Abstraction

A general term for abstract art, where images are unrecognizable or nonrepresentational. One of the first artists to create abstraction was Russian painter, Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944).

Acrylic

First invented in the 1940s, this synthetic paint is used by artists because it is fast drying and versatile. The colors are created by pigments suspended within an acrylic polymer emulsion and can be applied thickly or thinned with water. Unlike oil paints, which can only be removed with turpentine, wet acrylic paint can be washed away with soap and water.

Analog Photography

First invented in the 1940s, this synthetic paint is used by artists because it is fast drying and versatile. The colors are created by pigments suspended within an acrylic polymer emulsion and can be applied thickly or thinned with water. Unlike oil paints, which can only be removed with turpentine, wet acrylic paint can be washed away with soap and water. 

Aquatint

An intaglio printing method where etched metal plates are inked. Examples are etchings and engravings. Acids are added to metals plates to form dots imbedded into the surface. The results resemble translucent paintings or drawings.

Archival Paper

Acid-free papers used in art fabrication or documents, which help preserve them over long periods of time. Lignin and sulfur free, this type of paper does not yellow or break down over an average of 500 to 1,000 years.

Art Nouveau

A late 19th to early 20th century art movement, which means “new art” in French. It is characterized by curving lines, especially with leaves and flowers on vines. Austrian painter Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) and French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) are associated with the movement, which also described the decorative arts and architecture that predated the Art Deco movement.

Auteur

French for “author,” this describes the belief that film is an art form and the director is the artist and main creative visionary of the film. Minimizing the role of the screenwriter, this concept began in the 1950s with the director and critic, Francois Truffaut, and the French magazine Cahiers du Cinema.

Avant-garde

Cutting edge artists and artwork that stand at the forefront of an art movement. The term was first used in English in 1910 to describe art that is innovative, experimental and nontraditional.

Baroque

An art movement in 17th century Catholic Europe, it is characterized by emotion and movement. Italian painter Carravagio (1571-1610) and the Trevi Fountain in Rome (1629-1762) are examples of Baroque.

Bauhaus

Influential German art and design school founded in 1919 and closed by the Nazis in 1933. Teachers, such as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) and Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) believed in the aesthetics of simplicity and utopianism in design.

Biennial

An event occurring every two years. Art institutions, such as the Whitney Museum of Art and the Venice Biennale, hold special recurring exhibitions every two years called Biennials to draw anticipation in the art world. The Whitney Biennial showcases the current state of American art.

Body Art

The earliest forms of body art were ritual tattooing and scarification. Beginning in the 1960s, body artists used their bodies as the medium for their artwork. This type of conceptual art was the forerunner to performance art. Body artists include Cuban-American Ana Mendieta (1948-1985) and Los Angeles-based Chris Burden (1946-).

Chinese Painting

China has a long and diverse history of painting. Each dynasty or period showcased different aspects of their painting culture. China is known for such painting achievements as calligraphy, landscape watercolor painting and painting on pottery.

Chromogenic Print

Also known as a C-print, it refers to a full-color print made from negative, slide or digital image onto paper with silver hailde emulsion, which is sensitive to light. This is the most common type of photographic print.

Conceptual Art

An art movement that emerged in the 1960s, in which art is believed to convey ideas rather than produce an art object. Traditional painting and sculpture are seen as commodities. Conceptual artists include American Jenny Holzer (1950-) and American Sol Le Witt (1928-2007).

Contemporary

This refers to current art or present day artists. Most living, emerging or young artists would fall into this category.

Critical Theory

Associated with the “Frankfurt School,” it was first defined by Max Horkheimer (1895-1973) in 1937. Examining and critiquing culture, it was influenced by Marxist theory. Modernist critical theorists criticize and want to change society while postmodernist theorists place society’s problems into their historical and cultural context.

Cubism

Started by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso (1882-1973) and French artist Georges Braque (1882-1963). Art in the movement is characterized with the subject matter analyzed from all points of view, disassembled and then reassembled into an abstract form.

Cyanotype

First invented in 1842, it is a simple monochromatic, photographic print. Also called a blueprint because the results produce prints with tones of cyan-blue.

Dada

Post World War I art movement, which ridiculed society and traditional art. Some artists used chance to create art and others used absurd or irrational methods. French artist Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) was at the forefront of the movement, which influenced Surrealism, Pop Art and Conceptualism.

