Art Terminology

43 GROUP

43 Group was a modern art movement formed in Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in 1943 by a group of young, pro-independence painters who were committed to promoting a Sri Lankan form of modernism. There was no common stylistic technique that connected the artists of the 43 Group, except a commitment to free expression and …

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ABBAYE DE CRÉTEIL

Established in 1906, the Abbaye de Créteil was a group of French writers, artists and composers who were inspired by the work of Renaissance writer François Rabelais. In 1906 a group of French writers, artists and composers established the Abbaye de Créteil at a villa in Creteils south-east of Paris. The movement included the painters Albert …

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ABJECT ART

Abject art is used to describe artworks which explore themes that transgress and threaten our sense of cleanliness and propriety particularly referencing the body and bodily functions. The term abjection literally means ‘the state of being cast off’. The abject is a complex psychological, philosophical and linguistic concept developed by Julia Kristeva in her 1980 …

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ABSTRACT ART

Abstract art is art that does not attempt to represent an accurate depiction of a visual reality but instead use shapes, colours, forms and gestural marks to achieve its effect. Strictly speaking, the word abstract means to separate or withdraw something from something else. The term can be applied to art that is based an …

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ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM

Abstract expressionism is the term applied to new forms of abstract art developed by American painters such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning in the 1940s and 1950s. It is often characterised by gestural brush-strokes or mark-making, and the impression of spontaneity. TYPES OF ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM Within abstract expressionism were two broad …

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ABSTRACTION-CRÉATION

Abstraction-Création was an association of abstract artists set up in Paris in 1931 with the aim of promoting abstract art through group exhibitions. The leaders of Abstraction-Création were Auguste Herbin and Georges Vantongerloo, but every major abstract painter took part including such figures as Naum Gabo, Wassily Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian, and it rapidly acquired …

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ACADÉMIE COLAROSSI

The Académie Colarossi was an art school in Paris, France, established in the nineteenth century as an alternative to the official Ecole des Beaux Arts. Comparable to, but slightly less famous than its rival the Académie Julian. The Colarossi, like the Julian admitted women and allowed them to draw from the nude male model. Artists …

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ACADÉMIE JULIAN

The Académie Julian was a major alternative school to the official Ecole des Beaux Arts, especially for women who were not admitted to the Beaux Arts until 1897. Established in Paris, France in 1868 by Rodolphe Julian, the Académie Julian became a major alternative training centre to the official Ecole des Beaux Arts. Not only …

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ACADEMY

Established during the Renaissance and widespread by the seventeenth century, academies were artist-run organisations whose aim was to improve the professional standing of artists as well as to provide teaching. The first art academies appeared in Italy at the time of the Renaissance. They were groupings of artists whose aim was to improve the social …

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ACRYLIC PAINT

Acrylic paint is water-based fast-drying paint widely used by artists since the 1960s. It can be used thickly or thinly depending how much water is added to it. First made in the 1950s acrylic paint uses a synthetic resin to bind pigments. As it can be diluted with water and used thinly or thickly depending …

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ACTION PAINTERS

The term action painters is applied to artists working from the 1940s until the early 1960s whose approach to painting emphasized the physical act of painting as an essential part of the finished work. Their process, involved splashing, using gestural brushstrokes and dripping paint onto canvas rather than carefully applying it. The term ‘action painting’ …

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ACTIONISM

Actionism is the English version of the general German term for performance art, specifically used for Vienna-based group Wiener Aktionismus founded in 1962 whose actions were deliberately shocking, often including self-torture. The principal members of the group were Günter Brus, Hermann Nitsch and Rudolf Schwarzkogler. Their ‘actions’ were intended to highlight the endemic violence of …

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ACTIVIST ART

Activist art is a term used to describe art that is grounded in the act of ‘doing’ and addresses political or social issues If anything, art is… about morals, about our belief in humanity. Without that, there simply is no art. Ai Weiwei The aim of activist artists is to create art that is a …

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AESTHETIC MOVEMENT

The aesthetic movement was a late nineteenth century movement that championed pure beauty and ‘art for art’s sake’ emphasising the visual and sensual qualities of art and design over practical, moral or narrative considerations. The aesthetic movement flourished in Britain in the 1870s and 1880s and was important equally in fine and applied arts. In …

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AESTHETICS

Aesthetics is the branch of philosophy that is concerned with the nature of beauty and taste. What constitutes beauty has been a much-debated topic in Western art. In Grecian times, the philosopher Aristotle thought beauty was about function and proportion, while in the early 1700s, the Earl of Shaftesbury argued that goodness and beauty are …

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AFRAPIX

Afrapix was a photographers’ collective and agency founded in South Africa in 1982 which encouraged its members to use photography as activism. Afrapix played a seminal role in the development of socially informed documentary photography in South Africa, producing some of the most compelling images of apartheid in the 1980s. The group challenged the role …

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AFRICOBRA

AfriCOBRA was a Chicago-based group of black artists whose shared aim was to develop their own aesthetic in the visual arts in order to empower black communities. The African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists (AfriCOBRA) was founded in 1968 by Jeff Donaldson, Barbara Jones-Hogu, Wadsworth Jarrell and Gerald Williams. Rather than bringing about change through …

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AFROFUTURISM

Afrofuturism is a cultural aesthetic that combines science-fiction, history and fantasy to explore the African-American experience and aims to connect those from the black diaspora with their forgotten African ancestry. The term afrofuturism has its origins in African-American science fiction. Today it is generally used to refer to literature music and visual art that explores …

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AGIT-PROP

Agit-prop is an enterprise set up by the Soviet Communist Party in 1920 intended to control and promote the ideological conditioning of the masses. The term is now used to refer to any cultural manifestation with an overtly political purpose. The term agit-prop is a contraction of the Russian words ‘agitatsiia’ and ‘propaganda’ in the …

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AIRBRUSHING

Airbrushing is a painting technique which uses an airbrush to give an even and consistent surface, often used to create a high level of realism. An airbrush is a small, hand-held instrument connected to a canister of compressed air that sprays paint in a controlled way giving an even and consistent surface. Artists and illustrators …

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AKHRR

The Association of Artists of Revolutionary Russia (AkhRR), founded in Moscow in 1922, depicted everyday life among the working people of Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution in a realistic, documentary manner. Opposed to the non-realist innovations of the avant-garde, the association quickly became the most influential artistic group in Soviet Russia. In 1928 it was …

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ALABASTER

Alabaster is a soft white or translucent stone, it is a fine-grained marble-like variety of gypsum. Its softness enables it to be carved readily into elaborate forms making it a popular material for carved sculpture. It is also often used for ornamental stonework, though its solubility in water makes it unsuitable for outdoor work.

ALBUMEN PRINT

Invented in 1850, and commonly used in the late nineteenth century, the albumen print is a type of photographic print made from paper coated with albumen (egg white). The albumen print became popular because it produced a rich sharp image. The process involves coating a sheet of paper with albumen (egg white), making the paper’s …

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ALTERMODERN

Altermodern is a term coined by curator Nicolas Bourriaud in 2009, to describe art made as a reaction against standardisation and commercialism, in the context of globalisation. The term was coined by Nicolas Bourriaud on the occasion of the Tate Triennial in 2009. Altermodern is against cultural standardisation and massification, but also opposed to nationalisms …

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AMERICAN ABSTRACT ARTISTS (AAA)

American Abstract Artists (AAA) is an organisation founded in 1936 to promote the appreciation of abstract art in the United States. The AAA held its first annual exhibition in April 1937. Early members included Josef Albers, Willem de Kooning Lee Krasner, Jackson Pollock and David Smith.

AMERICAN SOCIAL REALIST PHOTOGRAPHY

American social realist photography refers to photographs that documented rural poverty during America’s Great Depression of the 1930s and 1940s. Photographers were commissioned by the Farm Security Administration (FSA) to document rural poverty and exploitation of sharecroppers and migrant labourers in an attempt to garner support for President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. The photographs …

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ANALYTICAL CUBISM

The term analytical cubism describes the early phase of cubism, generally considered to run from 1908–12, characterised by a fragmentary appearance of multiple viewpoints and overlapping planes. In an attempt to classify the revolutionary experiments made by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and Juan Gris when they were exponents of cubism, historians have tended to divide …

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ANGRY PENGUINS

Angry Penguins was a modernist literary and artistic movement that sought to shake up the entrenched cultural establishment of Australia in the 1940s. Angry Penguins was originally the title of an Australian modernist literary journal founded in 1940 at University of Adelaide by four poets: D.B. Kerr, M.H. Harris, P.G. Pfeiffer and G. Dutton. At …

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ANIMATION

Animation is the rapid display of sequences of static imagery in such a way as to create the illusion of movement. The history of animation dates back to early Chinese shadow lanterns and the optical toys of the eighteenth century, but it was not until the beginning of the twentieth century that illustrators like Émile …

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ANTHROPOPHAGIA

Meaning cannibalism, anthropophagia as an art term is associated with the 1960s Brazilian art movement Tropicália whose work, although being culturally and politically rooted in Brazil, took influences from Europe and America. Artists Hélio Oiticica, Lygia Clark, Rogério Duarte and Antonio Dias used anthropophagia in the sense of a cultural and musical cannibalism of other …

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ANTI-ART

Anti-art is a term used to describe art that challenges the existing accepted definitions of art. The term anti-art is generally agreed to have been coined by Marcel Duchamp around 1913 when he made his first readymades, which are still regarded in some quarters as anti-art (for example by the Stuckist group). In 1917 Duchamp …

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ANTI-FORM

Anti-form is a term associated with a group of artists working in the United States in the late 1960s who embraced chance and other organic processes in the creation of their minimal sculptures. Related to post-minimalism, anti-form sculptors worked from the principle that form should be derived from the inherent qualities of the chosen material. …

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APPROPRIATION

Appropriation in art and art history refers to the practice of artists using pre-existing objects or images in their art with little transformation of the original. Appropriation can be tracked back to the cubist collages and constructions of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque made from 1912 on, in which real objects such as newspapers were …

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AQUATINT

Aquatint is a printmaking technique that produces tonal effects by using acid to eat into the printing plate creating sunken areas which hold the ink. Like etching, aquatint is an intaglio printmaking technique, but is used to create tonal effects rather than lines. Intaglio refers to printing and printmaking techniques in which the image is …

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ARAB IMAGE FOUNDATION (AIF)

The Arab Image Foundation (AIF) is a not-for-profit organisation established in Beirut in 1997 to preserve, exhibit and study photographs from the Middle East, North Africa and the Arab diaspora from the nineteenth century to today. Founded by artist Akram Zaatari, the AIF currently holds a collection of more than 600,000 images, including negatives and …

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ARCHIVE

Traditionally an archive is a store of documents or artefacts of a purely documentary nature. The rise of performance art in the twentieth century meant that artists became heavily reliant on documentation as a record of their work. A similar problem arose in relation to the Land art movement of the 1960s whose interventions in …

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ART & LANGUAGE

Art & Language is a pioneering English conceptual art group founded in 1968, that questioned the critical assumptions of mainstream modern art practice and criticism. The group was founded in Coventry, England by Michael Baldwin, David Bainbridge, Terry Atkinson and Harold Hurrell. The critic and art historian Charles Harrison and the artist Mel Ramsden both …

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ART AUTRE

Also known as art informel, art autre translates as ‘art of another kind’ and was used to describe the dominant trend of abstract art in the 1940s and 1950s characterised by an improvisatory approach and highly gestural technique. The term was used by the French critic Michel Tapié in his 1952 book Un Art Autre …

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ART BRUT

Art brut is a French term that translates as ‘raw art’, invented by the French artist Jean Dubuffet to describe art such as graffiti or naïve art which is made outside the academic tradition of fine art. Jean Dubuffet saw fine art as dominated by academic training, which he referred to as ‘art culturel’ or …

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ART DECO

Art deco is a design style from the 1920s and 1930s in furniture, decorative arts and architecture characterised by its geometric character. Named after the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts held in Paris in 1925, art deco can be seen as successor to and a reaction against art nouveau. Seen in furniture, …

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ART INFORMEL

Art informel is a French term describing a swathe of approaches to abstract painting in the 1940s and 1950s which had in common an improvisatory methodology and highly gestural technique. The term refers to many of the styles of abstract painting which were highly prevalent, even dominant, in the 1940s and 1950s, including tendencies such …

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ART INTERVENTION

The term art intervention applies to art designed specifically to interact with an existing structure or situation, be it another artwork, the audience, an institution or in the public domain. The popularity for art interventions emerged in the 1960s, when artists attempted to radically transform the role of the artist in society, and thereby society …

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ART NOUVEAU

Art nouveau is an international style in architecture and design that emerged in the 1890s and is characterised by sinuous lines and flowing organic shapes based on plant forms. This complex international style in architecture and design was parallel to symbolism in fine art. Developed through the 1890s it was brought to a wider audience …

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ART WORKERS’ COALITION (AWC)

The Art Workers’ Coalition (AWC) was a group of activists who came together in New York in 1969 to promote artists’ rights and to challenge the art establishment into implementing various reforms. The group included artists, filmmakers, writers, critics, and museum staff. Its principal aim was to pressure the city’s museums into ending discrimination and …

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ARTE MADÍ

Arte Madí was an artistic group formed in Buenos Aires in 1944 devoted to pure geometric abstraction. Founded by the artists Gyula Kosice, Rhod Rothfuss and Carmelo Arden Quin, Arte Madí had a commitment to expressing the reality of modern life through non-figurative concrete art. In 1946 they published a manifesto in which they declared …

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ARTE NUCLEARE

Arte nucleare was an artist group founded in Milan in 1951 whose aim was to make art in response to the nuclear age. The movimento d’arte nucleare was founded by the Italian artist Enrico Baj together with Sergio Dangelo and Gianni Bertini, in Milan in 1951. Gianni Dova was a later member. Their first manifesto …

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ARTE POVERA

Arte povera was a radical Italian art movement from the late 1960s to 1970s whose artists explored a range of unconventional processes and non traditional ‘everyday’ materials. Arte povera means literally ‘poor art’ but the word poor here refers to the movement’s signature exploration of a wide range of materials beyond the traditional ones of …

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ARTIST PLACEMENT GROUP

The Artist Placement Group was founded in 1966 with the aim of placing artists in government, commercial and industrial organisations. The APG, founded by Barbara Steveni with her husband John Latham, emerged from the idea that artists are a human resource underused by society. Artists are isolated from the public by the gallery system, and …

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ARTIST-CURATOR

An artist-curator is a practising artist who also curates shows or runs not-for-profit spaces from which they exhibit their art and that of other artists. Inspired by the artist led initiatives in New York in the 1960s, these spaces are often housed in temporary places – shops, warehouses, soon-to-be demolished buildings – which can be …

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ARTISTS INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION

Artists International Association was an exhibiting society founded in London in 1933, which held exhibitions and events to promote and support various left-of centre political causes. The AIA embraced all styles of art, both modernist and traditional, and its aim was the ‘Unity of Artists for Peace, Democracy and Cultural Development’. It held a series …

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ARTS AND CRAFTS

Arts and Crafts was a design movement initiated by William Morris in 1861 which aimed to improve the quality of design and make it available to the widest possible audience. The Arts and Crafts Movement emerged from the Pre-Raphaelite circle with the founding of the design firm Morris and Co. in 1861 by William Morris. …

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ASHCAN SCHOOL

Ashcan School was a group of North American artists who used realist techniques to depict social deprivation and injustice in the American urban environment of the early twentieth century. Spearheaded by the painter Robert Henri, the artists described themselves as urban realists, devoted to the realistic depiction of life in the same way journalists and …

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ASOCIACIÓN ARTE CONCRETO-INVENCIÓN (CONCRETE-INVENTION ART ASSOCIATION)

Founded by Tomás Maldonado in 1944, the Asociación Arte Concreto-Invención (Concrete-Invention Art Association) was one of two artistic groups formed in Buenos Aires devoted to pure geometric abstraction (the other being Arte Madí). Like their fellow constructivists the Asociación Arte Concreto-Invención embraced the purist aesthetics of Piet Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg, and created paintings …

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ASSEMBLAGE

Assemblage is art that is made by assembling disparate elements – often everyday objects – scavenged by the artist or bought specially. The use of assemblage as an approach to making art goes back to Pablo Picasso’s cubist constructions, the three dimensional works he began to make from 1912. An early example is his Still …

