right corner. As the representations start to get more realistic or more abstract they start to appeal to older audiences.

    The second is about how popular a style can be. My perception is that the closer to the upper corner the less mass appeal a style has.

    Please bear in mind that Appeal and Popularity are highly subjective and what I'm pointing here is what my overall professional experience has shown me. I myself enjoy Sponge Bob, we all have a 40-year-old friend who plays Pokémon and Bronies are exceptions to these "gradients" too.

    BONUS: while talking to my friend Bruno Luna (he's an art director - he explained me how he organizes styles. It's actually linear, because he looks it in a more historical way, focusing on the semantics for the viewer.

    He actually opens the triangle in a line

    Let's flip it just for didactic purposes.

    I'm not an art historian, so bear with me:

    You can think of the far left as the first attempts of human kind into pictorial representation. We slowly traveled to more realistic forms of representation (of course it was not a straight line).

    In the 1800s we have the invention of photography (a reliable way to achieve realistic depiction). We also have painters starting to worry more with expression and the depiction of emotions (the romantics and subsequent art movements).

    From there on, we could say art has transcended the depiction of reality and, for many reasons, artists have started to intentionally synthesize, subvert or completely ignore reality.

    Taking the viewer (or consumer perspective), what it means is that after complete realism is achieved, people tend to enjoy to view certain forms of simplification and abstraction. It tends to be entertaining on its own.

    Perhaps an example will help make it more clear. Take for the example the video bellow from Chromosphere Studio. Though it shows nature (and it uses aspects of reality like depth and lighting) it does so in an intentionally simplified and abstract way. Making the way that things are represented engaging and entertaining on its own. It looks so complex, yet so simple.


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