Art Terminology

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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