abstract (abstraction)

In art,

1. an artist takes imagery from a realistic subject and exaggerates or simplifies it in some way. It adds to the expressive quality or formal elements.

[See William Schwartz’s Still Life #XIV in this presentation.]

2. an artist seeks imagery to represent something that is inherently non-visual, such as sounds, feelings, or ideas. Art of this kind is called pure abstraction. It allows the viewer to think about ideas that are beyond literal recognition and perception of realistic objects.

[See Dan Ramirez’s Celestial City 14 in this presentation.]

abstract expressionism

The Abstract Expressionist movement, in its purest form, lasted from about 1942 through 1956. Abstract Expressionism was a development that fused several ideas.

First were certain elements of surrealist thought (particularly ideas derived from the work of the Spanish painter Joan Miró about drawing on the subconscious mind for imagery).

Second was incorporating observations by the psychoanalyst/philosopher Carl Jung about the importance of symbols and archetypal myths (in the subconscious,derived from the collective past experience) to the understanding of the human psyche.

The result was an art in which the interior, psychological, world of the artist became the subject of his or her art instead of reality-based subject matter.
(see the glossary entry on the Tate Museum site.


Merriam-Webster OnLine Dictionary defines aesthetic(s):
1. a branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of beauty, art, and taste and with the creation and appreciation of beauty
2. a particular theory or conception of beauty or art: a particular taste for or approach to what is pleasing to the senses and especially sight (e.g., modernist aesthetics: staging new ballets which reflected the aesthetic of the new nation -- Mary Clarke & Clement Crisp)
3. plural : a pleasing appearance or effect : BEAUTY (appreciated the aesthetics of the gemstones)

art critic

Among those in art careers, a person who describes, analyzes, interprets, evaluates, and expresses judgments of the merits, faults and value of artworks.

art for art’s sake

Art for art’s sake refers to an attitude that developed among artists and critics as Modernism broke with the principles of nineteenth-century Academic Romanticism. Conservative artists and critics believed that an art object should communicate a narrative that encouraged upright behavior, good moral conduct, and inspiring sentiment.

Progressive artists and critics rejected the idea that the aesthetic or financial value of a work of art could be determined by the accuracy of its depiction of reality or its relative moral value. Instead, they looked solely to the object itself. The artist’s handling and organization of the various elements of visual art (color, light, shape, form, space, texture, and line) and design into an aesthetically pleasing composition.


“Assemblage is an artistic process in which a three-dimensional artistic composition is made from putting together found objects. It is the 3-dimensional cousin of collage. The origin of the word (in its artistic sense) can be traced back to the early 1950s, when Jean Dubuffet created a series of collages of butterfly wings, which he titled assemblages d’empreintes. However, both Marcel Duchamp and Pablo Picasso had been working with found objects for several years prior to Dubuffet.” — quoted from Wikipedia.

automatic drawing or painting

An idea presented by Andre Bréton in the First Surrealist Manifesto. The concept of automatic drawing was developed in an effort to access the subconscious in order to avoid traditional ways of developing compositional ideas. Artists would try to draw or paint whatever came to mind, no matter how odd or irrational it seemed.


From a French military term meaning “Advance Guard,” or scouts, the term refers to any group of artists who seems to be exploring new media, content, or approach to making art.


Echoing biological form. Irregular in shape. [See Judy Chicago’s Study for The Dinner Party: Monochrome Plate #2 – Blue in this presentation.]


The visual evidence of the movement of the artist’s brush across the surface of a painting. [See gestural. Also compare Rodney Carswell’s Measurement and Splatter Matter with Judith Geichman’s Angel Dance.]


Collage is an artistic process in which a composition is created by arranging print, paper, photographs, cloth and other flat layers onto a background. Artists, such as Braque and Picasso, began doing collage in the early twentieth century. Today it is a very common technique. Compare to papier collé below.


Any art that is current in its own time. The work of Renaissance painters was contemporary during the Renaissance just as the work of artists today is contemporary. Contemporary art can be modern art (in that they are both current, belonging to the same period of time), but contemporary art is not necessarily Modernist Art.


Content, meaning, and narrative in painting are closely related. Content refers to the subject of a painting. Content is rarely as simple as a still life of apples and oranges (Who set them up? Why did they choose those particular fruits? . . . )

In abstract painting, the content may refer to a variety of elements: it could be the ostensible ďsubjectĒ of the painting [See Joseph Stella’s Smokestack in this presentation] or, if the work is about the process of painting, the content could be:

1. what kind of paint strokes are featured, they were applied,
3. what color variations there might be,
4. the size and/or shape or material of the support (canvas, masonite, etc) and
5. one of any number of variations on these and other themes that refer to the making of a painting.

[See narrative, also Ted Halkin’s Familiar in this presentation]

geometric abstraction

Refers to a strong emphasis on geometric shapes (circles, squares, rectangles, etc.) providing either structure or subject matter for a work of art. We can often recognize this approach by its crisply-defined shapes and tightly-structured compositions.