Digital Art

Beginning from the 1960s and 1970s, this is a general term for art that uses digital technology for the creative process or production of the artwork.  Also called “New Media Art,” it includes video art, digital printing and multimedia art.

Digital Photography

Photographs that are either shot with a digital camera or manipulated with a computer after the original image was captured.

Diorama

Frequently used in museums, these are three-dimensional representations of a scene. It may be full-size or reduced in scale, and it can be illuminated and/or placed behind glass.

Diptych

A two-paneled, two-dimensional artwork that may be hinged together or set slightly apart. The pieces are displayed together and are integral to the overall artwork.

Drypoint

Type of intaglio engraving where a needle tool creates blurry, soft lines on the prints. These types of plates wear out quickly and cannot be printed for a large number of editions.

Dystopian

The opposite of utopian, suggesting that society in the future will be repressive and the government will become a police state. Books, such as Brave New World (1932) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), and films such as Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982), are examples of dystopian works.

Embossing

A relief or raised design that is hammered or pressed onto the backside of a flat surface, such as paper or metal.

Encaustic

Painting technique that mixes molten wax, often beeswax, together with pigments. Earliest encaustic paintings were found in ancient Egypt and Greece on statues and walls.

Etching

Intaglio printing process where a needle is used to draw onto a metal plate covered with wax ground. Then the plate is dipped into an acid bath so that the drawn areas further bite into the metal surface. The plates are inked to create prints.

Expressionism

Modernist art movement originally from Germany at the beginning of the 20th century, characterized by the use of subjective emotional perspectives. Edward Munch (1863-1944) was an important artist of the movement.

Feminist Art

Beginning in the 1960s and coinciding with the feminist political movement, this type of artwork fights discrimination against women and criticizes the dominance of male, patriarchal social systems. Important feminist artists include American Miriam Shapiro (1923-) and American Judy Chicago (1939-).

Figurative

Opposite of abstract art, this type of work uses imagery that resembles real animals, landscapes, objects and humans.

Fluxus

An international art movement from the early 1960s to the late 1970s, which was influenced by Dadaism. Avant-garde in nature, artists were interested in spontaneity and humor. Fluxus Artwork included mail art, guerilla street theater and mixed-media. American musician John Cage (1912-1992), Japanese-American artist Yoko Ono (1932-) and German artist Joseph Beuys (1921-1986) were associated with the movement.

Found Art

Items not intended as art material that are selected and obtained by an artist to produce art. The Dadaists and the Surrealists were the first to use this method and called the works “Readymades.” Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain” from 1917 is an example of found art. He turned over a urinal and wrote “R. Mutt” onto its side.

Gampi

Type of slow-growing, Japanese tree used to create fine quality paper. It is characterized by its fine fibers and its strength.

Gelatin Silver Print

Introduced in the 1880s, these photographic prints are monochromatic, or black and white. It was the dominant photographic print until the invention of the full-color process. Light sensitive paper, coated with silver and bound in a layer of gelatin, is exposed to a negative image to produce the final print.

Hudson River School

Middle 19th century group of American landscape painters based in the Hudson River Valley. Their romantic approach to painting emphasized moral and literary symbolism. Artists of this group included Thomas Birch (1779-1851) and Asher B. Durand (1796-1886).

Icon

An object, such as a painting, image or sculpture, that is venerated. It can also be a symbol. Examples are religious panel paintings, The Statue or Liberty (1886) or the Coco-Cola logo.

Identity Politics

Beginning in the middle of the 20th century, marginalized social groups, such as women, minorities and gay, lesbian and transgender persons, sought to change injustices by the dominant culture, which is western capitalist democracies. Artists, such as American Betye Saar (1926-) and Mary Kelly (1941-), who identified with these oppressed groups, created artwork to fight and change the status quo.

Impressionism

Beginning in France in the 1860s, the painters of the movement tried to depict the changing qualities of light with small but visible brushstrokes. Prominent artists included Frenchmen Claude Monet (1840-1926) and Edgar Degas (1834-1917).

Indigenous Art

Any type of art made by the native or indigenous peoples of an area. An example is Native American weaving in North America.

Inkjet Print

Digital print produced by an inkjet printer, which propels droplets of ink onto paper. Photographic prints can be printed in this fashion or images completely produced digitally with a computer.

