Types Of Painting Art: Styles, Mediums, Subjects

Painting is one of the most venerated forms of art, and one of the oldest. Since humanity’s first steps on this planet we have painted, ancient cave paintings show our desire to express ourselves even in our earliest days.

The modern day is no different, painting is at the very core of how humans express their hopes, dreams, fears, and emotions. With time has come a slew of different styles, mediums, and subjects that have seen the art of painting diversify and evolve. Today, painting is as highly regarded as ever, with many different schools and techniques producing art in wildly differing ways.

If you’re setting foot in the art world for the first time or are planning on picking up a paintbrush yourself, we present our guide to the most popular and common types of painting art styles, mediums and subjects.

Types of Painting Styles

There is a huge range of different styles that are incorporated into art, with some having subtle differences between them to bold, striking changes that are easy to spot. These are some of the most popular types of painting art styles you’ll see in the modern day.


Realism is a painting art style that aims to give the viewer a reflection of the real world. Many of the most famous paintings are painted in this style and for many, paintings made in this style are what they will think of when they think of ‘art’. It is important, however, to make the distinction between realism and photorealism – the former concerns itself with a realistic scene but does not aim to be a true depiction.


You may also see photorealism referred to as hyperrealism or super-realism. This painting style aims to create a painting that’s indistinguishable from real life or a photograph – hence the name. This makes it distinct from realism, as unless you take a much closer look at a photorealism painting you will not be able to see that it is indeed a painting.


At the other end of the spectrum is expressionism. Expressionism is a style of art that doesn’t concern itself with realism, images and scenes are often distorted or painted with otherworldly, vivid colours that don’t match up with reality. The focus is instead on the artist’s ideas or feelings, which are expressed through the medium of art.


Impressionism is a painting style most commonly associated with the 19th century where small brush strokes are used to build up a larger picture. This art style lies somewhere between expressionism and realism, with a focus on accurate lighting but with no emphasis on a realistic scene.


Abstract paintings eschew realism altogether. Whatever the subject in the painting, it may not be accurately represented at all in the artwork. Objects may be represented by a colour or a shape instead, with the interpretation left up to the viewer. The impact of an abstract painting cannot be understated, with many using shocking displays of colour and form to dizzy the senses.


Surrealism first became a movement in the 20th century, with artists such as Salvador Dali becoming household names. Combining abstract concepts with semi-realistic objects that have been twisted or morphed into something unusual, they can be illogical or dreamlike, giving the viewer a heightened sense of reality.

Pop Art

In the 1950s and onwards, pop art became a movement that drew inspiration from the commodification and commercialism of modern life. Using cartoons or adverts in many of the style’s most famous works, pop art uses realistic imagery combined with bold colours to highlight the artist’s intent.

Types of Painting Mediums

Though there are many styles of painting art, there are also many different mediums through which artists express themselves. Depending on the technique and effect required, different mediums can be used to heighten the artist’s vision. Here are some of the most popular types of painting mediums you’ll find in the modern day.


Oil paintings are one of the oldest forms of painting and remain one of the most popular painting medium types to this day. When painting in oils it’s easy to blend colours, but can be difficult to erase mistakes meaning it can be a difficult medium to master. Some of the world’s most famous paintings were painted in oils, with portraits being a particular speciality of many artists who work in this medium.


Watercolour paints tend to be inexpensive to purchase but, similar to oil paints, difficult to master. Paints are diluted with water meaning they can go a long way from a single tube, but once the paints are on the canvas there is little that can be done to correct mistakes. Watercolour paintings work beautifully with light and are often used to paint landscapes.


Only dating back to 1940, acrylic is a relatively new painting medium. It dries quickly, is versatile, and can be very durable. If you make a mistake using acrylic paints you can even scrape them off if you act quickly. Many pop artists used acrylic in their works, with the famous Campbell Soup Can a particular example of acrylic art.


Gouache is a form of watercolour which has been modified to be opaque which differentiates it from more traditional watercolour paints. As a painting medium, it dries quickly and dries to a slightly different colour than when it was wet. Many commercial artists work in gouache, as it is vibrant and can block out colours quickly.


Pastels differ from many of the other types of painting art mediums in some key ways. Most pastels come in the form of a stick of powdered pigment which is then pressed onto the canvas to apply the colour, with several different varieties available. When using pastels you’ll get strong colours that are close to the natural pigmentation inside the pastel, and with few barriers to creating art, it’s possible to get a canvas and some pastels and get creating quickly.


Encaustic painting is an ancient method of infusing colour into a surface, usually wood, canvas, or even tile. Pigments are added to a wax which is then heated and added to the surface, giving a luminous colour with strong dimensional qualities.


Frescoes are traditionally a quite large-scale painting medium, as they are usually applied over a layer of freshly laid lime plaster. This method allows the paint and pigment to bond with the plater, making the image integral to the surface. Many famous frescoes have been painted throughout history, including The Creation of Adam and The Last Supper.

Spray Paint

Spray paint, or aerosol paint,  is a modern form of painting and has become associated with street art or graffiti. The paint is held in a sealed can and released in an aerosol spray, allowing smooth, even coats to be applied to a surface. This makes it ideal when speed is of the essence and allows large areas to be painted in one sitting.


Lastly, the modern age has brought us a new medium of painting, in digital format. Using digital painting tools which include virtual brushes of different sizes and textures as well as a range of colours that would be difficult to procure in reality, digital artists are able to create paintings that can push the boundaries of their imagination. Digital painting has swiftly become a painting medium all by itself, as digital artists continue to explore what’s possible with this new medium.

Types of Painting Subjects

Historically paintings have been classified in five different ways, depending on the types of subjects in the painting in question. The five genres of painting subject are:

History Painting

These focus on a representation of a particular historical, religious, or allegorical event. As such, a moral message is usually a key component of the painting in question.

Portrait Art

Portrait art uses people as its subjects. The most commonly known type of portrait art focuses on a single person, but group or self-portraits are also classified under this type of painting subject. 

Genre Painting

A genre painting has an everyday scene as its subject. This differs from landscape painting as in genre painting it is the representation of life itself which is the subject. Examples may include workers going about their day or a banquet being held, what is important is the scene itself, not the individuals who make up the scene.

Landscape Painting

Landscape paintings are one of the most popular and enduring types of subject, focusing on a natural scene. Most landscape paintings aim for a sense of realism, focusing on things like the light shining through clouds or reflecting off the water.

Still Life Painting

A still life painting looks at everyday or domestic objects and aims to accurately represent them. This can be used as a way to practice painting techniques, such as the way colours change as light and shadow drape across an object.

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