The Great Divide in Art


There is a great divide in art. It’s been going on for over 100 years. It’s time to end it.

The first major divide in modern art was when the Impressionists broke away from the French Salon and it’s type of painting. From then to now, there has been an understood divide in art that implies that

somehow realism is old fashioned (and can’t develop) while a more abstract or free form in art is the only thing that should be considered modern and up to date (though it can become just as generic, stilted, and conservative, as the salon art it first rebelled against!)

Let’s look at three examples of this art divide:


On the Salon side there were artists such as William-Adolphe Bouguereau. Bouguereau painted realistically, with some exquisite nudes and portraits of young women. But many of his works, though technically excellent, were somewhat stilted, and formulaic.
On the other side were the Impressionists such as Monet, Renoir, and Degas. Their works were a breath of fresh air from the conservative Salon. They were full of vivid color, and the charm of every day life; though at times they were sketchy and their work seemed sloppy, or unfinished.

MATISSE AND PICASSO versus …. just about everybody!
Matisse and Picasso were on the front lines of art that shocked. The first was a ‘wild beast’ and the second was a ‘cubist’. The world around them was barely catching up to accepting the Impressionists, and they had hardly even heard of the post-impressionists, who got their recognition much too late.
Luckily both Matisse and Picasso had long lives, and that allowed them to break a lot of rules, bring a lot of vibrant change to art, and become the two most celebrated painters of their century. Though in fairness not all of their experiments worked, and often we praise what they could do at their best and excuse the rest.

Here the art divide was very wide. On the modern, and up to date side, were Duchamp who wrote his own rules for painting, or in the case of readymades, no painting at all. Duchamp in turn, certainly had an influence on the later art movement called Conceptual art , where the concept was the art. And too there was Pollack who was known for his action paintings where he would throw, splatter, or drip, painting on a canvas on the floor.
But many more traditional viewers just shook their heads at all these art experiments, and preferred the humorous story paintings of Norman Rockwell, or the subtle but realistic landscapes and portraits of Andrew Wyeth. (And don’t forget other schools of realism like the Ashcan school, whose subjects, average people, were a little too real for the public; or photorealists, who painted as exact as the photos they painted from.)

So things are muddled, it’s kind of confusing, but which side was right? Here’s my answer:

I love art, and I love painting. But I love BOTH kinds of painting. I am an artist. And I’ve done art all across the divide, from realism to conceptual art and I love doing it all.

I appreciate technical excellence when it’s used to make a great painting – part of the fun of painting is to find a painter with great technical skill – but I also appreciate the freedom that allows innovative artists to take art into new areas that the rest of us could not even imagine. Why do I have to take sides when I like, no love, both sides?

Modern artists have had to fight the traditionalists to get fair respect. I understand that. But at some point that division into ‘us’ or ‘them’, may go too far, and those on the supposed cutting edge have become so insular and isolated that they forgot to acknowledge and appreciate the achievements of the past and the other half of their contemporaries. Why is it either or or? Why can’t both sides be appreciated – specially at this point in time when we’ve just finished the trek from realism to conceptual art.

History of ART in three sentences:
Art went from total structure in realism (painting exactly as is) to total freedom in conceptual art (painting rules invented by the artist). OK, we’ve gone through the complete range. Now instead of being stuck in only one or the other – total realism, or total choice and concept – we have the choice to do either, or anything in between, or all of the above.

Those lines in the definition of the History of Art above, also define a big part of the new Postmod Art, a new type of art that is all inclusive.

The new art called Postmod art, among other things, calls for an end to the great divide in art. Now both types of painting are just fine – and so is any type of art in between.

Let’s shift the emphasis. Instead of two different camps in a great divide, fighting each other; let’s emphasize quality and innovation in whatever art you do. Then the future is open to all, and we will have a period of real vitality in art again.



There is a second great divide in art. This divides art into style or substance. Like the first divide, the new art says both are valid, and neither is more right or more modern.

Style: The subjects can be anything: portraits, still lifes, landscapes, etc. But what stands out is the style of the painting. The 20th century ushered in all kinds of style arts ‘isms’. Here are the main ones:
1. Impressionism
2. Pointillism
3. Fauvism
4. Cubism
5. Abstraction
6. Photo Realism

Substance: This type of art covers all subjects too. But what is key is the thought or substance behind the art. During the 20th century the vanguard of modern art seemed to bounce back and forth from Style to Substance and back. Then too some areas of the world favored one over the other. Major schools of substance art included:
1. Expressionism
2. Dadaism
3. Surrealism
4. Conceptual Art
5. Pop Art.


More on  Postmod Art at


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One Response to “The Great Divide in Art”

  1. musea Says:

    Don’t forget such American ‘realists’ such as Hopper, and Parish.

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