Fernand Léger, 'ABC' 1927

Tate’s online glossary is designed to explain and illuminate some of the art terminology you will find on our website

It contains definitions, most with illustrations, of over 400 terms including artist groups and art movements, techniques, media and other art jargon.

To browse the glossary choose a letter from A to Z from the menu on the left, or browse the selection of popular terms and their definitions highlighted below.

Art movements

  • Glossary Bridget Riley, 'Fragment 5/8' 1965 Op art

    Op painting used a framework of purely geometric forms as the basis for its effects, drawing on colour theory and the psychology of perception. Leading figures were Bridget Riley and Victor Vasarely

  • Glossary John Martin, 'The Great Day of His Wrath' 1851-3 Sublime

    The theory of sublime art was put forward by Edmund Burke in which he defined the sublime as an artistic effect productive of the strongest emotion the mind is capable of feeling

  • Glossary Kasimir Malevich, 'Dynamic Suprematism' 1915 or 1916 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

  • Glossary Theo van Doesburg, 'Counter-Composition VI' 1925 Neo-plasticism

    Term adopted by the Dutch pioneer of abstract art, Piet Mondrian, for his own type of abstract painting which used only horizontal and vertical lines and primary colours

  • Glossary Jeff Koons, 'Three Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Two Dr J Silver Series, Spalding NBA Tip-Off)' 1985 Postmodernism

    Term used from about 1970 to describe changes seen to take place in Western society and culture from the 1960s onwards. In art, postmodernism was specifically a reaction against modernism

  • Glossary James Abbott McNeill Whistler, 'Harmony in Grey and Green: Miss Cicely Alexander' 1872-4 Aesthetic movement

    Late nineteenth century movement that championed pure beauty and ‘art for art’s sake’ emphasising the visual and sensual qualities of art and design over practical, moral or narrative considerations

  • Glossary Alphonse Legros, 'Le Repas des Pauvres' 1877 Realism

    Realism refers to a mid nineteenth century artistic movement characterised by subjects painted from everyday life in a naturalistic manner; however the term is also generally used to describe artworks painted in a realistic almost photographic way

  • Glossary Douglas Huebler, 'Site Sculpture Project, Windham College Pentagon, Putney, Vermont' 1968 Land art

    Land art is made directly in the landscape, sculpting the land into earthworks or making structures using natural materials such as rocks or twigs. It was part of the wider conceptual art movement in the 1960s and 1970s

  • Glossary Henri Matisse, 'André Derain' 1905 Fauvism

    Fauvism can be seen as an extreme extension of the post-impressionism. The group were called les fauves ‘the wild beasts’ because of their use of non-naturalistic colour and their apparently wild application of paint

  • Glossary Richard Long, 'A Line Made by Walking' 1967 Conceptual photography

    A type of photography that illustrates an idea, with pioneers being Richard Long and Dennis Oppenheim. The rise of conceptual photography in the 1960s coincided with the early explorations into video art

  • Glossary Man Ray, 'L'Enigme d'Isidore Ducasse' 1920, remade 1972 Dada

    Art movement formed during the First World War in Zurich in negative reaction to the horrors and folly of the war. The art, poetry and performance produced by dada artists is often satirical and nonsensical in nature

  • Glossary Giacomo Balla, 'Abstract Speed - The Car has Passed' 1913 Futurism

    Italian art movement of the early 20th century that aimed to capture in art the dynamism, energy and movement of the modern world

Groups and schools

  • Glossary Karel Appel, 'Hip, Hip, Hoorah!' 1949 CoBrA

    Group formed in 1948 by artists from Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam whose painting style was highly expressionist and inspired by the art of children

  • Glossary Georges Vantongerloo, 'Interrelation of Volumes' 1919 Cercle et Carré (Circle and Square)

    Artist group formed in Paris in 1929 which strongly supported new developments in abstract art and in particular promoted mystical tendencies within it

  • Glossary Victor Pasmore, 'Reclining Nude' 1942 Euston Road School

    British realist group formed in 1938 of artists who either taught or studied at the School of Painting and Drawing at 316 Euston Road in London, they reacted against avant-garde styles, favouring traditional subjects in a realist manner

