Art Terminology

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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