We could argue that there are as many different types of mosaic art as there are of art styles, from Classical and Art Nouveau to Impressionism and Cubism. However, Most mosaics, while embracing all styles of art, are categorized in more finite terms. There are really only five basic types of mosaic art: Classical, Organic, Industrial, Artisanal, and Prefabricated Custom Inserts. Most other types can fall neatly into any one of these five main types of mosaic art.
This main type is named after the classical period in history when the Greeks and Romans created astounding works of mosaic art still around today. They are labor intensive in that the tessarae are typically hand-cut on the job site one tiny bit at a time. Mosaics with classical themes might include fantasy of mermaids and centaurs as easily as it could just be a classic fruit bowl.
The style category is broad and also encompasses Byzantine era and mosaics from the Renaissance. It typically has and "Old European World" feel. In ancient times, projects made in the classical manner were used for public places and private villas. Art projects done today in a classical style can be kitchen and bathrooms or pools with geometric borders or patterns that would make any Platonist proud.
This classification is also known as "Pebbles." Pebbles were used by the Greeks in some of the earliest organic forms of mosaics. However, mosaics aren't just limited to types of stones, they can also be made with shells and seeds, and any other form of organic material. Stone is organic and tiles with stone and mother-of-pearl fall under this category.
This style category would include art movements like Asian Zen and Green movements. This new label also gives a good idea of green sustainable mosaic art that is very popular with people who want to be earth-friendly. Here is an Asian-inspired organic design in stone.
This can include contemporary and modern art movement principles where glass and metal can also be used within mosaic designs. Glass and mirror bits are not new materials for mosaics, and can even be found in classical works of mosaic art, but the way they are used is different. There are subway tiles made of pure glass laid out style that is clean-cut and minimal in nature. Other types of industrial mosaics are made with industrial tools, like the waterjet, creating patterns that are exceptionally clean-cut and intricate.
The style category is ever-growing because of the high interest in modern art movements. Pixel art can be done with industrial mosaic art and would mimic some of the cubist-like movement of pixels on a computer screen. Modern tools can create three dimensional effects as well as etching and engraving that is consistent and beautiful too. This is more of a vintage design, but made with modern industrial etching methods.
In essence, almost all mosaics are hand-made, thus artisanal, because a stonemason lays them down, even if they aren't all cut by hand. However, tiles cut by a modern waterjet are obviously not hand-made nor made in a traditional manner. The interesting part of this style is that hand-made mosaic works of arts aren't limited to floors and walls. You can see them on lamps, table-tops, and even sink bowls. This Art Nouveau design pays homage to hand-made designs during that time period.
This style is more about craftsmanship and thus associated with the Arts & Crafts movement, which brought mosaic tiles back into favor after a long hiatus. The craftsmanship of adamento, the flow of the tile pattern in the design or around an object, becomes even more highlighted in some of these hand-made patterns. Examples of Arts & Crafts hand-made mosaic style can be viewed in Tiffany lamps, which are mosaics of glass. If you want to see how much craftmanship is needed to create a Tiffany mosaic lamp, check out this video.
#5 Prefabricated Custom Insert
These are created in a factory or workshop and put on a grid backing to be carried to the job site and laid out there with the design already in place. However, that doesn't mean they can't be custom. The final design layout can be totally your own creation! Inserts are really good for border projects where you want a repeatable pattern without much fuss or effort on the part of the laborer.
Custom insert styles are available in any art movement style. They are awesome for a feature wall or a border project. Here is one that borders a fireplace and was probably done with a prefabricated insert so that the flowers matched every time.
Different Styles, Many Projects
As I expressed before, each main type of mosaic art has many different sub-types that are included within it. The Classical type is about anything that has an old European flavor. In the past, it was only hand-cut, but today you can get many pre-fabricated classical mosaic themes without the need to cut every tessera yourself. The Organic type includes stone and shells, as well as other "green" materials. The Industrial mosaic would make use of modern tools like a waterjet or include designs that appeal to contemporary and modern tastes. Artisanal mosaics appeal to those that are crafty, but aren't all for Do-It-Yourselfers. You can get prefabricated patterns that have an Arts & Craft or Art Nouveau theme as faithful reproductions. For people who want something quick and easy, settle for the prefabricated insert. You can still make a custom job by making the layout totally unique!