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ATELIER

Atelier is a French word that translates literally as studio or workshop and is often used to denote a group of artists, designers or architects working collectively. The individual artist’s studio was traditionally also a place where the teaching of young artists took place; but this function was gradually supplanted by the rise of the …

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ATTRIBUTE

Attribute has different meanings as a noun and a verb: An attribute (noun) in art is an object or animal associated with a particular personage; to attribute (verb) a work of art is to suggest it may be by a particular artist. The most common attributes (objects/animals associated with personages) are those of the ancient …

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AURA

Aura is a quality integral to an artwork that cannot be communicated through mechanical reproduction techniques – such as photography. The term was used by Walter Benjamin in his influential 1936 essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Benjamin argued that ‘even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art …

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AUTHENTICITY

Authenticity is a term used by philosopher and critic Walter Benjamin to describe the qualities of an original work of art as opposed to a reproduction. Benjamin first used the word in his essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, where he describes an original work of art as having ‘authenticity’. …

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AUTO-DESTRUCTIVE ART

Auto-destructive art is a term invented by the artist Gustav Metzger in the early 1960s to describe radical artworks made by himself and others, in which destruction was part of the process of creating the work. The Manifestos Metzger released two manifesto’s clarifying the term. The key principles are as follows: Time – The work …

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AUTOGRAPH ABP

Autograph ABP are an influential photography collective set up in 1988 to support photographers from racial minorities, and also to confront the lack of visual representation of marginalised groups in British society. The organisation works internationally and embodies ideas of cultural representation and how photography can define and explore the meaning of the sub-cultures we …

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AUTOMATISM

In art, automatism refers to creating art without conscious thought, accessing material from the unconscious mind as part of the creative process. Automatism as a term is borrowed from physiology, where it describes bodily movements that are not consciously controlled like breathing or sleepwalking. Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud used free association and automatic drawing or writing …

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AVANT-GARDE

As applied to art, avant-garde means art that is innovatory, introducing or exploring new forms or subject matter. Avant-garde is originally a French term, meaning in English vanguard or advance guard (the part of an army that goes forward ahead of the rest). It first appeared with reference to art in France in the first …

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BAROQUE

Baroque was the dominant style in art and architecture of the seventeenth century, characterized by self-confidence, dynamism and a realistic approach to depiction. At its height in Rome from around 1630–1680, Baroque is particularly associated with the Catholic Counter-Reformation. Its dynamic movement, bold realism (giving viewers the impression they were witnessing an actual event), and …

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BAUHAUS

Bauhaus was a revolutionary school of art, architecture and design established by Walter Gropius at Weimar in Germany in 1919. The Bauhaus teaching method replaced the traditional pupil-teacher relationship with the idea of a community of artists working together. Its aim was to bring art back into contact with everyday life, and architecture, performing arts, …

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BEAUX ARTS QUARTET

The Beaux Arts Quartet was name given to a group of four young realist painters whose work was exhibited at the Beaux Arts gallery, London in the early 1950s. The Beaux Arts Gallery in London was run by the painter Helen Lessore from 1951–65. (There is no connection with the present London gallery of the …

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BEIJING EAST VILLAGE

Beijing East Village was a short-lived, politically motivated, Chinese arts collective that came to prominence in the early 1990s. The collective formed soon after the Tiananmen Square protests, colonising an impoverished area of East Beijing that became known as Beijing East Village. Much of the art produced was performance based with an emphasis on collective …

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BIENNIAL

A biennial is a large international art exhibition held every two years. In the art context, biennial (or biennale, as it is sometimes styled) has come to mean a large international exhibition held every two years. The first was the Venice Biennale in 1895, which was situated in the Giardini, a public park, and now …

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BIOMORPHIC

Biomorphic forms or images are ones that while abstract nevertheless refer to, or evoke, living forms such as plants and the human body. Biomorphic comes from combining the Greek words ‘bios’, meaning life, and ‘morphe’, meaning form. The term seems to have come into use around the 1930s to describe the imagery in the more …

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BITUMEN

Bitumen is a naturally-occurring, non-drying, tarry substance used in paint mixtures, especially to enrich the appearance of dark tones. Bitumen became very popular as a paint additive in the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth. However, because it does not dry it eventually causes often severe darkening and cracking of the paint. This can be …

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BLACK ARTS MOVEMENT

The black arts movement was an ideological movement that emerged in the USA in the early 1960s when black artists and intellectuals came together to organise, study and think about what a new black art and black politics movement might be. The movement was inspired by the revolutions in China, Cuba and successful African and …

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BLACK ATLANTIC

Black Atlantic describes the fusion of black cultures with other cultures from around the Atlantic. Paul Gilroy first used the term in his book The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness published in 1993. He argued that the Atlantic world has been deeply shaped by slavery and the slave trade. Between 1492 and 1820 about …

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BLACK AUDIO FILM COLLECTIVE

The Black Audio Film Collective is a pioneering arts initiative founded in 1982 whose ground-breaking experimental works engaged with black popular and political culture in Britain and the black / Asian Diasporas. Black Audio Film Collective was formed by seven undergraduates in Portsmouth in 1982, and was based in Dalston, East London from 1983 to …

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BLACK BOX

Relating to performance art, the black box is the name for a square room painted black in which artists performed experimental work. The black box became popular in the late 1960s, when artists began using abandoned warehouses as their studios. The appeal of the black box was that it was cheap to maintain and had …

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BLACK MOUNTAIN COLLEGE

Black Mountain College was a highly influential college founded at Black Mountain, North Carolina, USA, in 1933 where teaching was experimental and committed to an interdisciplinary approach. The college’s progressive principles were based on the educational theories of John Rice, its founder. In the curriculum, drama, music and fine art were given equal status to …

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BLOOMSBURY

Bloomsbury is the name commonly used to identify a circle of intellectuals and artists who lived in Bloomsbury, near central London, in the period 1904–40. In 1905 a group of writers and intellectuals began to meet at the London home of the artist Vanessa Bell and her writer sister Virginia Woolf to share ideas and …

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BODY ART

Body art is art in which the body, often that of the artist, is the principal medium and focus. Body art covers a wide range of art from about 1960 on, encompassing a variety of different approaches. It includes much performance art, where the artist is directly concerned with the body in the form of …

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BOMBAY PROGRESSIVE ARTISTS’ GROUP

The Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group was a short-lived progressive art group founded in 1947 in Bombay by a group of artists who challenged India’s existing conservative art establishment. Founded in the year of Indian independence the group sought to create an Indian form of modernism that celebrated traditional Indian painting while also acknowledging the pioneering …

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BRICOLAGE

Bricolage refers to the construction or creation of an artwork from any materials that come to hand. Bricolage is a French wording meaning roughly ‘do-it-yourself’, and it is applied in an art context to artists who use a diverse range of non-traditional art materials. This approach became popular in the early twentieth century when resources …

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BRISTOL SCHOOL

Bristol school refers to artists associated with Bristol in the early 1800s and inspired by local scenery especially the River Avon and Avon Gorge. The group conducted evening sketching meetings and sketching excursions to scenic locations around Bristol, and works by the group often feature these locations. Its principal figures were Francis Danby, during the …

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BRITISH BLACK ARTS MOVEMENT

The British black arts movement was a radical political art movement founded in 1982 inspired by anti-racist discourse and feminist critique, which sought to highlight issues of race and gender and the politics of representation. The movement was founded around the time of the First National Black Art Convention organised by the Blk Art Group …

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BRITISH IMPRESSIONISM

British impressionism describes the work of artists working in Britain in the late nineteenth-century who were influenced by the ideas of the French impressionists. Modernist ideas and techniques associated with what was to become known as French impressionism (such as the use of rapid, broken brushstrokes, awareness of light and shade and the depiction of …

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BRÜCKE

Brücke was a German expressionist group founded in Dresden in 1905 which developed a radical anti-traditional style characterised by vivid non-naturalistic colour and emotional tension. Brücke means bridge and may have been intended to convey the idea of a bridge between the artist and society at large. Also, Brücke recruited members who were not artists …

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BRUTALISM

Brutalism is an architectural style of the 1950s and 1960s characterised by simple, block-like forms and raw concrete construction. The term was coined by the British architectural critic Reyner Banham to describe the approach to building particularly associated with the architects Peter and Alison Smithson in the 1950s and 1960s.The term originates from the use, …

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C-PRINT

A C-print, also known as a C-type print or Chromogenic print, is a photographic print made from a colour negative or slide. Introduction to C-print The colour negative or slide is exposed to Chromogenic photographic paper (wet process paper) that contains three emulsion layers, each of which is sensitised to a different primary colour. After …

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CADAVRE EXQUIS (EXQUISITE CORPSE)

Cadavre exquis (exquisite corpse) is a collaborative drawing approach first used by surrealist artists to create bizarre and intuitive drawings. Cadavre exquis is similar to the old parlour game consequences – in which players write in turn on a sheet of paper, fold to conceal what they have written, and pass it on to the …

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CAMDEN TOWN GROUP

The Camden Town Group were a British post-impressionist group founded by Walter Sickert in London in 1911. Artists associated with the Camden Town Group painted realist scenes of city life and some landscape in a range of post-impressionist styles. The group is named after the seedy district of north London where Walter Sickert had lived …

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CANVAS

Canvas is a strong, woven cloth traditionally used by artists as a support (surface on which to paint). Commonly made of either linen or cotton thread, but also manufactured from man-made materials such as polyester. Shaped canvas A shaped canvas is a canvas that is not the traditional rectangular shape. Although there have been many …

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CAPITALIST REALISM

Capitalist realism was a movement formed in Berlin in Germany in 1963 to challenge the dominating influence of American pop art in the Western world. Capitalist realism is sometimes thought of as German pop art because the artists associated with it were similarly interested in mass media and the banal. Yet unlike pop art, its …

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CARICATURE

A caricature is a painting, or more usually drawing, of a person or thing in which the features and form have been distorted and exaggerated in order to mock or satirise the subject. The term is originally Italian, ‘caricatura’, and caricature appeared in Italian art about 1600 in the work of Annibale Carracci. The word …

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CARVING

Carving is a sculptural technique that involves using tools to shape a form by cutting or scraping away from a solid material such as stone, wood, ivory or bone.

CASTING

Casting involves making a mould and then pouring a liquid material, such as molten metal, plastic, rubber or fibreglass into the mould. A cast is a form made by this process. Many sculptures are produced by the artist modelling a form (normally in clay, wax or plaster). This is then used to create a mould …

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CHALK

Chalk is a soft powdery white or off-white writing or drawing material in crayon form, generally used on a blackboard or other dark surface. Chalk is an inorganic material composed of calcium carbonate. It is naturally occurring, but has also been produced industrially throughout the twentieth century.

CHARCOAL

Charcoal is a black crumbly drawing material made of carbon and often used for sketching and under-drawing for paintings, although can also be used to create more finished drawings. Charcoal is traditionally made from thin peeled willow twigs which are heated without the presence of oxygen. This produces black crumbly sticks, which leave microscopic particles …

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CHIAROSCURO

Chiaroscuro is an Italian term which translates as light-dark, and refers to the balance and pattern of light and shade in a painting or drawing. Chiaroscuro is generally only remarked upon when it is a particularly prominent feature of the work, usually when the artist is using extreme contrasts of light and shade.

CÍRCULO Y CUADRADO

Círculo y Cuadrado is an artist group formed in Paris in 1929 which strongly supported new developments in abstract art and in particular promoted mystical tendencies within it.

CLASSICISM

The term classicism is used to describe art that makes reference to ancient Greek or Roman style. The terms classic or classical came into use in the seventeenth century to describe the arts and culture of the ancient civilisations of Greece and Rome. The following of the principles of these ancient civilisations in art, architecture …

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COBRA

CoBrA was an artist group formed in 1948 by artists from Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam whose painting style was highly expressionist and inspired by the art of children. The name CoBrA is taken from the first letters of the cities (Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam) where the group’s founder members lived. However, they welcomed the coincidental …

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COLLAGE

Collage describes both the technique and the resulting work of art in which pieces of paper, photographs, fabric and other ephemera are arranged and stuck down onto a supporting surface. The term collage derives from the French term papiers collés (or découpage), used to describe techniques of pasting paper cut-outs onto various surfaces. It was …

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COLLECTIVE

Loosely defined, an art collective is a group of artists working together to achieve a common objective. Artists working within a collective are united by shared ideologies, aesthetics and, or, political beliefs. In the early modern period, there were roughly two forms of art collective. Those who sought to bring about social change by cultural …

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COLOUR FIELD PAINTING

The term colour field painting is applied to the work of abstract painters working in the 1950s and 1960s characterised by large areas of a more or less flat single colour. The term was originally applied to the work from about 1950 of three American abstract expressionist painters Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman and Clyfford Still. …

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COMIC STRIP ART

Comic strip art is art that imitates the style, commercial printing techniques and subject matter of comic strips. In the 1960s a group of pop artists began to imitate the commercial printing techniques and subject matter of comic strips. The American painter Roy Lichtenstein became notorious for creating paintings inspired by Marvel comic strips and …

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COMMUNITY ART

Community art is artistic activity that is based in a community setting, characterised by interaction or dialogue with the community and often involving a professional artist collaborating with people who may not otherwise engage in the arts. The notion of community art evolved out of the idea of cultural democracy. Cultural democracy emerged after the …

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COMPLEMENTARY COLOURS

Complementary colours are pairs of colours that contrast with each other more than any other colour, and when placed side-by-side make each other look brighter. In colour theory complementary colours appear opposite each other on colour models such as the colour wheel. The colour complement of each primary colour (primaries are red, yellow and blue) …

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COMPOSITION

Composition is the arrangement of elements within a work of art. Although in a general sense any piece of music or writing, painting or sculpture, can be referred to as a composition, the term usually refers to the arrangement of elements within a work of art. An artist arranges the different elements of an artwork …

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CONCEPTUAL ART

Conceptual art is art for which the idea (or concept) behind the work is more important than the finished art object. It emerged as an art movement in the 1960s and the term usually refers to art made from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s. Although the term ‘concept art’ had been used in the early …

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CONCEPTUAL PHOTOGRAPHY

Conceptual photography is photography that illustrates an idea. Since the invention of the photographic camera, artists have explored it as a means to stage a false reality, or capture an idea. This can be seen in one of the first staged photographs, Hippolyte Bayard’s Self Portrait of a Drowned Man, 1840. However, the term ‘conceptual …

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CONCRETE ART

Concrete art is abstract art that is entirely free of any basis in observed reality and that has no symbolic meaning. The term was introduced by artist Theo van Doesburg in his 1930 Manifesto of Concrete Art. The manifesto was published in the first and only issue of the magazine Art Concret. He stated that …

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CONSTRUCTING AND ASSEMBLING

In the twentieth century a new way of making sculpture emerged with the cubist constructions of Picasso. These were still life subjects made from scrap (found) materials glued together. Constructed sculpture in various forms became a major stream in modern art, including in movements such as constructivism or techniques like assemblage. Artists have used techniques …

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CONSTRUCTIONISM

Constructionism was an extension of constructivism in Britain from about 1950, with artists using naturally occurring proportional systems and rhythms to underpin their geometrical art. Victor Pasmore, Kenneth Martin, Mary Martin and Anthony Hill are the key figures associated with the movement. They were inspired by the theories of the American artist Charles Biederman and …

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CONSTRUCTIVISM

Constructivism was a particularly austere branch of abstract art founded by Vladimir Tatlin and Alexander Rodchenko in Russia around 1915. The constructivists believed art should directly reflect the modern industrial world. Vladimir Tatlin was crucially influenced by Pablo Picasso’s cubist constructions (Construction 1914) which he saw in Picasso’s studio in Paris in 1913. These were …

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CONTEMPORARY ART

The term contemporary art is loosely used to refer to art of the present day and of the relatively recent past, of an innovatory or avant-garde nature. In relation to contemporary art museums, the date of origin for the term ‘contemporary art’ varies. The Institute of Contemporary Art in London, founded in 1947, champions art …

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CONVERSATION PIECE

A conversation piece is an informal group portrait popular in the eighteenth century, small in scale and showing people – often families, sometimes groups of friends – in domestic interior or garden settings. Sitters are shown interacting with each other or with pets, taking tea or playing games. Conversation pieces were very different from the …

