How to Nod Knowingly

John W. Pinkerton

“I don’t know anything about art, but I know what I like.”  Well, that’s probably true.  It’s probably even a useful truism, but you might want to know a little more about art; you know, terms beyond blue, red, yellow, black, white.  I have always found that knowing the terminology of an area of interest is the first thing we need to learn.  Once we get past the terminology, the rest is easy.

I hope you don’t find this little essay insulting to your intelligence or knowledge; you may know all of this and much, much more.  It’s mainly designed for folks who have little knowledge of but at least have a little interest in art.  I hope with this brief essay to give you a quick lesson in terminology which is common to art since the late Nineteenth Century.  Learning the terminology won’t make you an expert, but it will allow you to nod knowingly in the presence of “experts.”

I’ve tried to keep this mini-lesson brief, to the point, with as little information that I think I can get away with.  The dates given are the dates when the school of art was at its zenith.

Let’s begin with Impressionism: France: 1867-1886.   The term almost exclusively applies to flat art.  Just as it sounds, it presents an impression of reality.  It is not an attempt at realism and is most often applied to landscapes.  (see Claude Monet)  Think of an apple slightly out of focus.


Next is Art Nouveau: France: 1890-1905.  It was widely
applied to all art forms from poster art to architecture.  It uses the organic, especially floral and other plant-inspired motifs as well as highly stylized, flowing curvilinear forms.  In other words, it exaggerates nature.  (see Alphonse Mucha)  Think of an apple shaped more like a pear.

Art Deco: France: 1920-1939.  It was applied to painting, sculpture,
architecture, design, and crafts.  The straight line, the triangle, and the circle are essential to Art Deco.  (see Tamara de Lempicka)  Think of an apple made of a ball bearing with a triangle cut out of it.

Surrealism: France: 1920s-1930s.  It has primarily been applied to paintings.  The surrealist loves incongruity.  It depicts the real distorted or out of place.  (see Salvador Dali)  Think of an apple replacing a person’s nose.

Cubism: France: it began in 1907. 
Cubist artists applied the form to flat art and sculpture breaking up subjects and reassembling them in an abstract form often using more than one point of view.  (see Pablo Picasso)  Think of an apple painted by two six year olds viewing it from different points of view.

Dadaism: France, Germany, and Switzerland: 1916-1920.  It is based on anarchy, a rejection of social order, and a rejection of beauty.  (see Marcel Duchamp)  Think of anything ugly labeled as an apple.

Minimalism: the United States:  50s through the 70s.  It i
s charactrized by simplicity in form and content without emotional content. (see Donald Judd)  Think of an apple represented as a  single red dot on a white canvas.

Action Art: United States: the 50s.  It is the results of usein
g unconventional painting techniques which include splashing, slashing, and dribbling paint.  (see Jackson Pollock)  Think of an apple covered with various colors of paint thrown at it.

Pop Art: United States: it was at its zenith from the 1950s through the 1960s.  It celebrates every day objects such as soup cans, washing powder, pop bottles, and comic strips.  It celebrates the popular, expendable, mass produced, the sexy and glamorous.
(see Andy Warhol)  Thank of an apple with a Dole label on it.

Naive Art (also referred to as Outsider Art): it has always been with us.  Naive Art is art produced by artists who lack professional training which results in bright colors, detailed images, and a lack of perspective.  (see Grandma Moses)  Think of an apple painted by your mother...or me.

Art ain’t rocket science: just remember to nod knowingly.


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