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Abstract Expressionism

An art movement, primarily in painting, that originated in the United States in the 1940s and remained strong through the 1950s. Artists working in many different styles emphasized spontaneous personal expression in large paintings that are abstract or nonrepresentational One type of Abstract Expressionism is called action painting. See also expressionism.

Academic Art

Art governed by rules, especially art sanctioned by an official institution, academy, or school. Originally applied to art that conformed to standards established by the French Academy regarding composition, drawing, and color usage. The term has come to mean conservative and lacking in originality.

Action Painting

A style of nonrepresentational painting that relies on the physical movement of the artist in using such gestural techniques as vigorous brushwork, dripping, and pouring. Dynamism is often created through the interlaced directions of the paint. A subcategory of Abstract Expressionism.

Art Nouveau

A style that originated in the late 1880s, based on the sinuous curves of plant forms, used primarily in architectural detailing and the applied arts.


Automatic or unconscious action. Employed by Surrealist writers and artists to allow unconscious ideas and feelings to be expressed.


French for advance guard" or "vanguard." Those considered the leaders (and often regarded as radicals) in the invention and application of new concepts in a given field.


The seventeenth-century period in Europe characterized in the visual arts by dramatic light and shade, turbulent composition, and exaggerated emotional expression.


German art school in existence from 1919 to 1933, best known for its influence on design, leadership in art education, and a radically innovative philosophy of applying design principles to machine technology and mass production.


The art of beautiful writing. Broadly, a flowing use of line, often varying from thick to thin.

Conceptual Art

An art form in which the originating idea and the process by which it is presented take precedence over a tangible product. Conceptual works are sometimes produced in visible form, but they often exist only as descriptions of mental concepts or ideas. This trend developed in the late 1960s, in part as a way to avoid the commercialization of art.


The most influential style of the twentieth century, developed in Paris by Picasso and Braque, beginning in 1907. The early mature phase of the style, called Analytical Cubism, lasted from 1909 through 1911. Cubism is based on the simultaneous presentation of multiple views, disintegration, and the geometric reconstruction of objects in flattened, ambiguous pictorial so space; figure and ground merge into one interwoven surface of shifting planes. Color is limited to neutrals. By 1912 the more decorative phase called Synthetic (or Collage) Cubism, began to appear; it was characterized by fewer, more solid forms, conceptual rather than observed subject matter, and richer color and texture.


A movement in art and literature, founded in Switzerland in the early twentieth century, which ridiculed contemporary culture and conventional art. The Dadaists shared an anti militaristic and anti aesthetic attitude, generated in part by the horrors of World War I and in part by a rejection of accepted canons of morality and taste. The anarchic spirit of Dada can be seen in the works of Duchamp, Man Ray, Hoch, Miro, and Picasso. Many Dadaists later explored Surrealism.

De Stijl

Dutch for "the style," a purist art movement begun in the Netherlands during World War I by Mondrian and others. It involved painters, sculptors, designers, and architects whose works and ideas were expressed in De Stijl magazine. De Stijl was aimed at creating a universal language of form that would be independent of individual emotion. Visual form was pared down to primary colors, plus black and white, and rectangular shapes. The movement was influential primarily in architecture.

Earth Art

Earthworks Sculptural forms of earth, rocks, or sometimes plants, often on a vast scale and in remote locations. Some are deliberately impermanent.


expressionism The broad term that describes emotional art, most often boldly executed and making free use of distortion and symbolic or invented color. More specifically, Expressionism refers to individual and group styles originating in Europe in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. See also Abstract Expressionism.


A style of painting introduced in Paris in the early twentieth century, characterized by areas of bright, contrasting color and simplified shapes. The name les fauves is French for "the wild beasts."

Fine Art

Art created for purely aesthetic expression, communication, or contemplation. Painting and sculpture are the best known of the fine arts.

Folk Art

Art of people who have had no formal, academic training, but whose works are part of an established tradition of style and craftsmanship.


A group movement that originated in Italy in 1909. One of several movements to grow out of Cubism. Futurists added implied motion to the shifting planes and multiple observation points of the Cubists; they celebrated natural as well as mechanical motion and speed. Their glorification of danger, war, and the machine age was in keeping with the martial spirit developing in Italy at the time.