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COURT

Court painters were artists employed by royal courts to paint portraits of the royal family and their courtiers. Until modern times royal courts were a major focus of artistic patronage. Monarchs employed their own artists giving them titles such as ‘King’s painter’, but they are generally referred to as court painters. They could be among …

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CRAFT

Craft is a form of making which generally produces an object that has a function: such as something you can wear, or eat or drink from. In the past, craft was considered to be a lesser form of art than painting and sculpture because the objects made had a domestic function. They were also creative …

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CREOLISATION

Originally a Caribbean concept, creolisation describes the mixing together of different people and cultures to become one. The term comes from the word creole, used to describe people born in the New World as opposed to those who were African-born slaves. The idea of creolisation gained prominence during the Second World War, when scholars, such …

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CRYPT GROUP

The Crypt Group were a splinter group of the St Ives Society of Artists made up of artists who worked in a modern abstract style that was very different from the traditional approach adopted by the majority of its members. From its foundation in 1927 the St Ives Society of Artists was the dominating exhibition …

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CUBISM

Cubism was a revolutionary new approach to representing reality invented in around 1907–08 by artists Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. They brought different views of subjects (usually objects or figures) together in the same picture, resulting in paintings that appear fragmented and abstracted. Cubism was one of the most influential styles of the twentieth century. …

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CURATOR

A curator is someone employed by a museum or gallery to manage a collection of artworks or artefacts. Museums and galleries typically employ numbers of curators whose role it is to acquire, care for and develop a collection. They will also arrange displays of collection and loaned works and interpret the collection in order to …

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DADA

Dada was an art movement formed during the First World War in Zurich in negative reaction to the horrors and folly of the war. The art, poetry and performance produced by dada artists is often satirical and nonsensical in nature. Dada artists felt the war called into question every aspect of a society capable of …

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DE STIJL

De Stijl was a circle of Dutch abstract artists who promoted a style of art based on a strict geometry of horizontals and verticals. Originally a publication, De Stijl was founded in 1917 by two pioneers of abstract art, Piet Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg. De Stijl means style in Dutch. The magazine De Stijl …

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DECADENCE

Decadence generally refers to an extreme manifestation of symbolism which appeared towards the end of the nineteenth century and emphasised the spiritual, the morbid and the erotic. The term came into use in the 1880s with, for example, the French journal Le Décadent published in 1886. Decadents were inspired partly by a disgust at the …

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DECALCOMANIA

Decalcomania is a blotting process whereby paint is squeezed between two surfaces to create a mirror image. The most common example of decalcomania involves applying paint to paper then folding it, applying pressure and then unfolding the paper to reveal a mirror pattern. Decalcomania is most commonly associated with the surrealist painters Max Ernst and …

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DÉCOLLAGE

Décollage is a French word meaning literally to unstick, generally associated with a process used by artists of the nouveau réalisme (new realism) movement that involved making art from posters ripped from walls. Although the first time the term décollage appeared in print was in the Dictionnaire Abrégé du Surréalisme in 1938, it is usually …

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DECONSTRUCTION

Deconstruction is a form of criticism first used by French philosopher Jacques Derrida in the 1970s which asserts that there is not one single intrinsic meaning to be found in a work, but rather many, and often these can be conflicting. A deconstructive approach to criticism involves discovering, recognising and understanding the underlying and unspoken …

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DEGENERATE ART

Degenerate art is the English translation of the German phrase Entartete Kunst which is the label the National Socialist (Nazi) party, under its leader Adolf Hitler, applied to art they did not approve of, in an attempt to bring art under their control. All modern art was considered ‘degenerate’ by the National Socialist (Nazi) party. …

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DER BLAUE REITER

Der Blaue Reiter was a German expressionist group originating in Munich in 1909. Der Blaue Reiter translates in English as The Blue Rider. A number of avant-garde artists living in Munich had founded the Neue Kunstler Vereiningung, or New Artist Association (N.K.V.). The most important of these were the Russian born Wassily Kandinsky and the …

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DIASPORA

Diaspora is a term used to describe movements in population from one country to another and is often cited in discussions about identity. In relation to art, the term diaspora is used to discuss artists who have migrated from one part of the world to another, (or whose families have), and who express their diverse …

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DIGITAL ART

Digital art is a term used to describe art that is made or presented using digital technology. The first use of the term digital art was in the early 1980s when computer engineers devised a paint program which was used by the pioneering digital artist Harold Cohen. This became known as AARON, a robotic machine …

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DIPTYCH

A diptych is an artwork consisting of two painted or carved panels. These can be attached together or presented adjoining each other. In medieval times, panels were often hinged so that they could be closed and the artworks protected. Altarpieces, paintings placed on or behind the altar of a Christian church as a focus for …

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DIRECT CARVING

Direct carving is an approach to making carved sculpture where the actual process of carving suggests the final form rather than a carefully worked out preliminary model. This new approach was introduced by Constantin Brancusi from about 1906. Before that carved sculpture had always been based on a preconceived model. Often it was then actually …

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DIVISIONISM

Divisionism is a late nineteenth century painting technique that involved using tiny adjacent dabs of primary colour to create the effect of light The technique was inspired by optical theory and associated with neo-impressionist artists such as Georges Seurat. See definition for neo-impressionism

DOCUMENTARY ART

Documentary art is a term associated with the artists who documented the harsh realities of British life during the Depression in the 1930s. In a decade dominated by mass unemployment and social deprivation, a new radicalism took hold of European politics and artists responded to these events by adopting a realist style that was easily …

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DOCUMENTARY PHOTOGRAPHY

Documentary photography is a style of photography that provides a straightforward and accurate representation of people, places, objects and events, and is often used in reportage. Until the mid-twentieth century, documentary photography was a vital way of bearing witness to world events: from shoot-from-the-hip photographs of the Spanish Civil War by Robert Capa to the …

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DRAWING

Drawing is essentially a technique in which images are depicted on a surface by making lines, though drawings can also contain tonal areas, washes and other non-linear marks. Ink, pencil, crayon, charcoal and chalk are the most commonly used materials, but drawings can be made with or in combination with paint and any other wet …

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DRYPOINT

Drypoint is a printmaking process in which a design is drawn on a plate with a sharp, pointed needle-like instrument. An intaglio technique, drypoint is usually done on copper plates as the softer metal lends itself to this technique. (Intaglio refers to any printmaking process which involves making incisions or indents in a plate, so …

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DUSSELDORF SCHOOL OF PHOTOGRAPHY

The Dusseldorf School of Photography refers to a group of photographers who studied at the Kunstakademie Dusseldorf in the mid 1970s under the influential photographers Bernd and Hiller Becher. Known for their rigorous devotion to the 1920s German tradition of Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity), the Bechers’ photographs were clear, black and white pictures of industrial …

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DYE DESTRUCTION PRINT

A dye destruction print (Cibachrome print, Ilfochrome print) is a print made using a photographic printing process in which colour dyes embedded in the paper are selectively bleached away (destroyed) to form a full-colour image. The paper used for this process has at least three emulsion layers and each layer is sensitised to a primary …

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ÉCOLE DES BEAUX-ARTS

École des Beaux-Arts is a French term meaning school of fine arts. The original École des Beaux-Arts emerged from the teaching function of the French Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, established in Paris in 1648. In 1816 the Académie Royale school moved to a separate building and in 1863 was renamed the Ecole …

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EDITION

An edition is a copy or replica of a work of art made from a master. It commonly refers to a series of identical impressions or prints made from the same printing surface, but can also be applied to series of other media such as sculpture, photography and video. Since the late nineteenth century the …

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EDUCATIONAL TURN

A theme that emerged in the mid-1990s, educational turn refers to collaborative or research-based art where the impetus is on the process rather than an object-based artwork. Much of the focus is on finding new methodologies for creating art outside the existing traditional educational and institutional structures. Questions are raised about authorship, exhibition display, audience …

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ELECTRONIC MEDIA

The most common examples of electronic media are video recordings, audio recordings, slide presentations, CD-ROM and online content. The term also incorporates the equipment used to create these recordings or presentations – television, radio, telephone, computer. Much of the theory surrounding the use of electronic media by artists is based on Walter Benjamin’s seminal essay …

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ELIZABETHAN

Elizabethan refers to the reign of Queen Elizabeth I from 1558 to 1603 which saw a flowering of the arts in Britain. Although the plays of Shakespeare are perhaps the best known example of Elizabethan artistic production, painting – principally in the form of portraiture – also flourished during this period. The Queen herself took …

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EMBOSSED

An embossed surface is a raised or depressed surface created during printmaking processes. In printmaking any process used to create a raised or depressed surface is referred to as embossing. This is sometimes used to create false plate-marks in lithographs or screenprints.

EMULATION

Emulation is the process of recreating a digital art work to ensure it continues to work as technology changes. As technology becomes more sophisticated, the early video cameras, software programs and computers of the 1970s and 1980s are virtually obsolete. Conservators have had to emulate artworks made on outdated technology – such as an old …

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ENGRAVING

Engraving is a printmaking technique that involves making incisions into a metal plate which retain the ink and form the printed image. The design is manually incised into an engraving plate using a burin, an engraving tool like a very fine chisel with a lozenge-shaped tip. The burin makes incisions into the metal at various …

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ENTROPY

Entropy is the inevitable and steady deterioration of a system or society. The concept is articulated by the Second Law of Thermodynamics (the tendency for all matter and energy in the universe to evolve towards a state of inert uniformity). In an art context the term became popular in late 1960s New York when the …

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ENVIRONMENTAL ART

Environmental art is art that addresses social and political issues relating to the natural and urban environment. Environmental art often takes the form of installation. The term came into use in the late 1960s and is often closely related to land art.

ENVIRONMENTS

An alternative term for installation art; environments are mixed-media constructions or assemblages usually designed for a specific place and for a temporary period of time. The term environments was first used by artist Allan Kaprow in 1958 to describe his own large-scale artworks which transformed interior spaces.

EPHEMERAL ART

Ephemeral art is art that only lasts for a short amount of time. There are many forms of ephemeral art, from sculpture to performance, but the term is usually used to describe a work of art that only occurs once, like a happening, and cannot be embodied in any lasting object to be shown in …

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ETCHING

Etching is a printmaking technique that uses chemical action to produce incised lines in a metal printing plate which then hold the applied ink and form the image. The plate, traditionally copper but now usually zinc, is prepared with an acid-resistant ground. Lines are drawn through the ground, exposing the metal. The plate is then …

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EUSTON ROAD SCHOOL

The Euston Road School was a British realist group formed in 1938 of artists who either taught or studied at the School of Painting and Drawing at 316 Euston Road in London. The artists of the Euston Road School reacted against avant-garde styles. Instead they asserted the importance of painting traditional subjects in a realist manner. This attitude was …

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EXHIBITIONS

The collective produced two seminal exhibitions that toured for several years: Women and Work, 1975 and Who’s Holding the Baby?, 1978. Women and Work 1975 In 1975 the Hackney Trades Council invited the Hackney Flashers to produce an exhibition of photographs of women at work in the borough as part of their 75th anniversary celebrations. …

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EXPANDED CINEMA

Expanded cinema is used to describe a film, video, multi-media performance or an immersive environment that pushes the boundaries of cinema and rejects the traditional one-way relationship between the audience and the screen. The term was coined in the mid-1960s by the US filmmaker Stan Van Der Beek, when artists and filmmakers started to challenge …

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EXPERIMENTAL ETHNOGRAPHY

Experimental ethnography is an approach to studying and interpreting the cultures of everyday life that uses the techniques of experimental filmmaking, like montage, found footage and surrealism, to create new ways of seeing the world around us. As opposed to traditional ethnographic film, which tended to divide the world into those ‘out there’ being watched …

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EXPRESSIONISM

Expressionism refers to art in which the image of reality is distorted in order to make it expressive of the artist’s inner feelings or ideas. In expressionist art, colour in particular can be highly intense and non-naturalistic, brushwork is typically free and paint application tends to be generous and highly textured. Expressionist art tends to …

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FAIRY PAINTING

Fairy painting is particularly associated with the Victorian period, art that depicts fairies and other subjects from the supernatural. A fascination with fairies and the supernatural was a phenomenon of the Victorian age and resulted in a distinctive strand of art depicting fairy subjects drawn from myth and legend and particularly from Shakespeare’s play A …

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FANCY PICTURE

Fancy picture refers to a type of eighteenth century painting that depict scenes of everyday life but with elements of imagination, invention or storytelling. The term ‘fancies’ was first used in 1737 by art chronicler George Vertue to describe paintings by Philip Mercier. Typical titles were Venetian Girl at a Window or series The Five …

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FANTASTIC REALISM

The term fantastic realism refers to the work of a group of painters working in the late 1950s in Vienna who combined the painterly precision of the old masters with an interest in modern art movements and psychoanalysis. Johann Muschik first used the term ‘Phantastischer realismus’ (Fantastic Realism) in the late 1950s to describe the …

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FAUVISM

Fauvism is the name applied to the work produced by a group of artists (which included Henri Matisse and André Derain) from around 1905 to 1910, which is characterised by strong colours and fierce brushwork. The name les fauves (‘the wild beasts’) was coined by the critic Louis Vauxcelles when he saw the work of …

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FEDERAL ART PROJECT

The Federal Art Project was an American government programme to give work to unemployed artists during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project was one of a succession of art programmes set up under the American President Roosevelt’s New Deal policy to combat the Depression. In 1933 Roosevelt set …

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FEMINIST ART

Feminist art is art by artists made consciously in the light of developments in feminist art theory in the early 1970s. In 1971 the art historian Linda Nochlin published a groundbreaking essay Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? In it she investigated the social and economic factors that had prevented talented women from …

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FIGURATIVE ART

Figurative art describes any form of modern art that retains strong references to the real world and particularly to the human figure. The term has been particularly used since the arrival of abstract art to refer to artists that retain aspects of the real world as their subject matter, though in a general sense figurative …

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FILMAKTION

Filamaktion were a loose-knit group of experimental British filmmakers who worked and performed together in the early 1970s. Endorsing a more active, participatory experience of cinema, Filmaktion re-imagined the possibilities for film projection as a live event. Because of their improvisational and participatory approach, the artists rejected conventional cinemas in favour of more immersive environments, …

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FIN DE SIÈCLE

Fin de Siècle is a French phrase meaning ‘end of century’ and is applied specifically as a historical term to the end of the nineteenth century and even more specifically to decade of 1890s. Fin de Siècle is an umbrella term embracing symbolism, decadence and all related phenomena (e.g. art nouveau) which reached a peak …

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FLÂNEUR

Flâneur is a French term meaning ‘stroller’ or ‘loafer’ used by nineteenth-century French poet Charles Baudelaire to identify an observer of modern urban life. Baudelaire identified the flâneur in his essay The Painter of Modern Life (1863) as the dilettante observer. The flâneur carried a set of rich associations: the man of leisure, the idler, …

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FLUXUS

Fluxus is an international avant-garde collective or network of artists and composers founded in the1960s and still continuing today. Founded in 1960 by the Lithuanian/American artist George Maciunas, Fluxus began as a small but international network of artists and composers, and was characterised as a shared attitude rather than a movement. Rooted in experimental music, …

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FORESHORTENING

Foreshortening refers to the technique of depicting an object or human body in a picture so as to produce an illusion of projection or extension in space. The artist records, in varying degrees, the distortion that is seen by the eye when an object or figure is viewed at a distance or at an unusual …

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FORM

In relation to art the term form has two meanings: it can refer to the overall form taken by the work – its physical nature; or within a work of art it can refer to the element of shape among the various elements that make up a work. Until the emergence of modern art, when …

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FORMALISM

Formalism is the study of art based solely on an analysis of its form – the way it is made and what it looks like. Formalism describes the critical position that the most important aspect of a work of art is its form – the way it is made and its purely visual aspects – …

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FORMLESSNESS

Formlessness is a concept, first introduced by French writer-philosopher Georges Bataille, who argued that art should be brought ‘down in the world’ from its elevated status to its base materialism – and that this debased state should be celebrated as a tool for creativity. Formlessness was a concept first introduced by Bataille in 1929, when …