Installation Art

Art that is created in an indoor or outdoor space, which can be site-specific. This type of contemporary art began in the 1970s and typically uses non-traditional materials or found objects. Artists who create installation art include American Dan Flavin (1933-1996) and British Rachel Whiteread (1963-).

Lithography

Type of printing invented in the late 18th century from a flat stone, metal or plastic plate. A greasy crayon or tusche is used to draw onto the plate or stone to form the initial design. After it is washed with water, the plate or stone is inked. The water resists the ink while the greasy areas stick to the ink. A sheet is paper is laid over the plate or stone and then run through a press, forming the final print.

Luminism

American landscape painters from the 1850s to 1870s, whose work held similar characteristics as the French Impressionists. These artists were interested in the luminosity of light to create poetic atmosphere in paintings. Leading artists included Fitz Hugh Lane (1804-1865) and Fredrick E. Church (1826-1900).

Mannerism

An art movement in Europe, which began between 1520 to 1600. It is characterized by the rejection of High Renaissance calm and balance in favor of emotion and distortion. Examples of Mannerism are the works from Italian artist Michelangelo (1474-1564) and Spanish artist El Greco (1541-1614).

Maquette

A small three-dimensional model or miniature used as a study for a larger or full-scale work of art.

MFA

Master of Fine Arts degree that artists attain after two years of study, with a graduate thesis paper or exhibition.

Minimalism

A post-World War II art movement where artists set out to find the essence of a subject by eliminating unnecessary forms or features. It was a reaction against Abstract Expressionism, and prominent artists included Americans Donald Judd (1928-1994) and Agnes Martin (1912-2004).

Mixed Media

Technique in which more than one type of material or media is used in a single composition.

Modernism

Beginning in the late 19th and early 20th century, this movement was a revolt against realism. One of the most important characteristics of Modernism is self-consciousness, which led to experimentation with processes, materials and abstraction. French painter Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) and American Hans Hofmann (1880-1966) are considered Modernists.

Monoprint

One print in a series, which may have slight variation in color, design or texture applied to a common underlying image.

Monumental

Though often describing the grand scale of an artwork, it can mean any work of art that is great in its impact.

Multiple

Traditionally a term to describe a series of prints or casts of sculptures from a mold. Also called an edition, it refers to more than one object or artwork that is identical.

Oeuvre

French for “work.” It describes an artist’s body of work.

Outsider Art

Works of art made outside mainstream society, such as folk art or art made by non-trained artists. The term, naïve art, is no longer used to describe outsider art.

Panorama

Any type of wide-angle view, typically of a landscape. First coined by Irish painter Robert Barker (1739-1806) in 1792 with his painting of Edinburgh titled, “The Panorama.”

Performance Art

Artwork in any type of media that is created or executed in front of a live audience. Unlike theater, which generally depicts illusions of real events, performance art uses the event as the art. It also uses time, space, the performer’s body and the relationship between the performer and the audience.

Persian Art

Art from Iran, which includes pottery, painting, weaving, calligraphy and architecture.

Photogravure

An intaglio printing method where a layer of light-sensitive gelatin is coated onto a metal plate. It is exposed to a film positive and etched with acid. The resulting print is high quality, with fine tonal details.

Photorealism

Painting and sculpture with such attention to detail that they look as realistic as a photograph. Well-known photorealist artists include Americans Duane Hanson (1925-1996) and Chuck Close (1940-).

Polaroid

An instant camera that produces a self-developing photographic print using special film that contains all the components necessary to create a finished print, such as the negative, developer and fixer. Most of the formats have been popular with artists because each print is unique and instant.

Pop Art

An art movement that was popularized in America in the 1960s by artists such as Andy Warhol (1928-1987) and Jasper Johns (1930-). Artists used familiar images from pop culture and commercial art, such as advertisements.

Post-Apocalyptic

Works of art that focus on disaster or the end of civilization. It gained popularity after the use of nuclear weapons in World War II.

Post-War American Painting

Referring to Abstract Expressionist artists after World War II, such as Jackson Pollock (1912-1956), who is known for his drip paintings. The paintings from this time period were rebellious, nihilistic and spontaneous.