  • Glossary Ben Nicholson OM, '1924 (first abstract painting, Chelsea)' circa 1923-4 The Seven and Five Society

    Initially a traditional group formed in London in 1919, the group was later joined by Ben Nicholson, one of the pioneers of abstract art in Britain and other modernists including Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore and John Piper

  • Glossary Richard Hamilton, '$he' 1958-61 Independent Group

    The Independent Group was convened in the 1950s and was responsible for the formulation and dissemination of many of the basic ideas of British pop art. Its leading artists included Richard Hamilton, Nigel Henderson and Sir Eduardo Paolozzi

  • Glossary Spencer Gore, 'The Cinder Path' 1912 Camden Town Group

    British post-impressionist group founded by Walter Sickert in London in 1911. Artists associated with the group painted realist scenes of city life and some landscape in a range of post-impressionist styles

  • Glossary Guerrilla Girls

    Formed in New York in the mid 1980s, a group of anonymous American female artists who seek to expose sexual and racial discrimination in the art world and the wider cultural arena

  • Glossary Duncan Grant, 'Bathing' 1911 Bloomsbury

    Name commonly used to identify a circle of intellectuals and artists who lived in Bloomsbury, near central London, in the period 1904–40 

  • Glossary Jessica Dismorr, 'Abstract Composition' circa 1915 Vorticism

    The group was founded by the artist and writer Wyndham Lewis. Vorticist painting combines cubist fragmentation of reality with hard-edged imagery derived from the machine and the urban environment

  • Glossary Sir Anthony Caro, 'Early One Morning' 1962 New generation sculpture

    Sculpture produced by a group of young British sculptors working in the 1960s, who experimented with materials, forms and colours with the shared aim of ridding sculpture of its traditional base

Materials and techniques

  • Glossary Joseph Mallord William Turner, 'Snow Storm - Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth' exhibited 1842 Oil paint

    A slow-drying paint that consists of particles of pigment suspended in a drying oil that forms a tough, coloured film on exposure to air

  • Glossary Jake Chapman, Dinos Chapman, 'Exquisite Corpse' 2000 Cadavre exquis (exquisite corpse)

    A drawing approach invented in 1925 by the surrealists. It has been used by other artists since, to create bizarre collaborative drawings, notably the YBA artists Jake and Dinos Chapman

  • Glossary Bruce Nauman, 'a' 1970 Performance art

    Art in which the medium is the artist’s own body and the artwork takes the form of actions performed by the artist. It has origins in futurism and dada, but became a major phenomenon in the 1960s and 1970s as a branch of conceptual art

  • Glossary Edgar Degas, 'Miss Lala at the Cirque Fernando' 1879 Pastel

    Pastel is a coloured drawing medium made from pure coloured pigment mixed with a binder to form a stick

  • Glossary Raoul Hausmann, 'The Art Critic' 1919-20 Photomontage

    A collage constructed from photographs which was 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

  • Glossary Andrew Grassie, 'Tate New Hang 6' 2005 Photorealism

    Painting style that emerged in Europe and the USA in the late 1960s, characterised by its painstaking detail and precision. Artists associated with photorealism include the painter Chuck Close and Richard Estes

  • Glossary Leon Kossoff, 'Christ Church, Spitalfields, Morning' 1990 Impasto

    An area of thick paint, or texture, in a painting which first noticeable in Venetian Renaissance painters Titian and Tintoretto. In modern art impasto was used so that the surface of a painting would not be just a smooth window into an illusionist world

  • Glossary after Joseph Mallord William Turner, 'Snow-Storm, engraved by R. Brandard' published 1859-61 Engraving

    Printmaking technique that involves making incisions into a metal plate which retain the ink and form the printed image

  • Glossary Pablo Picasso, 'Bottle of Vieux Marc, Glass, Guitar and Newspaper' 1913 Papier collé

    The cubist painter Georges Braque first used papier collé when he drew on imitation wood-grain paper that had been pasted onto white paper. This technique was also used by Pablo Picasso who substituted wood-grain paper with newspaper pages