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FOUND OBJECT

A found object is a natural or man-made object, or fragment of an object, that is found (or sometimes bought) by an artist and kept because of some intrinsic interest the artist sees in it. Found objects (sometimes referred to by the French term for found object ‘objet trouvé’) may be put on a shelf …

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FRESCO

Fresco is a mural painting technique that involves painting with water-based paint directly onto wet plaster so that the paint becomes an integral part of the plaster. Developed in Italy from about the thirteenth century and fresco was perfected during the Renaissance. Two coats of plaster are applied to a wall and allowed to dry. …

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FROTTAGE

Frottage is a surrealist and ‘automatic’ method of creative production that involves creating a rubbing of a textured surface using a pencil or other drawing material. The technique was developed by Max Ernst in drawings made from 1925. Frottage is the French word for rubbing. Ernst was inspired by an ancient wooden floor where the …

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FUMAGE

Fumage is a technique in which an image is created by painting with smoke from a lighted candle into a ground of wet paint. The technique was invented by the Austrian surrealist artist Wolfgang Paalen in the late 1930s and results in a hazy cloudy image suggestive of dreams and apparitions. The Messenger, created in …

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FUTURISM

Futurism was an Italian art movement of the early twentieth century that aimed to capture in art the dynamism and energy of the modern world. Futurism was launched by the Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti in 1909. On 20 February he published his Manifesto of Futurism on the front page of the Paris newspaper Le …

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GENERATIVE ART

Generative art is art made using a predetermined system that often includes an element of chance – is usually applied to computer based art. The practice has its roots in dada, yet it was the pioneering artist Harold Cohen who was considered one of the first practitioners of generative art when he used computer-controlled robots …

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GENRE PAINTING

The term genre painting refers to paintings which depict scenes of everyday life. Genre painting developed particularly in Holland in the seventeenth century. The most typical subjects were scenes of peasant life or drinking in taverns, and tended to be small in scale. In Britain William Hogarth’s modern moral subjects were a special kind of …

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GENRES

Genres are types of painting. These were codified in the seventeenth century as (in descending order of importance) history, portrait, genre (scenes of everyday life), landscape and still life. This hierarchy of genres, established by the French Royal Academy, was based on the notion of man as the measure of all things. Landscape and still …

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GEOMETRY OF FEAR

Geometry of Fear was a term coined by the critic Herbert Read in 1952 to describe the work of a group of young British sculptors characterised by tortured, battered or blasted looking human, or sometimes animal figures. Herbert Read used the phrase in a review of the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale of that …

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GEORGIAN

Georgian is the term applied to the style of architecture, art and design prevalent through the reigns of the four King Georges in Britain from 1714 to 1830. Georgian usually refers to architecture, furniture, silver and the like, rather than painting. Its unifying characteristic, if it has one, is a certain classical restraint and harmony.

GERMAN EXPRESSIONISM

German expressionism was an early twentieth century German art movement that emphasized the artist’s inner feelings or ideas over replicating reality, and was characterised by simplified shapes, bright colours and gestural marks or brushstrokes. There were two main groups of German expressionist artists: Die Brücke (the bridge) led by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, and Der Blaue …

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GESTURAL

Gestural is a term used to describe the application of paint in free sweeping gestures with a brush. The term originally came into use to describe the painting of the abstract expressionist artists Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, Hans Hofmann and others (also referred to as action painters). In Pollock’s case …

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GLASGOW SCHOOL

Glasgow School usually refers to the circle of artists and designers working around Charles Rennie Mackintosh in Glasgow from the mid 1890s to about 1910. Most notable in the group were the Macdonald sisters and Herbert MacNair and with Charles Rennie Mackintosh they were known as The Four. They made a distinctive and highly influential …

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GOUACHE

Gouache is a type of water-soluble paint that, unlike watercolour, is opaque so the white of the paper surface does not show through. The term gouache was first used in France in the eighteenth century to describe a type of paint made from pigments bound in water-soluble gum, like watercolour, but with the addition of …

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GRAFFITI ART

Graffiti art as a term refers to images or text painted usually onto buildings, typically using spray paint. Graffiti art has its origins in 1970s New York, when young people began to use spray paint and other materials to create images on buildings and on the sides of subway trains. Such graffiti can range from …

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GRAND MANNER

Grand manner is an English term used widely from the eighteenth century to describe what was considered to be the highest style of art in academic theory – a style based on an idealised, classical approach. The term grand manner was given currency by Sir Joshua Reynolds and extensively discussed in his Discourses on Art – fifteen lectures delivered …

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GRAPHITE

Graphite is a metallic grey writing and drawing material most commonly used in pencil form – though graphite powder is also used by artists as a drawing material. Graphite is a crystalline form of carbon and is useful as a writing and drawing tool, as only the slightest pressure is needed to leave a mark. …

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GRATTAGE

Grattage is a surrealist painting technique that involves laying a canvas prepared with a layer of oil paint over a textured object and then scraping the paint off to create an interesting and unexpected surface. The technique was invented by surrealist artist Max Ernst. Having prepared a canvas using grattage, Ernst would then work back …

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GROUP X

Group X was a short lived group of British artists formed by Wyndham Lewis in 1920 to provide a continuing focus for avant-garde art in Britain following the First World War. It was an attempt to revive Wyndham Lewis’s pre-war vorticist group. One group exhibition was held in 1922. Other artists associated with Group X …

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GRUPO FRENTE

Grupo Frente was a 1950s Brazilian art movement formed by artists who rejected the figuration and nationalism of the predominant modernist Brazilian painting style. The movement was founded by the artist and teacher Ivan Serpa in Rio de Janeiro in 1954. Many of the artists associated with Grupo Frente were former pupils of Serpa at …

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GRUPO RUPTURA

Grupo Ruptura was formed by a group of Brazilian abstract artists in the early 1950s with the aim of breaking with the prevalent naturalist approach to painting in the country. In 1952 an exhibition called Ruptura was held at the São Paulo Museum of Modern Art. The exhibition marked the beginning of the concrete art …

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GRUPPO ORIGINE

Gruppo Origine was a short-lived Italian group (translates as origin group) formed in 1951 to promote a return to simple form and colour in abstract art. The group was founded in Romein 1951 by Alberto Burri, Ettore Colla, Giuseppe Capogrossi and Mario Ballocco. Critical of what they saw as the increasingly decorative quality of abstract …

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GUERRILLA GIRLS

The Guerrilla Girls are a group of anonymous American female artists who seek to expose sexual and racial discrimination in the art world and the wider cultural arena. Formed in New York in the mid 1980s, Guerrilla Girls’ members protect their identities by wearing gorilla masks in public and by assuming pseudonyms taken from deceased …

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GUTAI

Gutai were a Japanese avant-garde group formed in 1954 whose radical ideas and approaches to making art anticipated later performance and conceptual art of the 1960s and 1970s. The Gutai Bijutsu Kyokai (Gutai Art Association) was formed in 1954 in Osaka by Yoshihara Jiro, Kanayma Akira, Murakami Saburo, Shiraga Kazuo and Shozo Shimamoto. The word …

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HACKNEY FLASHERS

Hackney Flashers was a women’s arts collective active between 1974 and 1980. Most of the group were photographers and defined themselves as socialists and feminists. Introduction to Hackney Flashers The group’s name was a playful pun on the flash of the camera, their medium of choice. They used documentary photography as a tool in their …

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HAPPENING

Happenings were theatrical events created by artists in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Happenings were the forerunners of performance art and in turn emerged from the theatrical elements of dada and surrealism. The name was first used by the American artist Allan Kaprow in the title of his 1959 work 18 Happenings in 6 …

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HARD EDGE PAINTING

Hard edge painting is an approach to abstract painting that became widespread in the 1960s and is characterized by areas of flat colour with sharp, clear (or ‘hard’) edges. The term ‘hard-edge painting’ was coined by Californian critic Jules Langster in 1959. He used it to describe the work of those abstract painters, particularly on …

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HEIDELBERG SCHOOL

The Heidelberg School was a late nineteenth century art movement named after the village of Heidelberg in Australia where a small group of artists would go to paint en plein air (painting outdoors and on the spot). Sometimes described as Australian impressionism, the Heidelberg School developed an informal, evocative and naturalistic style that evoked the …

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HI-RED CENTER

Hi-Red Center was a short-lived radical art collective that emerged in post-war Japan and was active between 1963 and 1964. Founded in Tokyo by the artists Genpei Akasegawa, Natsuyuki Nakanishi and Jiro Takamatsu, Hi-Red Center created happenings and events that were socially reflective, anti-establishment and anti-commercial. Inspired by Japan’s neo-dada movement and Fluxus, the group …

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HISTORY PAINTING

The term history painting was introduced in the seventeenth century to describe paintings with subject matter drawn from classical history and mythology, and the Bible – in the eighteenth century it was also used to refer to more recent historical subjects. The term ‘history painting’ was introduced by the French Royal Academy in the seventeenth …

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HUDSON RIVER SCHOOL

Hudson River school is the collective name given to a number of nineteenth century North American landscape painters who depicted scenes of natural beauty in areas that included the Hudson River Valley and the Catskill Mountains. Prominent artists associated with the school include Thomas Cole and Frederic Edwin Church. The artists were active between the …

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HYPER-REALISM

The term hyper-realism appeared in the early 1970s to describe a resurgence of particularly high fidelity realism in sculpture and painting at that time. It is also called super-realism, and in painting is synonymous with photorealism. Leading painters were Chuck Close, Robert Bechtle, Richard Estes, Audrey Flack, Ralph Goings. In sculpture the outstanding practitioner was …

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ICONOGRAPHY

The iconography of an artwork is the imagery within it. The term comes from the Greek word ikon meaning image. An icon was originally a picture of Christ on a panel used as an object of devotion in the orthodox Greek Church from at least the seventh century on. Hence the term icon has come …

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IDENTITY POLITICS

Identity politics is the term used to describe an anti-authoritarian political and cultural movement that gained prominence in the USA and Europe in the mid-1980s, asking questions about identity, repression, inequality and injustice and often focusing on the experience of marginalised groups. Identity politics emerged out of the 1960s Black Civil Rights Movement, second wave …

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IL NOVECENTO ITALIANO

Il Novecento Italiano was an Italian group formed in 1922 with the aim of reviving the tradition of large format history painting and sculpture in the classical manner. The group was formed by artists Achille Funi, Mario Sironi, Carlo Carrá and others. It was officially launched in 1923 at a meeting in Milan, with Mussolini …

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ILLUSIONISM

The term illusionism is used to describe a painting that creates the illusion of a real object or scene, or a sculpture where the artist has depicted figure in such a realistic way that they seem alive. The term is often used specifically in relation to the decorative schemes used in buildings in Baroque art, …

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IMPASTO

Impasto refers to an area of thick paint or texture, in a painting. First noticeable in the paintings of Venetian Renaissance artists Titian and Tintoretto, impasto is also seen in Baroque painting, for example in the work of Rubens. It is increasingly notable in nineteenth-century landscape, naturalist and romantic painting. The use of impasto became …

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IMPRESSIONISM

Impressionism developed in France in the nineteenth century and is based on the practice of painting out of doors and spontaneously ‘on the spot’ rather than in a studio from sketches. Main impressionist subjects were landscapes and scenes of everyday life. Impressionism was developed by Claude Monet and other Paris-based artists from the early 1860s. …

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INDEPENDENT GROUP

The Independent Group (IG) were a radical group of young artists, writers and critics who met at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London in the 1950s, and challenged the dominant modernist (and as they saw it elitist) culture dominant at that time, in order to make it more inclusive of popular culture. The …

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INDIGENISM

There are several meanings relating to the word indigenism, but in the context of visual art the term refers to a movement that originated in Latin America during the 1920s which saw artists fighting against the dominance of European art in favour of making art about their own culture which embraced pre-Columbian art. Art associated …

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INDUSTRIAL DESIGN

The term industrial design refers to design of mass-produced, machine-made goods. The word was first used in America in the 1920s to describe the work of specialist designers who worked on product design. Earlier, Henry Ford’s introduction in 1913 of the production line to the motor car industry, and subsequently to the production of other …

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INK

Ink is an ancient writing and drawing medium in liquid or paste form, traditionally black or brown in colour – though it can also contain coloured dyes or pigments. Ink is still most commonly made of carbon and binders, but historically was also made from plant or animal sources such as iron gall and sepia. …

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INSTALLATION ART

The term installation art is used to describe large-scale, mixed-media constructions, often designed for a specific place or for a temporary period of time. Installation artworks (also sometimes described as ‘environments’) often occupy an entire room or gallery space that the spectator has to walk through in order to engage fully with the work of …

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INSTITUTIONAL CRITIQUE

Institutional critique is the act of critiquing an institution as artistic practice, the institution usually being a museum or an art gallery. Institutional criticism began in the late 1960s when artists began to create art in response to the institutions that bought and exhibited their work. In the 1960s the art institution was often perceived …

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INTAGLIO

Intaglio describes any printmaking technique in which the image is produced by incising into the printing plate – the incised line or area holds the ink and creates the image.

INTERACTIVE ART

Interactive art describes art that relies on the participation of a spectator. Interactive art emerged in the late 1950s in parallel with artists’ desires to find less alienating and exclusive environments in which to show art. As the street, the warehouse or the shop front became their choice of venue, the art also became more …

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INTERNATIONAL STYLE

The term international style was first used in 1932 to describe architects associated with the modern movement whose designs shared similar visual qualities – being mostly rectilinear, undecorated, asymmetrical and white. In 1932 the Museum of Modern Art in New York held the first architectural exhibition featuring architects associated with the modern movement. International style …

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INTERNET ART

Internet art is art that is made on and for the internet, also known as net art. It encompasses various sub-genres of computer-based art including browser art and software art. The term is used to describe a process of making art using a computer in some form or other, whether to download imagery that is …

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INTIMISM

Intimism is a French term applied to paintings and drawings of quiet domestic scenes. Although originally applied to the work of of Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard it has since been applied widely to any painting of such subject matter. An outstanding example of an artist who works in this way is Gwen John.