A cultural and intellectual movement during the Renaissance, following the rediscovery of the art and literature of ancient Greece and Rome. A philosophy or attitude concerned with the interests, achievements, and capabilities of human beings rather than with the abstract concepts and problems of theology or science.


A style of painting that originated in France about 1870. Paintings of casual subjects, executed outdoors, using divided brush strokes to capture the mood of a particular moment as defined by the transitory effects of light and color. The first Impressionist exhibit was held in 1874.


A style that developed in the sixteenth century as a reaction to the classical rationality and balanced harmony of the High Renaissance; characterized by the dramatic use of space and light, exaggerated color, elongation of figures, and distortions of perspective, scale, and proportion.


A nonrepresentational style of sculpture and painting, usually severely restricted in the use of visual elements and often consisting of simple geometric shapes or masses. The style came to prominence in the late 1960s.


Theory and practice in late nineteenth- and twentieth-century art, which holds that each new generation must build on past styles in new ways or break with the past in order to make the next major historical contribution. Characterized by idealism; seen as "high art," as differentiated from popular art. In painting, most clearly seen in the work of the Post-Impressionists, beginning in 1885; in architecture, most evident in the work of Bauhaus and International Style architects, beginning about 1920.


Representational art in which the artist presents a subjective interpretation of visual reality while retaining something of the natural appearance or look of the objects depicted. Naturalism varies greatly from artist to artist, depending on the degree and kind of subjective interpretation.


New classicism. A revival of classical Greek and Roman forms in art, music, and literature, particularly during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Europe and America. It was part of a reaction to the excesses of Baroque and Rococo art.


A system of painting using tiny dots or "points" of color, developed by French artist Georges Seurat in the 1880s. Seurat systematized the divided brushwork and optical color mixture of the Impressionists and called this technique divisionism.

Pop Art

Pop Art A style of painting and sculpture that developed in the late 1950s and early 1960s, in Britain and the United States; based on the visual clichs, subject matter, and impersonal style of popular mass-media imagery.


A general term applied to various personal styles of painting by French artists (or artists living in France) that developed from about 1885 to 1900 in reaction to what these artists saw as the somewhat formless and aloof quality of Impressionist painting. Post-Impressionist painters were concerned with the significance of form, symbols, expressiveness, and psychological intensity. They can be broadly separated into two groups, expressionists, such as Gauguin and Van Gogh, and formalists, such as Cezanne and Seurat.


Post-Modern An attitude or trend of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, in which artists and architects accept all that modernism rejects. In architecture, the movement away from or beyond what had become boring adaptations of the International Style, in favor of an imaginative, eclectic approach. In the other visual arts, Post-Modern is characterized by an acceptance of all periods and styles, including modernism, and a willingness to combine elements of all styles and periods. Although modernism makes distinctions between high art and popular taste, Post-Modernism makes no such value judgments.


realism 1. A type of representational art in which the artist depicts as closely as possible what the eye sees. 2. Realism. The mid-nineteenth-century style of Courbet and others, based on the idea that ordinary people and everyday activities are worthy subjects for art.


Period in Europe from the late fourteenth through the sixteenth centuries, characterized by a renewed interest in human-centered classical art, literature, and learning. See also humanism.


1. A literary and artistic movement of late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Europe, aimed at asserting the validity of subjective experience as a counter movement to the often cold formulas of Neoclassicism; characterized by intense emotional excitement and depictions of powerful forces in nature, exotic lifestyles, danger, suffering, and nostalgia. 2. Art of any period based on spontaneity, intuition, and emotion rather than carefully organized rational approaches to form.


Surrealism A movement in literature and the visual arts that developed in the mid1920s and remained strong until the mid1940s, growing out of Dada and automatism. Based upon revealing the unconscious mind in dream images, the irrational, and the fantastic, Surrealism took two directions: representational and abstract. Dali's and Magritte's paintings, with their uses of impossible combinations of objects depicted in realistic detail, typify representational Surrealism. MirÙ 's paintings, with their use of abstract and fantastic shapes and vaguely defined creatures, are typical of abstract Surrealism.