Style and Subject Matter Dance Together

Yoji Shinkawa

Have you ever looked at your favourite artists and think, “This artist just has ‘it’”?

I will be honest; art is very hard to explain. While the technical aspects of art can be taught pretty handily at any school, the creation of art that resonates with audiences is something individual to the artist. Knowing that, I will try my best to describe what gives the x-factor to a top-end professional.

Every artwork has two universal aspects: the style and the subject matter. Without being too long-winded, subject matter is WHAT the artist is placing on a canvas and style is the execution of said subject matter. When an artist has “it”, their subject matter always compliments their style and their style always compliments their subject matter. This, of course, varies in infinite possibilities, which is exactly why I’ve mentioned it’s hard to teach in a generic educational institution like art college.

As viewers, it is very easy to be impressed by the rendering technique on a painting. However, we are less likely to take note of how the subject matter just “works” with it. If either the style or subject matter is bad, the dance falls flat and the viewer immediately note something is wrong.

One way to think about this concept is with movies. Let’s hypothetically think of a movie with a massive budget and incredible CGI scenes, but has a terrible story (cough TRANSFORMERS cough). Despite how flashy it may look, we leave the theater thinking how bad the movie is.

Vice versa (though less prevalent), imagine a movie that has a great story but the cinematography, CGI, and the “surface level” lacks. We leave the theater angry, as we just wouldn’t be able to see past the crappy effects destroying our sense of immersion.

If this is a bit confusing, I will now apply this concept for some of my favourite artists. I’ve limited this list to those who I really feel gets “it”.



Ashley Wood
Style: Thick, dirty paint. Earthy colours. Heavy use of dark paint to create clear silhouettes.  Very smoky.

How it melds with the subject matter: Ashley Wood has a dirty style for dirty subjects. He excels at drawing rusty robots, smoky battles and lewd sexual scenes, all which look right at home with broad strokes and thick, layered paint. It almost feels like everything he does has a grime to it.

If raunchy was made into an art style, it would be Ashley Wood’s and he definitely doesn’t make his subject matter the exception.



Yoji Shinkawa
Style: Flowing, ink brushstrokes, as if everything he draws has wind blowing. Very curvy. Heavy contrast between light and dark and when colour is used, they tend to be basic gradients.

How it melds with the subject matter: Yoji Shinkawa excels at creating an epic, grandiose feeling to his figures. His flowing, curvy style along with beaming light creates elegance in his characters as they stare into your souls, almost like you know them personally. They feel like gods going into the fight of their lives, and you’re feeling the importance of their existence. They always feel like they're in motion, even if their pose is a typical neutral standing pose. That's how he creates the life in his figures.



William Bouguereau
Style: High-end realism. Figures look like as if they’re glowing, brimming with light. Rendering and colours are so immaculately chosen that anybody who’s ever seen his work in a gallery (including myself) will say it looks better than a photograph.

How it melds with the subject matter: Not much to say; Bouguereau came at a time when photography was in its toddler days so realistic portrait painters were in demand. His work is the highest end of elegant, religious-esque portraitures, accentuated by his technical skill and execution.

All his figures are as if they were put in the best light possible, bringing out the natural beauty. Natural colours, natural environments, natural lighting, natural figures… Everything just seems as if we’re going back in time and seeing his scenes right in front of us.



Eric Fortune
Style: Very soft shading with flowing, curvy gestures. Whimsical colours.

How it melds with the subject matter: All of Eric’s work is dreamlike surrealism. The subjects are often put in gravity defying situations and magical displays. You know the feeling when everything in a dream is a blur? The soft rendering and pastel-esque colours  accentuates that. You’d probably have dreams similar to his work.

Obviously these are only my choices for artists. Look into your own favourites and break them down too! You might learn a thing or two.


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