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Artistic style

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-M039-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2021
Retrieved June 13, 2024, from

Article Summary

Style in art is typically described as how one describes or depicts something, rather than what is described or depicted. Style is thus often identified with form rather than subject-matter. But choice of subject-matter can be part of style and not all formal features are stylistic. One way of thinking about artistic style is as a set of recurrent features of works of art that identify them as the product of a particular person, period or place: as Nelson Goodman says, style functions as an individual or group signature. This definition may be adequate for some purposes, but it ignores the fact that a style has a unified ‘physiognomy’ or expressive character.

The relation between style and expression is complex. A period style is often thought to express the cultural attitudes of the period, but it cannot do so in a very direct way. What a period style expresses is a function of where it occurs in the history of style. Similarly, a work of art in an artist’s individual style will be expressive only in the context of the possibilities of that style.

According to the Romantic tradition, individual style is a genuine expression of the artist’s self, either of the artist’s personality and qualities of mind or of the artist’s artistic ideals. For Richard Wollheim, there is a big difference between general style categories and the individual style of a particular artist, which, he claims, has ‘psychological reality’. Robinson (1985) has suggested that an individual style is rather the expression of the personality of the implied author of a work, the artist as she seems to be from the evidence of the work itself. But, as Derek Matravers, among others, points out, the implied author is not the actual author but something constructed by the author and may therefore lack the requisite psychological reality. Arthur Danto argues that style is not an expression of the artist’s psychology as revealed in her ordinary life, but is rather an expression of the artistic personality revealed in the artist’s total oeuvre. For Nick Riggle it is the expression of artistic ideals.

Modernist and post-modernist theories of ‘writing’ do not treat ‘the author’ as a source of expression in this way, but merely as a means of classifying types of discourse: literary works have authors whereas scientific writing need not, for example. According to Michel Foucault, ‘the author’ is simply one of the principles that identifies the ‘author-function’ of an artwork.

Citing this article:
Robinson, Jenefer M.. Artistic style, 2021, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-M039-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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