JAPONISME

Japonisme is a French term coined in the late nineteenth century to describe the craze for Japanese art and design in the West. The term is generally said to have been coined by the French critic Philippe Burty in the early 1870s. It described the craze for Japanese art and design that swept France and …

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JIKKEN KOBO (EXPERIMENTAL WORKSHOP)

Founded in Tokyo in 1951, Jikken Kobo (Experimental Workshop) were an interdisciplinary group of artists, musicians, choreographers and poets who were inspired by European and American avant-gardes. The group was founded against the backdrop of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs and in a time of post-war austerity. Their multi-layered installations embraced sound recording, photography and …

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KHARTOUM SCHOOL

The Khartoum School was a modernist art movement formed in Sudan in 1960 that sought to develop a new visual vocabulary to reflect the distinctive identity of the newly independent nation. The Khartoum School was formed by the painters Ahmed Shibrain, Kamala Ishag and Ibrahim El-Salahi. As one of the most active contributors to the …

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KINAESTHETIC ART

Kinaesthetic art is art that deals with the body in movement. Kinaesthesia is the sense that detects bodily position, weight or movement of the muscles, tendons and joints of the body. In art the term has come to be used in relation to art that deals with the body in movement. It was first associated …

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KINETIC ART

Kinetic art is art that depends on motion for its effects. The word kinetic means relating to motion. Since the early twentieth century artists have been incorporating movement into art. This has been partly to explore the possibilities of movement, partly to introduce the element of time, partly to reflect the importance of the machine …

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KITCHEN SINK PAINTERS

Kicthen Sink painters is a term applied to a group of British artists working in the 1950s who painted ordinary people in scenes of everyday life. The term was originally used as the title of an article by the critic David Sylvester in the December 1954 issue of the journal Encounter. The article discussed the …

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KITSCH

Kitsch is the German word for trash, and is used in English to describe particularly cheap, vulgar and sentimental forms of popular and commercial culture. The word kitsch came to be applied to this type of popular and commercial culture sometime in the 1920s. In 1939, the American art critic Clement Greenberg defined kitsch in …

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LABORATOIRE AGIT’ART

Founded in Dakar in 1974, Laboratoire Agit’Art was a revolutionary and subversive art collective that sought to combine traditional African performance and creativity with a modern aesthetic. Established by the artist Issa Samb, the filmmaker Djibril Diop Mambéty painter El Hadji Sy and the playwright Youssoupha Dione, Laboratoire Agit’Art were an interdisciplinary collective, devising street …

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LAND ART

Land art or earth art is art that is made directly in the landscape, sculpting the land itself into earthworks or making structures in the landscape using natural materials such as rocks or twigs. Land art was part of the wider conceptual art movement in the 1960s and 1970s. The most famous land art work …

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LANDSCAPE

Landscape is one of the principal types or genres of subject in Western art. The appreciation of nature for its own sake, and its choice as a specific subject for art, is a relatively recent phenomenon. Until the seventeenth century landscape was confined to the background of portraits or paintings dealing principally with religious, mythological …

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LIGHTBOX

A lightbox is a box with a translucent white surface fitted with an internal light source, commonly a fluorescent tube or small incandescent bulbs. A lightbox is normally used for examining transparencies and negatives and tracing works made with a variety of techniques and materials. However since the late twentieth century artists have made works …

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LINOCUT

A linocut is a relief print produced in a manner similar to a woodcut but that uses linoleum as the surface into which the design is cut and printed from. The lino block consists of a thin layer of linoleum (a canvas backing coated with a preparation of solidified linseed oil) usually mounted on wood. …

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LITHOGRAPHY

Lithography is a printing process that uses a flat stone or metal plate on which the image areas are worked using a greasy substance so that the ink will adhere to them by, while the non-image areas are made ink-repellent. A printing process based on the fact that grease and water don’t mix. The image …

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LIVE ART

The term live art refers to performances or events undertaken or staged by an artist or a group of artists as a work of art, usually innovative and exploratory in nature. The term is mainly used to refer to performance art, action art and their precursor happenings, together with later developments of performance since the …

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LONDON GROUP

The London group was an exhibiting group founded in 1913 to organise modern art exhibitions in Britain. The London Group took over from the Camden Town group and its stated aim was ‘to advance public awareness of contemporary visual art by holding exhibitions annually’. Its first president was Harold Gilman, one of the leading Camden …

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LUMINISM

Luminism means roughly, the painting of light and is applied specifically to the American landscape painters of the Hudson River school from about 1830–70. Many of the paintings produced by the Hudson River school were dominated by intense and often dramatic light effects. In British art a form of luminism underlies James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s …

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MAGIC REALISM

The term magic realism was invented by German photographer, art historian and art critic Franz Roh in 1925 to describe modern realist paintings with fantasy or dream-like subjects. The term was used by Franz Roh in his book Nach Expressionismus: Magischer Realismus (After Expressionism: Magic Realism). In Central Europe magic realism was part of the …

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MAGNUM PHOTOS

Magnum Photos is a New York based photographic co-operative founded in 1947 by four photographers, including Robert Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson, that aims to give photographers the freedom to record what they see without having to work to the agendas of magazines and newspapers. Magnum Photos was set up by Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, George …

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MAIL ART

Mail art is a movement based on the principle of sending small scale works through the postal service. Mail art began in the 1960s when artists sent postcards inscribed with poems or drawings through the post rather than exhibiting or selling them through conventional commercial channels. Its origins can be found in Marcel Duchamp and …

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MANNERIST

Mannerist is a sixteenth century style of art and design characterised by artificiality, elegance and sensuous distortion of the human figure. Mannerism is the name given to the style followers of Raphael and Michelangelo from around 1520–1600. Mannerist artists were influenced by, but also reacted to, the work of the Renaissance masters. Rather than adopting …

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MAQUETTE

A maquette is model for a larger piece of sculpture, created in order to visualise how it might look and to work out approaches and materials for how it might be made. Maquettes are often fascinating works in their own right, conveying the immediacy of the artist’s first realisation of an idea.

MARKET PHOTO WORKSHOP

Founded by the documentary photographer David Goldblatt in 1989, Market Photo Workshop was originally set up to support black photographers in apartheid South Africa, enabling them access to workshops and education and international photographers. The organisation is based in Newtown, Johannesburg where it runs a project space, a gallery and a resource centre. Initially the …

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MATTER PAINTING

Matter painting refers to the technique of using thick impasto paint into which other materials such as sand, mud, cement and shells have been added. The term appeared in the 1950s to describe the technique popularised by a group of Dutch and Belgian painters such as Bram Bogart, Jaap Wagemaker, Bert de Leeuw, René Guiette …

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MEDIUM

Medium can refer to both to the type of art (e.g. painting, sculpture, printmaking), as well as the materials an artwork is made from. In relation to art this term has two principal overlapping, even slightly confusing meanings. Painting, sculpture, drawing, printmaking, are all media of art in the sense of a type of art: …

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MEMENTO MORI

A memento mori is an artwork designed to remind the viewer of their mortality and of the shortness and fragility of human life. Memento mori is a Latin phrase meaning ‘remember you must die’. A basic memento mori painting would be a portrait with a skull but other symbols commonly found are hour glasses or …

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MERZ

Merz is a nonsense word invented by the German dada artist Kurt Schwitters to describe his collage and assemblage works based on scavenged scrap materials Kurt Schwitters made large numbers of small collages and more substantial assemblages in this medium. He is said to have extracted the word Merz from the name Commerz Bank which …

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METAL

Metal is a solid, hard, opaque material that has been used by sculptors since ancient times. There are two families of metals: ferrous and non ferrous. All ferrous metals contain iron. Non ferrous metals include aluminium, zinc and copper and its alloys, for example bronze. Metals can be hammered without breaking or cracking them in …

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METAPHYSICAL ART

Metaphysical Art (the translation of the Italian Pittura Metafisica) was an early twentieth century Italian art movement typified by dream-like views of eerie arcaded squares with unexpected juxtapositions of objects. Metaphysical Art is the translation of the Italian Pittura Metafisica, a movement created by Giorgio de Chirico and the former futurist, Carlo Carra, in the …

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MEZZOTINT

Mezzotint is an engraving technique developed in the seventeenth century which allows for the creation of prints with soft gradations of tone and rich and velvety blacks. The process involves indenting the metal printing plate by rocking a toothed metal tool across the surface. Each pit holds ink, and if printed at this stage the …

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MINIATURE

A miniature is a small painting, usually a portrait. Miniatures range from about three centimetres in height to as much as twenty-five centimetres and are painted in watercolour or gouache on vellum, enamel, ivory or, often, a playing card. In the West miniature painting emerged at the time of the Renaissance from the medieval practice …

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MINIMALISM

Minimalism is an extreme form of abstract art developed in the USA in the 1960s and typified by artworks composed of simple geometric shapes based on the square and the rectangle. Minimalism or minimalist art can be seen as extending the abstract idea that art should have its own reality and not be an imitation …

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MINJUNG ART

Minjung art was a South Korean socio-political art movement that emerged in 1980 after the Gwangju Massacre, in which some 200 peaceful demonstrators were killed by government troops. In the wake of the atrocities, artists sought to promote their desire for democracy through collective action, agitating for political change through mural paintings, banners and pamphlets. …

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MIXED MEDIA

Mixed media is a term used to describe artworks composed from a combination of different media or materials. The use of mixed media began around 1912 with the cubist collages and constructions of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, and has become widespread as artists developed increasingly open attitudes to the media of art. Essentially art …

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MOBILE

A mobile is a type of sculpture that is formed of delicate components which are suspended in the air and move in response to air currents or motor power. Artist Alexander Calder was the originator of the mobile. By suspending forms that move with the flow of air, Calder revolutionised sculpture. It was Marcel Duchamp …

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MODELLING

Modelling is an additive process. This means a soft material is worked by the artist to build up a shape or form (rather than scraping or material away as in carving). Also unlike carving, soft materials such as clay and wax can be changed and reworked. Modelling a maquette can also often be the first …

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MODERN MORAL SUBJECT

The modern moral subject is a type of painting that was invented by English artist William Hogarth (1697–1764), which satirizes the manners and morals of the period in which he lived. William Hogarth’s modern moral paintings are typically created as a series. The first series, A Harlot’s Progress 1732, is six scenes showing a country …

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MODERN REALISM

The term modern realism is applied to painting or sculpture created since the development of abstraction in modern art but which continues to represent things in a realistic manner. Although in the nineteenth century realism had a special meaning as an art term, since the rise of abstract approaches in modern art, realism, or realist, …

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MODERNISM

Modernism refers to a global movement in society and culture that from the early decades of the twentieth century sought a new alignment with the experience and values of modern industrial life. Building on late nineteenth-century precedents, artists around the world used new imagery, materials and techniques to create artworks that they felt better reflected …

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MODULAR

Modular is a term used particularly in relation to minimalism, referring to a work of art with constituent parts that can be moved, separated and recombined. During the 1960s artists began creating simple sculptures made from industrial materials like sheet metal, plywood and bricks. In order to distance themselves from traditional sculpture, minimalist artists would …

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MONO-HA

Mono-ha (School of Things) was a pioneering art movement that emerged in Tokyo in the mid-1960s whose artists, instead of making traditional representational artworks, explored materials and their properties in reaction to what they saw as ruthless development and industrialisation in Japan. The movement, led by the artists Lee Ufan and Nobuo Sekine, was one …

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MONOCHROME

Monochrome means one colour, so in relation to art, a monochrome artwork is one that includes only one colour. For centuries artists used different shades (tones) of brown or black ink to create monochrome pictures on paper. The ink would simply be more or less diluted to achieve the required shades. Shades of grey oil …

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MONOPRINT

The monoprint is a form of printmaking where the image can only be made once, unlike most printmaking which allows for multiple originals. An impression is printed from a reprintable block, such as an etched plate or woodblock, but in such a way that only one of its kind exists, for example by incorporating unique …

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MONOTYPE

A unique image printed from a polished plate, such as glass or metal, which has been painted with a design in ink. The image is transferred from the plate onto a sheet of paper by pressing the two together, usually using a printing-press. Monotypes can also be created by inking an entire surface and then, …

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MONTAGE

A montage is an assembly of images that relate to each other in some way to create a single work or part of a work of art. A montage is more formal than a collage and is usually based on a theme. It is also used to describe experimentation in photography and film, in particular …

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MOSAIC

A mosaic is a picture made up of small parts which are traditionally tiny tiles made out of terracotta, pieces of glass, ceramics or marble and usually inlayed into floors and walls. Mosaic has been used as a decorative medium for over five thousand years. It was the Islamic mosaics introduced to Spain by the …

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MOTIF

A motif is a recurring fragment, theme or pattern that appears in a work of art. In the past the term motif was commonly associated with Islamic designs, but it also alludes to a theme or symbol that returns time and again, like the noose, cigarette and lightbulb in the work of American figurative painter …

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MULTI-MEDIA

The term multi-media describes artworks made from a range of materials and include an electronic element such as audio or video. The term was first used in the 1960s to describe events such as those staged by Andy Warhol with the rock group the Velvet Underground, under the title of the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, which …

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MULTIPLE

Multiple refers to a series of identical artworks, usually a signed limited edition made specifically for selling. Casting sculpture in bronze, and the various techniques of printmaking, have for many centuries made it possible to make multiple examples of a work of art. Each example of an edition of a print or a bronze is …

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MURAL

A mural is a painting applied directly to a wall usually in a public space. The popularity of the mural in the Western world began in the nineteenth century, with a new, community-orientated sense of national identity. The advantage of a mural is its accessibility to a large audience, which has endeared it to many …

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NABIS

Les Nabis were a group of post-impressionist French painters active from 1888–1900 whose work is characterised by flat patches of colour, bold contours and simplified drawing. Some of its key members met at the Académie Julian in Paris, which offered a liberal alternative to the official École des Beaux Arts. Founded in secret by Paul …

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NAÏVE ART

Naïve art is simple, unaffected and unsophisticated – usually specifically refers to art made by artists who have had no formal training in an art school or academy. Naïve art is characterised by childlike simplicity of execution and vision. As such it has been valued by modernists seeking to get away from what they see …

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NARRATIVE

Narrative art is art that tells a story. A narrative is simply a story. Narrative art is art that tells a story. Much of Western art until the twentieth century has been narrative, depicting stories from religion, myth and legend, history and literature (see history painting). Audiences were assumed to be familiar with the stories …

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NATURALISM

Naturalism was a broad movement in the nineteenth century which represented things closer to the way we see them. Until the early nineteenth century both landscape and the human figure in art tended to be idealised or stylised according to conventions derived from the classical tradition. In the nineteenth century there was a trend towards …

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NAZARENES

The Nazarenes were a group of German artists founded in 1809. Their aim was to regenerate German painting by returning to the purity of the early Renaissance. The group was founded by Johann Friedrich Overbeck and Franz Pforr who were later joined by Peter Von Cornelius. They were originally called the Brotherhood of St Luke …

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NÉGRITUDE

Négritude was an anti-colonial cultural and political movement founded by a group of African and Caribbean students in Paris in the 1930s who sought to reclaim the value of blackness and African culture. Introduction Négritude was lead by the Martinican poet Aimé Césaire, French Guianese poet Léon Damas and the future Senegalese President (who was …

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NEO-CONCRETE

The neo-concrete movement was a splinter group of the 1950s Brazilian concrete art movement, calling for a greater sensuality, colour and poetic feeling in concrete art. With the construction of the country’s new utopian capital, Brasilia and the formation of the São Paulo Biennial, young Brazilian artists were inspired to create art that drew on …

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NEO-DADA

The term neo-dada applied to the work of artists working in America in the 1950s and 1960s which was reminiscent of the art of the early twentieth century dada movement. The term is applied to the work of artists such as Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns because of their use of collage, assemblage and found …

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NEO-EXPRESSIONISM

Neo-expressionism acted as a major revival of painting in an expressionist manner in the 1980s and it occurred internationally. It was seen as a reaction to the minimalism and conceptual art that had dominated the 1970s. In the USA leading figures were Philip Guston and Julian Schnabel, and in Britain Christopher Le Brun and Paula …

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NEO-GEO

Short for neo-geometric conceptualism, the term neo-geo came into use in the early 1980s in America to describe the work of artists who criticized the mechanisation and commercialism of the modern world. Neo-geo is short for neo-geometric conceptualism. It is applied to the work of Peter Halley, Ashley Bickerton, Jeff Koons and others. Their work …

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NEO-IMPRESSIONISM

Neo-impressionism is the name given to the post-impressionist work of Georges Seurat, Paul Signac and their followers who, inspired by optical theory, painted using tiny adjacent dabs of primary colour to create the effect of light. Neo-impressionism is characterised by the use of the divisionist technique (often popularly but incorrectly called pointillism, a term Paul …

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NEO-PLASTICISM

Neo-plasticism is a term adopted by the Dutch pioneer of abstract art, Piet Mondrian, for his own type of abstract painting which used only horizontal and vertical lines and primary colours. From the Dutch ‘de nieuwe beelding’, neo-plasticism basically means new art (painting and sculpture are plastic arts). It is also applied to the work …

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NEO-ROMANTICISM

Neo-romanticism is a term applied to the imaginative and often quite abstract landscape based painting of Paul Nash, Graham Sutherland and others in the late 1930s and 1940s. The work of these artists often included figures, was generally sombre, reflecting the Second World War and its approach and aftermath, but rich, poetic and capable of …

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NEOCLASSICISM

Neoclassicism was a particularly pure form of classicism that emerged from about 1750. Following the discovery of the Roman ruins of Pompeii and also the publication in 1764 of a highly influential history of ancient art by German scholar Winckelmann, there was an intense flourishing of classicism in art, architecture and design in the eighteenth …

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NEUE KÜNSTLERVEREINIGUNG MÜNCHEN (NKV)

Neue Künstlervereinigung München (NKV) were an avant-garde exhibiting society founded in Munich in 1909. With Wassily Kandinsky as president and members including Alexei Jawlensky and Gabriele Münter, the Neue Künstlervereinigung München (NKV) (New Artists’ Association of Munich) mounted controversial exhibitions of futurist-influenced work in 1909, 1910 and 1911. Kandinsky resigned in 1911 and with Franz …

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NEUE SACHLICHKEIT

Usually translated as ‘New Objectivity’, Neue Sachlichkeit was a German modern realist movement of the 1920s. It took its name from the exhibition Neue Sachlichkeit held in Mannheim in 1923. The exhibition was part of the phenomenon of the ‘return to order’ following the First World War (when artists rejected the more extreme avant-garde forms …

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NEUE SLOWENISCHE KUNST (NSK)

