Curious about the art historical terms you might encounter?

Art history—and art museums—are filled with all kinds of movements and -isms. It can all get rather complicated. Find out some of some of the main movements that defined the modern era.

Abstract Expressionism incorporated spontaneous gestural marks that were meant to reflect the emotions or state of mind of the artist.

Abstraction did not attempt to reflect reality; it was non-representational.

Art Deco, inspired by modernism, often had geometric shapes and symmetrical patterns.

Art Nouveau incorporated elegant designs inspired by organic shapes drawn from nature.

The Ashcan School was a group who depicted gritty, everyday scenes of urban life in a rapidly industrializing North America.

The Barbizon School was a group of French artists whose work had muted color, loose brushwork, and an overall softness.

Bauhaus was a revolutionary school of art and design in Germany that emphasized function.

Biomorphic Abstraction used organic shapes that were reminiscent of natural elements.

Cubism attempted to show multiple vantage points simultaneously in one image, often resulting in works that seem fragmented.

Dadaism was a reaction against the horrors of World War I. Artists embraced the absurd, often leaving elements up to chance.

Fauvism, named after the french word for ‘wild beasts’, incorporated vibrant colors and dramatic brushwork.

Futurism was inspired by evolving technology, using elements with dynamism and energy.

Impressionism was art that captured a fleeting impression of a scene, especially in terms of the of light and color.

Minimalism was extreme abstraction with intensely simplified shapes.

Modernism explicitly rejected the ideology of realism and embraced experimentalism.

Photorealism was art crafted with painstaking detail to resemble reality.

Pop Art was art that drew inspiration from pop culture and consumerism.

Realism focused on subjects from everyday life, often highlighting the day-to-day reality of the lower classes.

Surrealism celebrated the unconscious mind of the artist with dream-like images and fantastic scenes.

Symbolism advocated for expressing ideas rather than representing the natural world.

Synchronism was abstract art characterized by bright colors inspired by musical composition.

Tonalism was a style of landscape painting that evoked feeling with a neutral color palette.

Urban Realism was a movement that highlighted daily life in urban and small-town America.

The Washington Color School explored the possibilities of color and experimented with new applications of paint.