Defining art

Brainstorm art vocabulary into these categories:

materials and tools for making art





types of artwork/ art media





places related to art





people related to art










famous artworks





famous artists





art styles/ periods in art/ movements in art





Change groups and compare lists. Explain any your partner doesn’t understand (in English!)

Discuss the last category as a class.

Are there any of the styles below which you don’t know but can guess from the name?

Abstract expressionism

academic art/ academism

Art deco


Celtic art

Conceptual art





Gothic art

graffiti art

history painting




modernist art/ modernism

naive art/ primitivism



Pop Art




psychedelic art






The arts and crafts movement

Young British Artists (YBAs)

Label the texts from Wikipedia on the next page with names from above.


In these artworks, objects are broken up, analyzed, and re-assembled in an abstracted form—instead of depicting objects from one viewpoint, the artist depicts the subject from a multitude of viewpoints to represent the subject in a greater context. Often the surfaces intersect at seemingly random angles, removing a coherent sense of depth. Its name comes from the squares and other geometric shapes that these lines often produce.


This was the groundwork to abstract art and sound poetry, a starting point for performance art, a prelude to postmodernism, an influence on pop art, a celebration of anti-art to be later embraced for anarcho-political uses in the 1960s and the movement that lay the foundation for Surrealism. Its purpose was to ridicule the meaninglessness of the modern world, and for that reason its name came from a French baby word.


This was the first specifically American movement to achieve international influence and put New York City at the center of the western art world, a role formerly filled by Paris. The movement’s name is derived from the combination of the emotional intensity and self-denial of German art with the anti-figurative aesthetic of the European schools such as Futurism, the Bauhaus and Synthetic Cubism.


This was an artistic and social movement that originated in Italy in the early 20th century. It emphasized and glorified themes associated with contemporary concepts including speed, technology, youth and violence, and objects such as the car, the airplane and the industrial city


This is art that is often characterized by a childlike simplicity in its subject matter and technique. While many artists appear, from their works, to have little or no formal art training, this is often not true.


This is a technique of painting in which small, distinct dots of pure colour are applied in patterns to form an image. Georges Seurat and Paul Signac developed the technique in 1886, branching from Impressionism.


This is an art movement that emerged in the mid 1950s in Britain and in the late 1950s in the United States. It presented a challenge to traditions of fine art by including imagery from mass culture such as advertising, news and comics.


The British group’s intention was to reform art by rejecting what they considered to be the mechanistic approach first adopted by the Mannerist artists who succeeded Raphael and Michelangelo. They believed that the Classical poses and elegant compositions of Raphael in particular had been a corrupting influence on the academic teaching of art.


This refers to the art of Europe from approximately 1000 AD to the rise of the Gothic style in the 13th century. The term was invented by 19th century art historians, especially for the architecture of this period, which retained many basic features of Roman buildings.


This is the name given to a loose group of visual artists who first began to exhibit together in London, in 1988. Many of the artists graduated from the BA Fine Art course at Goldsmiths, in the late-1980s. Many of the artists were initially supported and collected by Charles Saatchi. Leading artists of the group include Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin.


These paintings were generally based on dreams and were often filled with familiar objects which were painted to look strange or mysterious. The artists hoped their odd paintings would make people look at things in a different way and change the way they felt about things. The movement’s name means “more than real”.

Underline the parts in each text that made it possible to guess, e.g. synonyms.

What subjects are mentioned above?

Compare your ideas with the list on the next page.


– Aims/ Beliefs

– Places and times

– Importance

– Influences

– Origin/ Meaning of the name

– Methods/ Techniques

– People

– Subjects

Choose one the artworks below that you feel strongly about. Describe it, guess something about it (style, age, etc), and then give your opinion. Does your partner agree?


PDF version with the pictures: Defining artistic styles

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