Art Terminology

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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