The Neue Slowenische Kunst (NSK) were a pioneering artist collective formed in the 1980s in Slovenia which addressed the social and political history of the country. Neue Slowenische Kunst (the name is the German translation of New Slovenian Art) was formed at a time of upheaval during the country’s separation from former Yugoslavia. The collective …

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NEUE WILDE

The term Neue Wilde was used in Germany for neo-expressionism, a movement which saw the re-emergence of expressive painting in the late 1970s and 1980s. Like other neo-expressive movements of this era, the work of the Neuen Wilden (i.e. new Fauves), is characterised by bright, intense colours and quick, broad brushstrokes, and can be seen …

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NEW BRITISH SCULPTURE

The term New British sculpture applies to the work of young British sculptors in the 1980s who, in reaction to minimal and conceptual art, adopted a more traditional approach to materials, techniques and imagery. Around 1980 there can be seen to have been a general reaction in western art to the predominance of minimal and …

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NEW ENGLISH ART CLUB

The New English Art Club (NEAC) was founded in London in 1886 as an exhibiting society by artists influenced by impressionism and whose work was rejected by the conservative Royal Academy. Key early members were James Abbott McNeill Whistler (although he soon resigned) Walter Sickert and Philip Steer. Others in the first show included Sir …

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NEW FIGURATION

New figuration is a blanket term referring to the revival of figurative art in Europe and America in the 1960s following a period dominated by abstraction. The term first used by the French critic Michel Ragon, sometimes argued that the move back to figuration occurred during an era of political and social turbulence in Europe …

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NEW GENERATION SCULPTURE

New generation sculpture were a group of young British sculptors working in the 1960s, who experimented with materials, forms and colours with the shared aim of ridding sculpture of its traditional base. New Generation was the title used for a series of exhibitions of painting and sculpture by young British artists held at the Whitechapel …

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NEW GENRE PUBLIC ART

The term new genre public art, refers to public art, often activist in nature, and created outside institutional structures in order to engage directly with an audience. The term was coined by the American artist, writer and educator Suzanne Lacy in 1991, to define a type of American public art that was not a sculpture …

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NEW MEDIA

A term new media is used to describe the sophisticated new technologies that have become available to artists since the late 1980s that can enable the digital production and distribution of art. New media defines the mass influx of media, from the CD-Rom to the mobile phone and the world wide web. Websites like MySpace …

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NEW OBJECTIVITY

New Objectivity is the English translation of ‘Neue Sachlichkeit’, a German modern realist movement of the 1920s, described by one of its founders as ‘new realism bearing a socialist flavour’.

NEW SCULPTURE

New sculpture is a name applied to the sculptures produced by a group of artists working in the second half of the nineteenth century. The term was coined by critic Edmund Gosse in an 1876 article in Art Journal titled The New Sculpture in which he identified this new trend in sculpture. Its distinguishing qualities …

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NEW SPIRIT PAINTING

New spirit painting is a term which refers to the resurgence of expressionist painting around 1980. A New Spirit in Painting was the title of a major exhibition at the Royal Academy in London in 1981. It attempted to sum up the state of painting at that point. It was an early response to the …

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NEW TOPOGRAPHICS

New topographics was a term coined by William Jenkins in 1975 to describe a group of American photographers (such as Robert Adams and Lewis Baltz) whose pictures had a similar banal aesthetic, in that they were formal, mostly black and white prints of the urban landscape. Many of the photographers associated with new topographics including …

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NEW YORK SCHOOL

The term New York school seems to have come into use in the 1940s to describe the radical art scene that emerged in New York after the Second World War. The intensely creative and innovative developments in New York in the 1940s gave birth to the radical and world-conquering new style of painting that in …

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NEWLYN SCHOOL

The term Newlyn school refer to a group of artists who settled in Newlyn and St Ives in the late nineteenth century and whose work is characterised by an impressionistic style and subject matter drawn from scenes of rural life. Following the extension of the Great Western Railway to West Cornwall in1877 the Cornish fishing …

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NON-OBJECTIVE ART

Non-objective art defines a type of abstract art that is usually, but not always, geometric and aims to convey a sense of simplicity and purity. The Russian constructivist painters Wassily Kandinsky and Kasimir Malevich and the sculptor Naum Gabo were pioneers of non-objective art. It and was inspired by the Greek philosopher Plato who believed …

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NORWICH SCHOOL

Norwich school were an important British early nineteenth regional school of landscape painting. The Norwich school formally dates from 1803 when, at his house in Norwich, John Crome and others formed the Norwich Society. It was initially a self-help discussion group for ‘an Enquiry into the Rise, Progress and present state of painting – with …

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NOUVEAU RÉALISME

Nouveau réalisme was a French movement which can be seen as a European counterpart to pop art. Founded in 1960 by the critic Pierre Restany, artists associated with nouveau réalism (which translates as ‘new realism’) made extensive use of collage and assemblage as well as painting. Some of the artists incorporated real objects directly into …

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OBJECTIVE ABSTRACTION

The term objective abstraction refers to a non-geometric style of abstract art developed by a group of British artists in 1933. Objective abstraction was part of the general ferment of exploration of abstraction in Britain in the early 1930s. The paintings produced by the group evolved in an improvisatory way from freely applied brushstrokes. An …

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OFFSET LITHOGRAPHY

Offset lithography is a variation of the printing technique lithography. Offset lithography involves transferring the image onto an intermediate surface before printing it onto the final sheet, (rather than printing the image directly from plate onto paper as is the case with most printmaking techniques). In doing so the image is twice reversed and appears …

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OIL PAINT

Oil paint is form of a slow-drying paint that consists of particles of pigment suspended in a drying oil that forms a tough, coloured film on exposure to air. The drying oil is a vegetable oil, often made by crushing nuts or seeds. For paints, linseed oil is most commonly used, but poppy, sunflower, safflower, …

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OLYMPIANS

The term Olympians was often used to describe certain Victorian artists whose work emphasised the classical in both style and subject matter. In ancient Greek mythology Mount Olympus in Greece was the home of the ancient gods, and the name refers both to the classicism of these artists and their huge success and dominance of …

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OMEGA WORKSHOPS

Founded in 1913 by the painter and art critic Roger Fry, the Omega Workshops was an English applied arts company based in London. The company produced ceramics, furniture, carpets and textiles designed by Fry, Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell, who belonged to the circle of writers and artists known as Bloomsbury, and Henri Doucet, Henri …

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OP ART

Op art was a major development of painting in the 1960s that used geometric forms to create optical effects. The effects created by op art ranged from the subtle, to the disturbing and disorienting. Op painting used a framework of purely geometric forms as the basis for its effects and also drew on colour theory …

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ORIENTALIST

The former definition of this art term was outdated and misrepresented important and factual perspectives, so this text has been temporarily removed from our website and is currently being reviewed and rewritten.

ORPHISM

Orphism was an abstract, cubist influenced painting style developed by Robert and Sonia Delaunay around 1912. In the Delaunays’ work patches of subtle and beautiful colour are brought together to create harmonious compositions. The term, sometimes called orphic cubism, was coined around 1912–13 by the French poet and art critic Guillaume Apollinaire and used to …

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OUTSIDER ART

Outsider art is used to describe art that has a naïve quality, often produced by people who have not trained as artists or worked within the conventional structures of art production. The art of children, psychiatric patients and prisoners who create art outwith the conventional structures of art training and art production is often categorised …

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PAINTERLY

Painterly refers to the application of paint in a ‘loose’ or less than controlled manner, resulting in the appearance of visible brushstrokes within the finished painting. The term painterly can apply both to the approach or the technique of the artist, as well as the look of the finished work. Works characterized as painterly can …

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PAINTING

Painting is the practice of applying paint or other media to a surface, usually with a brush. In art, the term painting describes both the act of painting, (using either a brush or other implement, such as palette knife, sponge, or airbrush to apply the paint); and the result of the action – the painting …

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PALETTE

A palette is a smooth, flat surface on which artists set out and mix their colours before painting, often designed to be held in the hand. The term also refers to the range of colours habitually used by and characteristic of an artist. A palette in computer graphics is a chosen set of colours that …

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PAN-AFRICANISM

The term pan-Africanism refers to an ideology of racial solidarity with Africa and its diaspora formed in the mid-nineteenth century. Pan-Africanism was the idea that in order to achieve their potential, all Africans on the continent and its diaspora needed to unify under the banner of race. This would lead to the establishment of political …

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PANEL

A panel is a rigid support or surface for painting on. Rigid support or surface for painting on, traditionally made of joined planks of wood, but more recently boards and composites.

PAPER

Paper is made from matted plant fibres made into sheet form either by hand (traditional) or machine (modern) and used by artists as a surface for drawing, watercolour or printmaking. Handmade paper was produced by drying pulp, produced from beating cotton or linen rags in water, on wire trays. The lines of thinner paper produced …

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PAPIER COLLÉ

French term which translates as pasted paper, papier collé is a specific form of collage that is closer to drawing than painting. The cubist painter Georges Braque first used it when he drew on imitation wood-grain paper that had been pasted onto white paper. Both Braque and Pablo Picasso made a number of papiers collés …

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PARTICIPATORY ART

Participatory art is a term that describes a form of art that directly engages the audience in the creative process so that they become participants in the event. In this respect, the artist is seen as a collaborator and a co-producer of the situation (with the audience), and these situations can often have an unclear …

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PASTEL

Pastel is a coloured drawing medium made from pure coloured pigment mixed with a binder to form a stick. Pastels are produced in soft, hard and pencil form. Soft pastel is the most commonly used and is easily blended on the paper by smudging with a finger, soft cloth or a drawing tool such as …

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PATINA

The word patina usually refers to a distinct green or brown surface layer on bronze sculpture. Patina can be created naturally by the oxidising effect of the atmosphere or weather, or artificially by the application of chemicals. Almost all bronze sculpture has been patinated one way or the other but Constantin Brancusi polished his bronzes …

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PENDANT

A pendant picture is one of two pictures designed to hang together as a matching pair. Pendant means hanging, and the term seems to originate in the idea of one hanging from the other – i.e. attached to the other. In practice pendant pairs of pictures were usually displayed on either side of a fireplace, …

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PENWITH SOCIETY OF ARTS

Penwith Society of Arts is an artists’ society formed in 1948 at St Ives, Cornwall, Britain by artists working in an abstract style. Penwith Society of Arts is part of the history of the development of modern and abstract art within the artists’ colony of St Ives. It was formed by abstract artists breaking away …

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PERFORMANCE ART

Artworks that are created through actions performed by the artist or other participants, which may be live or recorded, spontaneous or scripted. While the terms ‘performance’ and ‘performance art’ only became widely used in the 1970s, the history of performance in the visual arts is often traced back to futurist productions and dada cabarets of …

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PERFORMATIVITY

The term performativity describes the interdependent relationship between certain words and actions – as when a word or sentence implies an action. The term was first introduced by the theorist J. L. Austin in his 1955 book How to Do Things with Words. Austin used the word performative to describe a sentence that was also …

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PERSPECTIVE

The term perspective refers to the representation of objects in three-dimensional space (i.e. for representing the visible world) on the two-dimensional surface of a picture. Basic, or linear perspective rests on the fact that although parallel lines never meet, they appear to do so as they get further away from the viewer towards the horizon, …

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PESTS

PESTS was an anonymous protest and pressure group of artists operating in New York in the 1980s who aimed to expose the discrimination, exclusion and tokenism directed towards artists from racial minorities by commercial galleries and public museums. Much of the art produced by PESTS was in the form of ephemera, flyers, posters and brochures …

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PHOTOBOOK

The photobook is a book of photographs by a photographer that has an overarching theme or follows a storyline – a convenient and reasonably cheap way of disseminating the work of a photographer to a mass audience. Early photobooks were used to illustrate the work of individual photographers or a new type of photographic process. …

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PHOTOGRAM

A photogram is a photographic print made by laying objects onto photographic paper and exposing it to light. The technique of creating photographic prints without using a camera (photograms) is as old as photography itself – but emerged again in various avant-garde contexts in the early 1920s. Artist Man Ray refined and personalised the technique …

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PHOTOGRAPHY

Photography refers to the process or practice of creating a photograph – an image produced by the action of light on a light-sensitive material. A photograph can be either a positive or negative image. Most photographs are created using a camera, which uses a lens to focus an object’s visible wavelengths (the light reflected or …

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PHOTOJOURNALISM

Photojournalism is a form of journalism which tells a news story through powerful photography which traditionally are black and white images. Photojournalism began with the first pictures of war published in newspapers during the Crimean War and the American Civil War. However even at this time, the image was only there to enhance the text, …

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PHOTOMONTAGE

A photomontage is a collage constructed from photographs. Photomontage is often used as a means of expressing political dissent. It was first used as a technique by the dadaists in 1915 in their protests against the First World War. It was later adopted by the surrealists who exploited the possibilities photomontage offered by using free …

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PHOTOREALISM

Photorealism is a painting style that emerged in Europe and the USA in the late 1960s, characterised by its painstaking detail and precision. Photorealism rejected the painterly qualities by which individual artists could be recognised, and instead strove to create pictures that looked photographic. Visual complexity, heightened clarity and a desire to be emotionally neutral …

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PICTURE PLANE

A picture plane refers to the physical surface of the painting. In traditional illusionistic painting using perspective, the picture plane can be thought of as the glass of the notional window through which the viewer looks into the representation of reality that lies beyond. In practice the picture plane is the same as the actual …

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PICTURES GENERATION

The name pictures generation was given to a group of American artists who came of age in the early 1970s and who were known for their critical analysis of media culture. Inspired by philosophers such as Roland Barthes, who had questioned the very idea of originality and authenticity in his manifesto The Death of the …

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PICTURESQUE

The word picturesque refers to an ideal type of landscape that has an artistic appeal, in that it is beautiful but also with some elements of wildness. Interest in landscape painting and in looking at the landscape itself grew rapidly through the second half of the eighteenth century. Definitions of types of landscape or view, …

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PITTURA METAFISICA

Early twentieth century Italian art movement typified by dream-like views of eerie arcaded squares with unexpected juxtapositions of objects (English translation of Pittura Metafisica is Metaphysical Art).

PLANE

A plane surface is a flat surface, and any distinct flat surface within a painting or sculpture can be referred to as a plane. The flat patches seen in cubist paintings are often referred to as planes, and geometric abstract artists refer frequently to planes in discussing their work.

PLASTER OF PARIS

The material plaster of Paris is a fine white powder which, when mixed with water, forms a white solid. Plaster of Paris (calcium sulphate hemihydrate) is widely used by sculptors for moulds and preliminary casts.

PLEIN AIR

The French term plein air means out of doors and refers to the practice of painting entire finished pictures out of doors. Introduction to plein air Although artists have long painted out of doors to create preparatory landscape sketches or studies, before the nineteenth century finished pictures would not have been made in this way. …

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PLINTH

A plinth is a heavy base or box on which a sculpture stands or is presented. In architecture, plinth is used to describe the lower square slab at the base of a column.

PLURALISM

In an art context, pluralism refers to the late 1960s and 1970s when art, politics and culture merged as artists began to believe in a more socially and politically responsive form of art. The term pluralism in a general context refers to a social structure in which many small groups maintain their unique cultural identity …

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POLAROID PRINT

A Polaroid print is a positive print that is produced almost instantly shortly after exposure by a Polaroid camera. Polaroid film contains chemicals needed for developing and fixing the photograph. A negative sheet is exposed inside the camera, then lined up with a positive sheet and squeezed through a set of rollers between which a …

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POLITICAL POP

The art movement political pop emerged in China in the 1980s, and combined western pop art with socialist realism to create art that questioned the political and social climate of a rapidly changing China. Political pop was partly a response to the rampant modernisation of the country, but also was a way of coming to …

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POLYPTYCH

A polyptych is a painting or other two-dimensional artwork made up of more than three panels. Paintings of three panels are triptychs; two-panelled artworks are called diptychs.

