Fernand Léger, 'ABC' 1927
Fernand Léger
ABC 1927
Gouache on paper
© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2002

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

  • #ArtWords
    Angela Bulloch, 'West Ham - Sculpture for Football Songs' 1998
    Glossary term of the month: Sound art

    Welcome to our glossary term of the month! Tate’s online glossary is designed to explain and illuminate some of the art terminology you will find on our website, from abstract art to Zero

  • Glossary
    Naum Gabo, 'Model for 'Constructed Torso'' 1917, reassembled 1981

    Constructivism was a particularly austere branch of abstract art founded by Vladimir Tatlin and Alexander Rodchenko in Russia around 1915

  • Glossary
    Theo van Doesburg, 'Counter-Composition VI' 1925
    De Stijl

    Circle of Dutch abstract artists who promoted a style of art based on a strict geometry of horizontals and verticals

  • 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
    Joseph Kosuth, 'Clock (One and Five), English/Latin Version' 1965
    Conceptual art

    The term conceptual art came into use in the late 1960s to describe artworks in which the concept (or idea) behind the artwork is more important than traditional aesthetic and material concerns (what it looks like or how it is made)

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

    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

Groups and schools

  • Glossary
    Ben Nicholson OM, '1943-45 (St Ives, Cornwall)' 1943-5
    St Ives School

    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

  • Glossary
    Henri Matisse, 'André Derain' 1905

    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
    Leon Kossoff, 'Demolition of the Old House, Dalston Junction, Summer 1974' 1974
    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

  • Glossary
    Duncan Grant, 'Bathing' 1911

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

  • Glossary
    Joseph Beuys, 'Felt Action' 1963

    The group was founded in 1960 by artist George Maciunas; originally for an eponymous magazine featuring the work of a group of artists and composers centred around John Cage. Its aim was to ‘promote a revolutionary flood and tide in art, promote living art, anti-art’

Materials and techniques

  • Glossary
    Jackson Pollock, 'Number 23' 1948
    Action painters

    The term action painters is applied to artists working from the 1940s until the early 1960s whose approach to painting, (splashing, using gestural brushstrokes and dripping paint onto canvas rather than carefully applying it), emphasized the physical act of painting

  • Glossary
    Bruce Lacey, 'The Womaniser' 1966
    Kinetic art

    Kinetic art is art that depends on motion for its effects. Since the early twentieth century artists have been incorporating movement into art, to either introduce the element of time or to reflect the importance of the machine and technology in the modern world

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

    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
    Jean Dubuffet, 'Hopes and Options' 1971
    Graffiti art

    Graffiti art as a term refers to images or text painted usually onto buildings, typically using spray paint 

  • Glossary
    Pablo Picasso, 'Still Life' 1914

    Artwork made by assembling disparate elements often scavenged by the artist, sometimes bought specially

  • Glossary
    Joseph Mallord William Turner, 'The Blue Rigi, Sunrise' 1842

    Refers both to the medium and works of art made using the medium of watercolour – a water soluble paint with transparent properties