Art Terminology

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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