Postmodernism

A reaction to modernism, postmodernism as an art movement began in the late 20th century. Artists reevaluated western society and were influenced by philosophers, such as Michel Foucault (1926-1984) and Jacques Derrida (1930-2004). Postmodernist art includes Identity Art, Performance Art, Conceptual Art, Installation Art and Digital Art.

Primitive

Art that is primal or unsophisticated. Not to be confused with outsider art or folk art. Primitive artists include French painter Jean Dubuffet (1905-1985).

Print

Image made from a stone, block or plate that is covered with pigment, usually ink. It is pressed onto a flat surface, such as paper. Prints are typically made in multiples with the same printing stone, block or plate. Examples of prints are etchings, engravings and silkscreens.

Quotidian

Contemporary and Modern artists who find art in the ordinary or mundane. By drawing attention to ordinary objects, the viewer reassesses objects she sees everyday.

Ready-made

Term coined by Dadaist Marcel Duchamp. Found objects that were not manufactured to become art materials but presented as a work of art by an artist.

Realism

Naturalism or the opposite of idealization in terms of representing humans, landscapes and other objects in art. Also a mid-19th century art movement that rebelled against Neoclassicism, where subjects were romanticized. French artists, such as Honore-Victorin Daumier (1808-1879) and Jean-Francois Millet (1814-1875), depicted subjects naturally or even as ugly.

Representational

Art that depicts recognizable imagery, which is the opposite of abstract. Another term for realism or realist.

Romanticism

Early 19th century art movement in which emotions were emphasized. Critics of Classicism, Romantic artists painted exotic settings full of drama. Artists associated with the movement were French painter Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863) and British painter Joseph M.W. Turner (1775-1851).

Scatter Art

Type of installation art where objects, typically found ones, are arranged in what appears to be a random manner. Chance and spontaneity may be used or artists juxtapose different types of materials.

Screen Print

Also called a silkscreen. A type of printmaking in which a stencil is formed with a screen using silk or mesh. Blank areas are covered with an impermeable coating, and the entire screen is inked to form the final print. Andy Warhol (1928-1987) used the process on canvas.

Spit Bite

A mixture of acid and gum Arabic, which is painted, splattered or dripped onto a metal plate used in etching. The technique creates blurry effects on the final print.

Sugar Lift

An etching technique where the metal plate is coated with a thick sugary substance before the liquid etching ground is applied. Later the plate is dipped into hot water to remove the sugar to produce prints with blurry effects.

Surrealism

An art movement which stemmed from Dadaism. Founded by French writer, Andre Breton (1896-1966), it was influenced by psychoanalysis. The art has a dream-like quality and realistic images may be fantastical or irrational. The Spanish painter, Salvador Dali (1904-1989), is a well-known Surrealist.

Symbolism

An art movement in the late 19th century, which began in France. Influenced by Romanticism, some artists used icons, Bible stories or mythology in their work. Important artists included French artists Gustave Moreau (1826-1989) and Paul Gauguin (1848-1903).

Text-based

Art that uses words. Historically, typewriters were used to create visual art using symbols, numbers and letters. Contemporary artists, such as Jenny Holzer (1950-), use texts to create a narrative or commentary about society.

Triptych

A two-dimensional artwork that has three panels, which are integral to the overall work. They may be hinged together or displayed closely together. Triptychs were commonly used in European altarpieces in the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

Trompe l'oeil

Literally means “trick the eye” in French. An illusion created to fool the viewer into believing it is real. Trompe l’oeil paintings use perspective to create an appearance of three-dimensions or other false scenes.

Utopia

An ideal society. Frequently used to describe a past or future society that is perfect or technologically advanced.

Vaudeville

One of the most popular types of North American theater from the 1880s to the 1930s. A variety show that featured unrelated acts, such as trained animals, comedy, magicians and one-act plays on one common bill.

Vernacular

Native language of an area. Also refers to traditional art, craft or architecture of a local region for ordinary people.

Video Art

Works of art beginning in the 1960s that are recorded by video cameras or viewed on televisions, monitors or screens. Korean-American Nam June Paik (1932-2006) was a pioneer in the medium. Another important video artist is American Bruce Nauman (1941-).

Woodcut

Type of print formed by cutting a design into a block of wood. Also called a woodblock print, the wood is inked and the raised surfaces of the image are printed onto a flat surface, such as paper.

Works on Paper

Refers to art that is fabricated on paper. This may include prints, drawings, paintings, manuscripts, maps and photographs.