Inherent to the concept of style is an idea of historical necessity. A true style, like the Baroque of the seventeenth century, is not copied from a previous epoch, but arises out of some structural necessity, out of the manifest needs of man and society. "Style is, above all, a system of forms with a quality and meaningful expression through which the personnality of the artist and the broad outlook of a group are visible." (Meyer Shapiro, Style, in M. Philipson Ed., Aesthetics Today, p.137) (cf morphology) Style is an essential object of study for the historian of art. For the synthesizing historian of culture or the philosopher of history, style is the manifestation of the culture as a whole, the visible sign of its unity. The style reflects or projects the "inner form" of collective thinking and feeling.
As Meyer Shapiro points out, the term has both a normative and a symptomatic or diagnostic usage. The Archaeologist uses the coherences of motives or patterns to localize and date works, while the critic, like the artist, tends to conceive of style as a value term. But common to all these approaches is the assumption that every style is peculiar to a period of culture and that, in a given culture or epoch of culture, there is only one style or a limited range of styles. (p.138)
For Michael Baxandall, the style of pictures is a proper material of social history.
Idealist Art historians such as Alois Riegl and aestheticians such as Wilhelm Worringer attributed the style of an epoch to a particular Kunstwollen, or "will to art." The fundamental postulate of the analysis of this will was that "what was achieved was what was desired." Thus the stylizations of Egyptian art were intentional, not the result of lack of artistic or technical skill. Worringer recognised the urge to abstraction as something opposed to the will to empathy. For Worringer, style resulted from abstraction, while naturalism -- which he defined as "approximation to the organic and the true to life" -- resulted from empathy.
In his essay on "Style Change in Architecture," (1887) Adolf Göller described an inherent dynamic of change, based on the psychological "jading" or fatigue (Ermüdung) that occurs in our delight with pure form. For Göller, the pleasure we take in pure form, that is form which is independent of conceptual or symbolic content, is directly tied to the work of forming " memory images." In the case of buildings, which cannot be experienced all at once, these memory images gradually become clearer through repeated viewing. These experiences are pleasurable because they are an educational process, developing our sense of beauty. In Göller's account, we tire of forms that have become too easy to remember (which does little to explain architecture's persistent reliance on simple geometry). While he describes this constant waning as a "harsh law", Göller also finds in it the impetus for creative invention . "Without jading, nothing new would ever have been sought nor anything more beautiful ever found." (p.217) As a result of jading, architects (and particularly young architects) are constantly inventing new ways of arranging building masses, new combinations of conventional forms, or intensifying the charm of old forms (pp 208-209) Göller's dynamic helps him account for the cycles of styles-- "how pleasure in form grows from small beginnnings to a culmination and then declines, in the end reaching a state of fossilization and indifference."
In "The Shape of Time," George Kubler proposed the idea of formal sequences in order to temper the art historians' idea that the arts of a period are defined by a governing configuration. "by this view the cross-section of an instant, taken accross the full face of the moment in a given place, resembles a mosaic of pieces in different developmental states, and of different ages, rather than a radial design conferring its meaning upon all the pieces. " (p.28)
Style is also linked to technique, although Meyer Shapiro considers technique, subject matter, and material as not so peculiar to the art of a period as the formal and qualitative features. For Shapiro, "Where a technique does coincide with the extension of a style, it is the formal traces of the technique rather that the operations as such that are important for description of the style." (p.140) (see technology )
The Architecture of the 19th century was criticized by modern historians as separating style from technique. The revivalist architects, in Reyner Banham's provocative terms, could not keep up with the "fast company" of engineers.