POP ART

Pop art is an art movement that emerged in the 1950s and flourished in the 1960s in America and Britain, drawing inspiration from sources in popular and commercial culture. Different cultures and countries contributed to the movement during the 1960s and 70s. Emerging in the mid 1950s in Britain and late 1950s in America, pop …

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PORTFOLIO

A portfolio is a number of prints presented as a group and often, though not necessarily, by the same artist and based on a related theme. Sometimes they will be considered as a set or series of images. The term portfolio also applies to the physical folder in which such series may be stored or …

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PORTRAIT

A portrait is a representation of a particular person. A self-portrait is a portrait of the artist by the artist. Portraiture is a very old art form going back at least to ancient Egypt, where it flourished from about 5,000 years ago. Before the invention of photography, a painted, sculpted, or drawn portrait was the …

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POST-IMPRESSIONISM

Post-impressionism is a term which describes the changes in impressionism from about 1886, the date of last Impressionist group show in Paris. The term is usually confined to the four major figures who developed and extended impressionism in distinctly different directions – Paul Cezanne, Paul Gauguin, Georges Seurat and Vincent van Gogh. Cézanne retained the …

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POST-MODERNISM AND MODERNISM

Postmodernism was a reaction against modernism. Modernism was generally based on idealism and a utopian vision of human life and society and a belief in progress. It assumed that certain ultimate universal principles or truths such as those formulated by religion or science could be used to understand or explain reality. Modernist artists experimented with …

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POST-PAINTERLY ABSTRACTION

Post-painterly abstraction is a blanket term covering a range of new developments in abstract painting in the late 1950s and early 1960s, characterised by a more rigorous approach to abstraction. Post-painterly abstraction set abstract painting on a more purely abstract basis than before. It grew very directly out of the existing traditions of abstract art, …

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POSTCOLONIAL ART

Postcolonial art refers to art produced in response to the aftermath of colonial rule, frequently addressing issues of national and cultural identity, race and ethnicity. Postcolonial theory, which underpins postcolonial art, does not simply relate to the time after which a nation gains independence from its colonial ruler. It analyses and responds to the cultural …

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POSTMODERNISM

Postmodernism can be seen as a reaction against the ideas and values of modernism, as well as a description of the period that followed modernism’s dominance in cultural theory and practice in the early and middle decades of the twentieth century. The term is associated with scepticism, irony and philosophical critiques of the concepts of …

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PRE-RAPHAELITE

The Pre-Raphaelites were a secret society of young artists (and one writer), founded in London in 1848. They were opposed to the Royal Academy’s promotion of the ideal as exemplified in the work of Raphael. The name Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood referred to the groups’ opposition to the Royal Academy’s promotion of the Renaissance master Raphael. They …

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PRIMITIVISM

The former definition of primitivism was outdated and misrepresented important and factual perspectives, so this text has been temporarily removed from our website and is currently being reviewed and rewritten.

PRINT

A print is an impression made by any method involving transfer from one surface to another.

PROCESS ART

The term process art refers to where the process of its making art is not hidden but remains a prominent aspect of the completed work, so that a part or even the whole of its subject is the making of the work. Process became a widespread preoccupation of artists in the late 1960s and the …

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PROOF

Proof is a printing term applied to all individual impressions made before work on a printing plate or block is completed, in order to check progress of the image. Also referred to as ‘trial proof’ or ‘colour trial proof’. This should not be confused with the terms artist’s proof (AP) and printer’s proof (PP) which …

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PROPORTION

Proportion is the relationship of one part of a whole to other parts. In art it has usually meant a preoccupation of artists with finding a mathematical formula for the perfect human body. At the time of the Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci and Albrecht Dürer attempted to find a formula that would enable the body …

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PROVOKE ERA

Provoke was a Japanese magazine which rejected glossy commercial imagery and the style of documentary photography. The Provoke era refers to its influence on photography made in post-war Japan. Following the decimation and rebuilding of Japanese society after the Second World War, photography played an important part in a new self-definition of Japanese visual style, …

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PSYCHEDELIC ART

Psychedelic art is generally associated with the 1960s and work made by artists under the influence of the mind-expanding drug LSD. There are many earlier examples of artists taking drugs in order to heighten their awareness and enlarge their mental vision, but it was the hallucinatory effects of LSD that had such a powerful effect …

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PSYCHOGEOGRAPHY

Psychogeography describes the effect of a geographical location on the emotions and behaviour of individuals. How do different places make us feel and behave? The term psychogeography was invented by the Marxist theorist Guy Debord in 1955 in order to explore this. Inspired by the French nineteenth century poet and writer Charles Baudelaire’s concept of …

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PUBLIC ART

The term public art refers to art that is in the public realm, regardless of whether it is situated on public or private property or whether it has been purchased with public or private money. Usually, but not always, public art is commissioned specifically for the site in which it is situated. Monuments, memorials, and …

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PURISM

Purism was a movement formed around 1918 which proposed a kind of painting in which objects are represented as powerful basic forms stripped of detail. The movement was founded by Edouard Jeanneret (better known as the modern architect Le Corbusier) and Amédée Ozenfant. They set out the theory of purism in their book Après le …

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RAYOGRAPH

Photographic prints made by laying objects onto photographic paper and exposing it to light. The technique of creating photographic prints without using a camera (photograms) is as old as photography itself – but emerged again in various avant-garde contexts in the early 1920s. Artist Man Ray refined and personalised the technique to such an extent …

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RAYONISM

An early form of abstract art characterised by interacting linear forms derived from rays of light. Rayonism was one of the Russian avant-garde movements that proliferated in Moscow and St Petersburg in the years from about 1910–20. It was the invention of Michel Larionov and his partner Natalia Goncharova in 1912. Rayonism, or rayism, was …

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READYMADE

The term readymade was first used by French artist Marcel Duchamp to describe the works of art he made from manufactured objects. It has since often been applied more generally to artworks by other artists made in this way. Introduction Duchamp’s earliest readymades included Bicycle Wheel of 1913, a wheel mounted on a wooden stool, …

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REALISM

In its specific sense realism refers to a mid nineteenth century artistic movement characterised by subjects painted from everyday life in a naturalistic manner; however the term is also generally used to describe artworks painted in a realistic almost photographic way. Until the nineteenth century Western art was dominated by the academic theory of History …

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RÉALITÉS NOUVELLES

The Salon des Réalités nouvelles (new realities) was an exhibiting society devoted to pure abstract art founded in Paris in 1939. Artist Sonia Delaunay set up the society along with other artists working in an abstract style. The name reflects the fundamental idea that abstract art is a new reality because it does not refer …

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REBEL ART CENTRE

The Rebel Art Centre was founded by Wyndham Lewis in London in March 1914 as a meeting place for artists to discuss revolutionary ideas and teach non-representational art. The Centre, based at 38 Great Ormond Street in London, was a short-lived enterprise and by the summer of 1914 had closed down as a result of …

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RELATIONAL AESTHETICS

Term created by curator Nicolas Bourriaud in the 1990s to describe the tendency to make art based on, or inspired by, human relations and their social context. The French curator Nicolas Bourriaud published a book called Relational Aesthetics in 1998 in which he defined the term as: A set of artistic practices which take as …

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RELIEF

A relief is a wall-mounted sculpture in which the three-dimensional elements are raised from a flat base. Any three-dimensional element attached to a basically flat wall mounted work of art is said to be in relief or a relief element.

RENAISSANCE

French word meaning rebirth, now used in English to describe the great revival of art that took place in Italy from about 1400 under the influence of the rediscovery of classical art and culture. The Renaissance reached its peak (known as the High Renaissance) in the short period from about 1500–1530 in the work of …

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REPLICA

A copy of a work of art that is virtually indistinguishable from the original. Unlike a fake, a replica is not trying to pass for the original and is often made by the artist and used for historical and educational purposes. The vogue for collecting replicas reached the height of popularity in the mid to …

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REPORTAGE PAINTING

Reportage painting was a Japanese post-war art movement that emerged in the early 1950s in opposition to the presence of the American military in Japan, and sought to reveal the inherent contradictions of post-war Japanese society which they saw as a puppet state to America. The paintings produced by artists associated with the movement were …

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REPRESENTATIONAL

Blanket term for art that represents some aspect of reality, in a more or less straightforward way. The term seems to have come into use after the rise of modern art and particularly abstract art as a means of referring to art not substantially touched by modern developments. Not quite the same as figurative art …

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RESIN

A usually transparent solid or semi-solid substance sometimes used as a medium by sculptors. As a fairly lightweight, durable material that is relatively cheap – compared to other traditional sculptural materials – it a desirable medium for artists (especially those who want to make multiple versions of a sculpture). Resin can also be painted or …

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RESISTANCE ART

A form of art that emerged in South Africa in the mid-1970s after the Soweto uprising that focused on resisting apartheid and celebrating African strength and unity. The Soweto uprising marked the beginning of social change in South Africa. Resistance art grew out of the Black Consciousness Movement, a grass-roots anti-Apartheid movement that emerged in …

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RETURN TO ORDER

A European art movement that came about following the First World War and characterized by a return to more traditional approaches to art-making – rejecting the extreme avant-garde tendencies of art in the years leading up to 1918. The First World War administered a huge shock to European society. One of the artistic responses to …

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RETURN TO ORDER

A European art movement that came about following the First World War and characterized by a return to more traditional approaches to art-making – rejecting the extreme avant-garde tendencies of art in the years leading up to 1918. The First World War administered a huge shock to European society. One of the artistic responses to …

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ROCOCO

Light, sensuous, intensely decorative French style developed in the early eighteenth century following death of Louis XIV and in reaction to the Baroque grandeur of Versailles. The name comes from French rocaille, rock-work, based on forms of sea shells and corals. In practice Rococo is a style of short curves, scrolls and counter curves, often …

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ROMANTICISM

Term in use by the early nineteenth century to describe the movement in art and literature distinguished by a new interest in human psychology, expression of personal feeling and interest in the natural world. This complex shift in attitudes away from the dominant classical tradition was at its height from about 1780 to 1830, but …

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RURAL NATURALISM

Nineteenth century painting movement characterized by scenes of rural life painted in a realist, often sentimentalised, manner. The tendency to sentimentalism of the rural naturalist artists distinguishes their work from the more gritty realist work of the nineteenth century, as produced by Gustave Courbet and his followers. In Britain, rural naturalism is exemplified by the …

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RURALISTS

Group of British artists founded in 1975 who aimed to revive the painting of figure subjects in idyllic rural settings. The group was centred round pop artist Peter Blake after his move from London to the countryside near Bath. The full name was The Brotherhood of Ruralists and this, combined with the original number of …

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SALON

Originally the name of the official art exhibitions organised by the French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture (Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture) and its successor the Academy of Fine Arts (Académie des Beaux Arts). From 1725 the exhibitions were held in the room called the salon carré in the Louvre and became …

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SAMPLING

In its most basic form sampling simply re-processes existing culture, usually technologically, in much the same way a collage does. In the early 1980s artists began cannibalising fragments of sound, image, music, dance and performance to create new works of art. These hybrid projects used sampling to generate live or time-based events that subverted our …

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SCHOOL OF ALTAMIRA

Avant-garde art school (Academia Altamira) in Buenos Aires, Argentina, founded in 1946 with the aim of promoting the idea that a new art was necessary to reflect the modern world as revealed by science. The Academia Altamira was founded by the Argentinian born Italian artist Lucio Fontana and others. In practice much of the art …

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SCHOOL OF LONDON

School of London was a term invented by artist R.B. Kitaj to describe a group of London-based artists who were pursuing forms of figurative painting in the face of avant-garde approaches in the 1970s. In 1976, at the height of minimal art and conceptual art, the American painter R.B. Kitaj, then based in Britain, organised …

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SCHOOL OF PARIS

In the early years of the twentieth century, Paris became a magnet for artists from all over the world and the focus of the principal innovations of modern art – the term School of Paris grew up to describe this phenomenon. During the nineteenth century Paris, France, became the centre of a powerful national school …

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SCOTTISH COLOURISTS

Group of four Scottish artists, who were among the first to introduce the intense colour of the French fauve movement into Britain in the 1920s. The artists were Francis Cadell, Leslie Hunter, Samuel Peploe and J.D. Fergusson – who was the leading figure. Fergusson visited Paris regularly from the 1890s on and then lived there …

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SCREENPRINT

A variety of stencil printing, using a screen made from fabric (silk or synthetic) stretched tightly over a frame. The non-printing areas on the fabric are blocked out by a stencil. This can be created by painting on glue or lacquer, by applying adhesive film or paper, or painting a light-sensitive resist onto the screen …

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SCULPTURE

Three-dimensional art made by one of four basic processes: carving, modelling, casting, constructing.

SCUOLA ROMANA

Scuola romana (School of Rome) is an umbrella term for the artists based in Rome, or having close links with it, in the 1920s and 1930s. Like the School of Paris the term embraces a wide variety of types and styles of art. However, a return to classicism was a dominant current (see also ‘return …

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SECESSION

The breaking away of younger and more radical artists from an existing academy or art group to form a new grouping, the most famous being the Vienna secession formed in 1897 and led by symbolist painter Gustav Klimt. The word is originally German and its earliest appearance seems to be in the name of the …

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SELF-PORTRAIT

Artists’ self-portraits are an interesting sub-group of portraiture and can often be highly self-revelatory. Those of Rembrandt are particularly famous. A self-portrait does not necessarily have to be representational – an abstract or symbolic depiction by an artist of themselves can also be classed as a self-portrait. A self-portrait can also be in any medium. …

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SERIAL ART

Serial art is art that adheres to a strict set of rules to determine its composition or to determine a series of compositions. There are three basic assumptions that define the making of serial art: that it follows a systematically predetermined process; the order (rules used to create the artwork) takes precedence over the execution …

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SIGNIFICANT FORM

Term coined by art critic Clive Bell in 1914 to describe the idea that the form of an artwork or forms within an artwork can be expressive, even if largely or completely divorced from a recognizable reality. Clive Bell’s theory of significant form was explained in his book Art published in 1914. He begins the …

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SIMULACRUM

A term from Greek Platonic philosophy that meant a copy of a copy of an ideal form.

SIMULTANISM

Term invented by artist Robert Delaunay to describe the abstract painting developed by him and his wife Sonia Delaunay from about 1910. The term simultanism is derived from the theories of Michel Eugène Chevreul whose book of colour theory De la loi du contraste simultanée des couleurs (On the law of the simultaneous contrast of …

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SITE-SPECIFIC

The term site-specific refers to a work of art designed specifically for a particular location and that has an interrelationship with the location. As a site-specific work of art is designed for a specific location, if removed from that location it loses all or a substantial part of its meaning. The term site-specific is often …

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SITUATIONIST INTERNATIONAL

Revolutionary alliance of European avant-garde artists, writers and poets formed at a conference in Italy in 1957 (as Internationale Situationiste or IS). The IS developed a critique of capitalism based on a mixture of Marxism and surrealism. Leading figure of the movement Guy Debord identified consumer society as the Society of the Spectacle in his …

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SOCIAL REALISM

Refers to any realist painting that also carries a clearly discernible social or political comment. In Britain examples of social realism can be found in the eighteenth century, for example in the work of William Hogarth, but it became particularly widespread in the nineteenth century. Important contributions to social realism were made by the Pre-Raphaelites, …

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SOCIAL SCULPTURE

Social sculpture is a theory developed by the artist Joseph Beuys in the 1970s based on the concept that everything is art, that every aspect of life could be approached creatively and, as a result, everyone has the potential to be an artist. Social sculpture united Joseph Beuys’s idealistic ideas of a utopian society together …

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SOCIAL TURN

Social turn was first used in 2006 to describe the recent return to socially engaged art that is collaborative, often participatory and involves people as the medium or material of the work. The term was coined by the art historian Claire Bishop in her 2006 essay The Social Turn: Collaboration and Its Discontents. Art that …

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SOCIALIST REALISM

A form of modern realism imposed in Russia by Stalin following his rise to power after the death of Lenin in 1924, characterised in painting by rigorously optimistic pictures of Soviet life painted in a realist style. The doctrine was formally proclaimed by Maxim Gorky at the Soviet Writers Congress of 1934, although not precisely …

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SOCIALLY ENGAGED PRACTICE

Socially engaged practice describes art that is collaborative, often participatory and involves people as the medium or material of the work. Introduction Socially engaged practice, also referred to as social practice or socially engaged art, can include any artform which involves people and communities in debate, collaboration or social interaction. This can often be organised …

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SOLARISATION

Technique that involves exposing a partially developed photograph to light, before continuing processing, creating halo-like effects. The technique was discovered accidentally by Man Ray and Lee Miller and quickly adopted by Man Ray as a means to ‘escape from banality’. He often applied the technique to photographs of female nudes, using the halo-like outlines around …