The quality or character of a mark on a surface in which the record of an artistís movement is clearly reflected. Gestural work is, almost by definition, expressive. [See Judith Geichman’s Angel Dance in this presentation] .


An artist applies paint so thickly to a surface that, when dry, individual ridges indicating the path of the artist’s tool remain as tactile evidence of its presence. [See Rudolph Weisenborn’s Arroyo in this presentation.]


An approach to making pictures which draws upon the artist’s understanding of the world and his or her experience in art production to make aesthetic decisions. As the work evolves, the artists makes each decision of how he or she evaluates that mark in relation to the work as a whole. Creation of art is not upon a predetermined system of choices in the intuitive approach.


The materials an artist uses to make a work of art. Examples include: paint, clay, wood, ink, marble, etc. The plural form of the word is media.


Modernism is a general term for a movement in Western art beginning about 1860 and lasting through the 1970s. Essentially, Modern artists recognized the validity of contemporaneous (modern) events for subject matter, as opposed to drawing their inspiration from the past.

Modernism rose from a complex mix of social, technical, and aesthetic developments during the early 19th century. At its philosophical core was a radical attitude about the relationship of art to both the past and the present.


In painting, narrative refers to the “story” which is being told by the image at hand. The narrative might be simple and straightforward, (as demonstrated in this presentation with the portrait of Sallie Taylor Smith). An artist might weave narrative into the content, as in Rosalyn Schwartz’s French Blue II.

In the Schwartz work there is the subject (the color . . . or is it the french curves?). Then there is the narrative — (layers of imagery that are present, each one obscuring the previous layer. This layering creates a chronological narrative of concealment. In addition, the appearance of the final pale blue shroud — wet, juicy paint that runs in rivulets down the surface — provides the viewer with clues as to how and in what manner the paint was applied, another layer of narrative.

non-objective (also non-representational)

An approach in which there is no reality-based content or narrative. The subject matter is the way the artist handles the elements of art. Non-representational art, by definition, represents nothing and refers only to itself. [See Emerson Woelffer’s Untitled work, ca. 1948, in this presentation.]

oeuvre (euvr)

French word meaning “works.“ An artist’s oeuvre consists of his or her accumulated body of work, usually referred to as a whole.

organic abstraction

Refers to the use of irregular shapes, or shapes based on natural forms or patterns, not geometric ones. Characterized by curving, biomorphic edges. [See Manierre Dawson’s Desert in this presentation.]


An artist defines areas of form using primarily tone and color, as opposed to line. He or she is responding to a world they see as being made up of overlapping areas of color, as opposed to discrete objects which are separated by line. Painterly can also refer to brushwork which is loose, open, and gestural in quality [See Rosalyn Schwartz’s painting French Blue II in this presentation.]


Commonly understood as the flat panel onto which an artistís paint is placed and mixed. It can also refer to the overall color scheme or dominant hues of a given painting or an artist’s oeuvre.

papier collé

“Papier collé (French: pasted paper) is a painting technique and type of collage. With papier collé the artist pastes pieces of flat material (paper, oil cloth and the like) into a painting in much in the same way as a collage, except the shape of the pasted pieces are objects themselves. Cubist painter Georges Braque, inspired by Pablo Picasso’s collage method, invented the technique and first used it in his 1912 painting, Fruit Dish and Glass.” — quote from Wikipedia.

rational approach

The artist develops a strategy and sets up a pre-determined system for making aesthetic choices before beginning the art-making process. A more controlled approach to making art than intuitive.

representational image

Representational images are based on something in reality and are easily recognizable. The images are “representations” of reality, although the may not be totally realistic. [See William Schwartz’s Still Life #XIV in this presentation]


Most often used in reference to reality-based imagery, simplification refers to the artistís analysis and elimination of extraneous visual information in order to arrive at a visual “essence,” or an image that will communicate his or her intent using the most limited means possible. [See Gertrude Abercrombie’s Self Portrait in Green Dress in this presentation.]


In the visual arts, style is the characteristics of a particular work of art — materials used, techniques employed, period, geographic origin and others. When considered together, enables a viewer to place that artwork into a meaningful context within the overall flow of art history. For example: Impressionism is a style of primarily oil painting with

1. loose brushwork
2. an emphasis on an immediate response

color choices that reflect the artists' ideas about optical mixing, or the ability of the human eye to create a single color impression from two or more colors seen at a distance

3. informal subject matter

practiced between approximately 1864 and 1917 in France.

visual vocabulary

Whether creating representational or abstract work, as an artistís style matures they begin to develop approaches to making marks, using color, defining form, etc, with which they feel comfortable. This matrix of approaches that is repeated in variation as they move from work to work can be called their visual vocabulary. An artist’s visual vocabulary is one of the building blocks in establishing an artist’s style.

[See style. Also compare Ted Halkin’s Familiar and Rosalyn Schwartz’s French Blue II in this presentation.]