Abstract – art that is dependent on colour, form, texture, pattern and line without referring to any subject matter recognisable from the ‘visible’ world – it is not a painting or sculpture 'of' something we could see, and so is different from representational art.
Action painting – painting that gains its appearance as a result of the energetic movement of the artist as he applies paint. This can be either with a traditional paintbrush, or, as in the case of Jackson Pollock, through dripping or pouring the paint on to the canvas.
Alchemy – an outmoded branch of science, which was concerned with trying to make gold out of more readily available materials (such as lead). The term is commonly used to imply the creation of something valuable from something that is not.
Altarpiece – a painting made to go on the altar of a church.
Angst – a German word for anxiety that is used to refer to the nagging, worrying sensation that something is wrong.
Assemblage – a sculptural work made out of a number of materials or objects that have been stuck (or nailed) together.
Cast – a cast is a copy of something that is made from a mould. Bronze sculptures are made by the process of casting, which usually involves making a version of the sculpture in a soft material such as wax, clay, or plaster, making a mould of this version, and pouring molten wax into the mould.
Collage – a work of art that includes elements – often paper – which have been stuck on.
Composition – the way in which elements in a painting (or sculpture) are arranged.
Crucifixion – a traditional Christian subject for a painting (or sculpture) showing Jesus dying on a cross.
Cubism – a style of representation that relies not on the depiction of things from a single viewpoint, but on a combination of different elements of the subject seen from a variety of different viewpoints, which results in an extremely fragmented appearance.
Curator – a curator is the person responsible for looking after a museum’s collection, and for deciding how it should be displayed. Curators are also responsible for arranging exhibitions.
Existentialist – the Existentialist movement gained momentum in France after World War II. Existentialists such as Jean-Paul Sartre did not believe in God, and without God there would be no moral code or set of rules. As a result each individual has to create a sense of morality for him or herself. However, without God it also seemed that there might not be a purpose to life, and existentialism was often marked by a sense of aimlessness and worry.
Futurist –the Futurist movement started in Italy before World War I. As the name suggests the artists were looking forward to the future, wanted to destroy all museums and art of the past, and celebrated everything modern – the machine, the city, noise, energy and war.
Genre – a particular ‘type’ of painting. Traditionally these types were history, landscape, portrait, and still life. Genre is also a type of painting in its own right, referring to the depiction of scenes of everyday life.
Hang – the way in which works of art are arranged in a gallery – even though paintings are not often literally hung on the walls these days. Traditionally works of art have been hung chronologically – according to when they were produced – and geographically – depending on where they were made. Tate Modern has a thematic hang – works are arranged according to the subjects they cover.
History painting – a painting showing chronological history, the life of kings and queens or stories from the Bible, the lives of the saints or classical mythology. Traditionally this was the most important type of painting, as these stories were intended to be morally uplifting.
Installation – a work of art, usually made up of a number of different elements, which takes up a particular space and uses the space as part of its ‘meaning’. An installation will often take up an entire room, and may be made up of paintings, photographs, sculptural objects or other materials.
Landscape – a ‘view’ or painting of a scene (often the countryside) whether real or imaginary.
Minimalism – art which uses very few, or minimal, resources, very often concentrating on single colours or forms. It often uses readily available materials (such as Carl Andre’s bricks) and concentrates on their properties – shape, size and appearance. The idea was to show that art can exist without referring to anything other than the materials of which it was made – it does not need to illustrate something else.
Modelled – a sculpture is modelled if it is built up from a soft material such as clay, wax or plaster. The material is added on and moulded to the right shape, unlike carving where the material (usually stone or wood) can only be cut away – so it is referred to as an additive process (carving is subtractive).
Neo-classical – literally a new form of classical (that is, Greek or Roman) art, which tends to mean painting or sculpture that is representational, but with simplified, idealised forms.
Nude – although both ‘naked’ and ‘nude’ mean ‘without clothes’ it has been suggested that the term ‘nude’ is more appropriate to the dignity given to a naked body as a result of its depiction as a work of art.
Portrait – a painting of a real (rather than imaginary) person.
Readymade – an object that already exists – the artist has found rather than made it. It becomes an artwork because it is chosen by an artist and placed in a context such as a gallery where you find works of art.
Representational – art that ‘represents’ something: it is a depiction of something we could see (such as a person, a tree, etc.), and so is unlike abstract art.
Site-specific – a work of art that has been created for a particular place or site.
Still life – a painting of a number of (usually) inanimate objects, which have often been chosen for a specific reason and arranged in a certain way.
Surrealism – a movement which started after World War I among writers and grew to include the visual arts in the 1920s. Surrealists were interested in things that are not part of our conscious mind, unrelated to deliberate choice or what we intend to do. They preferred things that happened by accident, and dreams, and anything relating to our subconscious. In art this is usually expressed in terms of unusual situations or combinations of things or events which can help to trigger our imagination.
Triptych – an image made up of three sections. It was a common format for Christian altarpieces.
Viewpoint – the direction from which you look at something. In traditional paintings the subject is shown from only one viewpoint, as if you were not moving while looking at it. However some artists, notably the Cubists, realised that you often move when looking at things, and their paintings often appear distorted or fragmented as they depict the object from more than one viewpoint.