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SOUND ART

Art which uses sound both as its medium (what it is made out of) and as its subject (what it is about). Sound art dates back to the early inventions of futurist Luigi Russolo who, between 1913 and 1930, built noise machines that replicated the clatter of the industrial age and the boom of warfare. …

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SPAZIALISMO

Italian movement started by the Argentine-born Italian artist Lucio Fontana in 1947 who, in its manifesto, stated that art should embrace science and technology. The movement (Movimento Spaziale – spacialist movement, or spacialism) was launched in 1947 after Lucio Fontana’s return to Italy from Argentina with the first Manifiesto Spaziale (spatialist manifesto). In this, and …

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SPIRAL

Spiral was a New York based African American collective formed in 1963 with the aim of addressing how African American artists should respond to America’s changing political and cultural landscape. The collective was formed in direct response to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, a huge political rally for human rights, which drew …

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ST IVES SCHOOL

Although they did not see themselves as part of a group or school, the term St Ives School is often used to refer to the artists associated with the fishing town of St Ives in West Cornwall, which became a centre for modern and abstract developments in British art from the 1940s to the 1960s. …

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ST JOHN’S WOOD CLIQUE

A loose association of painters who lived in the St John’s Wood area of London in the 1870s and 1880s, and who aimed to seek a fresh approach to historical subjects. In the second half of the nineteenth century the St John’s Wood area of London became a popular location for artists, giving rise to …

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STARS GROUP

Stars group were a short-lived avant-garde group of self-taught artists operating in Beijing between 1979 and 1983, staging outdoor exhibitions, street demonstrations and public readings. In September 1979 stars group displayed their artworks without permission on railings adjoining the China Art Gallery. When they were forced to remove the works they organised a protest march …

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STILL LIFE

One of the principal genres (subject types) of Western art – essentially, the subject matter of a still life painting or sculpture is anything that does not move or is dead. Still life includes all kinds of man-made or natural objects, cut flowers, fruit, vegetables, fish, game, wine and so on. Still life can be …

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STREET ART

Street art is related to graffiti art in that it is created in public locations and is usually unsanctioned, but it covers a wider range of media and is more connected with graphic design. Where modern-day graffiti revolves around ‘tagging’ and text-based subject matter, street art is far more open. There are no rules in …

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STUCKISM

Founded by Billy Childish and Charles Thomson in 1999, Stuckism is an art movement that is anti-conceptual and champions figurative painting. Charles Thomson derived the name from an insult by the Young British Artist, Tracey Emin, who told her ex-lover Childish that his art was ‘stuck, stuck, stuck’. Since its modest beginnings Stuckism is now …

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SUBJECTIVE PHOTOGRAPHY

Subjective photography was an international movement founded in Germany by the photographer Otto Steinert in 1951 which championed photography that explored the inner psyche and human condition rather than reflecting the outside world. The movement evolved out of the Fotoform group started by Steinart and Peter Keetman in the late-1940s. The group held three exhibitions …

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SUBLIME

Theory developed by Edmund Burke in the mid eighteenth century, where he defined sublime art as art that refers to a greatness beyond all possibility of calculation, measurement or imitation. The theory of sublime art was put forward by Edmund Burke in A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and …

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SUPRA-SENSORIAL

Supra-sensorial is a term devised by the Brazilian artist Hélio Oiticica to describe the experience of being in one of his installations – environments that were designed to encourage the viewer’s emotional and intellectual participation. Supra-sensorial was about activating all the senses, in order to promote the idea of individual freedom. The brutal military dictatorship …

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SUPREMATISM

Name given by the Russian artist Kasimir Malevich to the abstract art he developed from 1913 characterised by basic geometric forms, such as circles, squares, lines and rectangles, painted in a limited range of colours. The first actual exhibition of suprematist paintings was in December 1915 in St Petersburg, at an exhibition called O.10. The …

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SURREALISM

A twentieth-century literary, philosophical and artistic movement that explored the workings of the mind, championing the irrational, the poetic and the revolutionary. Surrealism aims to revolutionise human experience. It balances a rational vision of life with one that asserts the power of the unconscious and dreams. The movement’s artists find magic and strange beauty in …

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SYMBOLISM

Late nineteenth-century movement that advocated the expression of an idea over the realistic description of the natural world. The term was coined in 1886 by French critic Jean Moréas to describe the poetry of Stéphane Mallarmé and Paul Verlaine. It was soon applied to visual art where the realistic depiction of the natural world, seen …

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SYNAESTHESIA

Synaesthesia (or synesthesia) is a neurological condition in which the stimulation of a sense (like touch or hearing) leads involuntarily to the triggering of another sense (like sight or taste). For example, a person with synaesthesia might see the colour blue when they hear the word ‘fish’ or, as in mirror-touch synaesthesia, they would feel …

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SYNTHETIC CUBISM

Synthetic cubism is the later phase of cubism, generally considered to run from about 1912 to 1914, characterised by simpler shapes and brighter colours. In an attempt to classify the revolutionary experiments made in cubism by Georges Braque, Pablo Picasso and Juan Gris, historians tend to divide cubism into two stages, analytical and synthetic. Synthetic …

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SYNTHETISM

Term associated with the style of symbolic representation adopted by Paul Gauguin and his followers in the 1880s characterised by flat areas of colour and bold outlines. Rather than painting a naturalistic representation of observed reality, Paul Gauguin and his followers at Pont Aven aimed to create art that combined (or synthesised) the subject-matter with …

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SYSTEMS ART

Loosely describes a group of radical artists working in the late 1960s early 1970s who reacted against art’s traditional focus on the object with the aim of making their art more responsive to the world around them. Building on the structures of minimal art and conceptual art, the artists adopted experimental aesthetic systems across a …

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TABLEAU

Tableau is used to describe a painting or photograph in which characters are arranged for picturesque or dramatic effect and appear absorbed and completely unaware of the existence of the viewer. The term was first used in the eighteenth century by French philosopher Denis Diderot to describe paintings with this type of composition. Tableau paintings …

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TACHISME

Term used to describe the non-geometric abstract art that developed in Europe in the 1940s and 1950s characterized by spontaneous brushwork, drips and scribble-like marks. Tachisme was the European equivalent to abstract expressionism in America. The name derives from the French word ‘tache’, meaning a stain or splash (e.g. of paint). The introduction of the …

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TEMPERA

The technique of painting with pigments bound in a water-soluble emulsion, such as water and egg yolk, or an oil-in-water emulsion such as oil and a whole egg. Some tempera paints are made with an artificial emulsion using gum or glue. Traditionally applied to a rigid support such as a wood panel, the paint dries …

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THE ANCIENTS

The Ancients were a group of artists who formed around the visionary artist and poet William Blake in the last years before his death in 1827. The Ancients was the name the group gave to themselves. The implication of the name was that as the Industrial Revolution burgeoned they were looking back to a better …

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THE BLACK AESTHETIC

The black aesthetic is a cultural ideology that developed in America alongside the civil rights movement in the 1960s and promoted black separatism in the arts. The theorist Larry Neal proclaimed in 1968, that the Black arts were the ‘aesthetic and spiritual sister of the Black Power concept’, and argued that young writers and artists …

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THE BLK ART GROUP

Formed in Wolverhampton, England, in 1979, The Blk Art Group was an association of young black artists who, inspired by the black arts movement, raised questions about what black art was, its identity and what it could become in the future. Introduction to The Blk Art Group All of the members of the group were …

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THE CLIQUE

The Clique was an informal society formed in around 1837 by a group of friends while they were students at the Royal Academy Schools in London. The group had no specific aim other than to improve their work, although they favoured literary and historical subjects. Weekly meetings were held at which a subject was chosen …

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THE MANY FACES OF POSTMODERNISM

Anti-authoritarian by nature, postmodernism refused to recognise the authority of any single style or definition of what art should be. It collapsed the distinction between high culture and mass or popular culture, between art and everyday life. Because postmodernism broke the established rules about style, it introduced a new era of freedom and a sense …

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THE NEW VISION

The New Vision was a photography movement which developed in the 1920s directly related to the principles of the Bauhaus. Introduction to the New Vision Following the first mechanized conflict of the First World War, artists began to reclaim the mechanisms of image-making in the contemporary industrialised world. The 1920s and 1930s was an experiemental …

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THE PHOTO-SECESSION

Group of American photographers who believed that photography was a fine art. Founded by Alfred Stieglitz in New York in 1902, the name was invented by him as a way of affiliating the photographers with the modernist secession movements in Europe. The other members were Alvin Langdon Coburn, Gertrude Käsebier, Edward Steichen and Clarence H. …

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THE SEVEN AND FIVE SOCIETY

Formed in London in 1919 The Seven and Five Society was initially a traditional group and can be seen as a British manifestation of the return to order that followed the First World War. The group’s first exhibition was held in 1920. The exhibition catalogue explained that the society was not formed ‘to advertise a …

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THE UNCANNY

A concept in art associated with psychologist Sigmund Freud which describes a strange and anxious feeling sometimes created by familiar objects in unfamilar contexts. The term was first used by German psychiatrist Ernst Jentsch in his essay On the Psychology of the Uncanny, 1906. Jentsch describes the uncanny – in German ‘unheimlich’ (unhomely) – as …

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TIME-BASED MEDIA

Refers to art that is dependent on technology and has a durational dimension. Usually time-based media are video, slide, film, audio or computer based. Part of what it means to experience the art is to watch it unfold over time according to the temporal logic of the medium as it is played back. Early examples …

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TONE

The lightness or darkness of something – this could be a shade, or how dark or light a colour appears. In painting, tone refers to the relative lightness or darkness of a colour (see also chiaroscuro). One colour can have an almost infinite number of different tones. Tone can also mean the colour itself. For …

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TRANSAVANGUARDIA

Italian neo-expressionist group formed in the late 1970s. The Transavanguardia movement was part of the international phenemenon of a revival of expressionist painting in the late 1970s and 1980s. The term, which literally means ‘beyond the avant-garde’, was coined by the critic Achille Oliva in his texts for an exhibition he organised in 1979 in …

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TRIPTYCH

An artwork in three panels. The panels can be attached together or presented adjoining each other. Although traditionally applied to painting or relief-carved panels, the term has also been used refer to artworks in other media which are formed of three panels or screens, such as video.

TROMPE L’OEIL

French phrase meaning ‘deceives the eye’ used to describe paintings that create the illusion of a real object or scene.

TROPICÁLIA

Tropicália is used to describe the explosion of cultural creativity in Rio de Janerio and São Paulo in 1968 as Brazil’s military regime tightened its grip on power. Many of the artists, writers and musicians associated with tropicália came of age during the 1950s during a time of intense optimism when the cultural world had …

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UNDERGROUND ART

First used in relation to the cultural phenomenon of the 1960s and early 1970s where groups of artists, writers and other creatives and thinkers were regarded as existing outside or on the fringes of popular culture. Underground art is exemplified in what was called the underground press, magazines like Oz, International Times, East Village Otherand …

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UNIT ONE

British group formed by Paul Nash in 1933 to promote modern art, architecture and design. At this point the two major currents in modern art were seen as being abstract art on the one hand and surrealism on the other. Unit One embraced the full spectrum, Nash himself making both abstract and surrealist work in …

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USEFUL ART ASSOCIATION

The Useful Art Association was started in New York by the Cuban artist Tania Bruguera and promotes the idea of art as a process that should have real effect in society as part of everyday life, rather than a rarefied spectator experience. The association was started by Tania Bruguera through her project Immigrant Movement International. …

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VANISHING POINT

The point at which receding parallel lines viewed in perspective appear to converge. The vanishing point is used as part of the system of perspective, which enables the creation the illusion of the three-dimensional world on a two-dimensional picture surface.

VANITAS

A still life artwork which includes various symbolic objects designed to remind the viewer of their mortality and of the worthlessness of worldly goods and pleasures. The term originally comes from the opening lines of the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible: ‘Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities, all is vanity.’ Vanitas …

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VERISM

From Italian term ‘verismo’, meaning realism in its sense of gritty subject matter. Was originally applied around 1900 to the violent melodramatic operas of Puccini and Mascagni. In painting it has also has come to mean realism in its modern sense of representing objects with a high degree of truth to appearances.

VERSO / RECTO

Terms used for the front and back of a single sheet of paper, or the right-hand and left-hand page of an open book. The front or face of a single sheet of paper, or the right-hand page of an open book is called the recto. The back or underside of a single sheet of paper, …

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VIDEO

Art that involves the use of video and /or audio data and relies on moving pictures. The introduction of video in the 1960s radically altered the progress of art. The most important aspect of video was that it was cheap and easy to make, enabling artists to record and document their performances easily. This put …

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VIRTUAL REALITY

A technology that enables a person to interact with a computer-simulated environment, be it based on a real or an imagined place. The computer scientist Jaron Lanier popularised the term virtual reality in the early 1980s. Virtual reality environments are usually visual experiences, displayed on computer screens or through special stereoscopic displays. Some simulations include …

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VISUAL ETHNOGRAPHY

Ethnography is the study and interpretation of social organisations and cultures in everyday life. It is a research-based methodology, and when this research is conducted using photography, video or film, it is called visual ethnography. Artists operating in this field arguably date back to the 1930s and 1940s with projects like Mass Observation, which documented …

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VITRINE

A large, glass cabinet used for displaying art objects. Often used in museums, the vitrine was appropriated by artists like Joseph Cornell in the 1950s and Joseph Beuys in the mid 1960s to display unusual materials they invested with spiritual or personal significance.

VORTICISM

The vorticists were a British avant-garde group formed in London in 1914 with the aim of creating art that expressed the dynamism of the modern world. The group was founded by the artist, writer and polemicist, Wyndham Lewis in 1914. Their only group exhibition was held in London the following year. Vorticism was launched with …

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WAR ARTISTS

War artists are artists who are commissioned through an official scheme to record the events of war. In Britain official government-sponsored schemes were established for artists to record both the First and Second World Wars. The Imperial War Museum has continued to commission artists to record the events of war in more recent conflicts. As …

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WASHINGTON COLOR SCHOOL

The Washinton Color School was an art movement founded by Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland that emerged in the late 1950s in Washington DC and flourished in the 1960s, promoting a form of abstract art developed from colour field painting. The Washington Color School was founded in response to the abstract expressionism of the New …

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WATERCOLOUR

Refers both to the medium and works of art made using the medium of watercolour – a water soluble paint with transparent properties. Watercolour paint consists of fine pigment particles suspended in a water-soluble binder (adhesive substance). It is usually used on paper. As watercolour is semi-transparent, the white of the paper gives a natural …

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WATERMARK

An image or mark in a sheet of paper (usually the papermaker’s trademark) visible when viewed by transmitted light. It is created using a pattern of wire sewn into the mould on which the sheet of pulp is dried – the paper which settles above the wires is thinner, and so more translucent. The image …

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WHITE CUBE

Refers to a certain gallery aesthetic characterised by its square or oblong shape, white walls and a light source usually from the ceiling. The aesthetic was introduced in the early twentieth century in response to the increasing abstraction of modern art. With an emphasis on colour and light, artists from groups like De Stijl and …

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WOOD ENGRAVING

A printmaking method distinct from woodcut in that the line is incised into the woodblock, rather than the background being cut away to leave a line in relief. Wood engraving is a relief form of printmaking. It is usually done on the end grain of a block of boxwood, which is very hard, and so …

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WOODCUT

A method of relief printing from a block of wood cut along the grain. The block is carved so that an image stands out in relief. The relief image is then inked and paper placed against its surface before being run through a press. It is possible to make a woodcut without a press (Japanese …

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YOUNG BRITISH ARTISTS (YBAS)

The label Young British Artists (YBAs) is applied to a loose group of British artists who began to exhibit together in 1988 and who became known for their openness to materials and processes, shock tactics and entrepreneurial attitude. In the late 1980s British art entered what was quickly recognised as a new and excitingly distinctive …

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ZERO

Group of artists who practised a form of kinetic art using light and motion. Group Zero or Group O are often referred to simply as Zero. They formed in Dusseldorf in 1957, in reaction to the subjective character of the prevailing tachisme or art informel. Zero felt their approach to art making which used light …

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