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Ron Sims: Glossary

A collection of terms and names used within the Ron Sims website

Colour Field Painting

Term originally used to describe the work from about 1950 of the Abstract Expressionist painters Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman and Clyfford Still, which was characterised by large areas of a more or less flat single colour. 'The Colour Field Painters' was the title of the chapter dealing with these artists in the American scholar Irvine Sandler's ground-breaking history, Abstract Expressionism, published in 1970.

Around 1960 a more purely abstract form of Colour Field painting emerged in the work of Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland and others. It differed from Abstract Expressionism in that these artists eliminated both the emotional, mythic or religious content of the earlier movement, and the highly personal and painterly or gestural application associated with it.

In 1964 an exhibition of thirty-one artists associated with this development was organised by the critic Clement Greenberg at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. He titled it Post-Painterly Abstraction, a term often also used to describe the work of the 1960 generation and their successors.

In Britain there was a major development of Colour Field painting in the 1960s in the work of Robyn Denny, John Hoyland, Richard Smith and others.


This term came into use in the late 1960s to describe a wide range of types of art that no longer took the form of a conventional art object. In 1973 a pioneering record of the early years of the movement appeared in the form of a book, Six Years, by the American critic Lucy Lippard. The 'six years' were 1966-72. The long subtitle of the book referred to 'so-called conceptual or information or idea art'.

Conceptual artists do not set out to make a painting or a sculpture and then fit their ideas to that existing form. Instead they think beyond the limits of those traditional media, and then work out their concept or idea in whatever materials and whatever form is appropriate. They were thus giving the concept priority over the traditional media. Hence Conceptual art.

From this it follows that conceptual art can be almost anything, but from the late 1960s certain prominent trends appeared such as Performance (or Action) art, Land art, and the Italian movement Arte Povera (poor art). Poor here meant using low-value materials such as twigs, cloth, fat, and all kinds of found objects and scrap.

Some Conceptual art consisted simply of written statements or instructions. Many artists began to use photography, film and video. Conceptual art was initially a movement of the 1960s and 1970s but has been hugely influential since. Artists include Art & Language, Beuys, Broodthaers, Burgin, Craig-Martin, Gilbert and George, Klein, Kosuth, Latham, Long, Manzoni, Smithson.


Happenings were theatrical events created by artists, initially in America, in the late 1950s and early 1960s. They were the forerunners of Performance art and in turn emerged from the theatrical elements of Dada and Surrealism.

The name was first used by the American artist Allan Kaprow in the title of his 1959 work 18 Happenings in 6 Parts which took place on six days, 4-10 October 1959 at the Reuben Gallery, New York.

Happenings typically took place in an environment or installation created within the gallery and involved light, sound, slide projections and an element of spectator participation. Other notable creators of Happenings were Claes Oldenburg, Jim Dine, Red Grooms and Robert Whitman.

Happenings proliferated through the 1960s but gave way to Performance art in which the focus was increasingly on the actions of the artist. A detailed account of early Happenings can be found in Michael Kirby's 1965 book, Happenings. Jim Dine's 1960 suite of prints The Crash relates to the drawings that were props for his 1960 Happening, The Car Crash.

Op Art

Artists have been intrigued by the nature of the perception, and by optical effects and illusions, for many centuries. They have often been a central concern of art, just as much as themes drawn from history or literature. But in the 1950s these preoccupations, allied to new interests in technology and psychology, blossomed into a movement.

Op, or Optical, art typically employs abstract patterns composed with a stark contrast of foreground and background - often in black and white for maximum contrast - to produce effects that confuse and excite the eye. Initially, Op shared the field with Kinetic art - Op artists being drawn to virtual movement, Kinetic artists attracted by the possibility of real motion. Both styles were launched with "Le Mouvement", a group exhibition at Galerie Denise Rene in 1955. It attracted a wide international following, and after it was celebrated with a survey exhibition in 1965, "The Responsive Eye," at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, it caught the public's imagination and led to a craze for Op designs in fashion and the media.

To many, it seemed the perfect style for an age defined by the onward march of science, by advances in computing, aerospace, and television. But art critics were never so supportive of it, attacking its effects as gimmicks, and today it remains tainted by those dismissals.

Pop Art

Name given to British and American versions of art that drew inspiration from sources in popular and commercial culture. These sources included Hollywood movies, advertising, packaging, pop music and comic books. In Europe a similar movement was called Nouveau Réalisme (New Realism).

Pop began in the mid 1950s and reached its peak in the 1960s. It was a revolt against prevailing orthodoxies in art and life and can be seen as one of the first manifestations of Postmodernism. Modernist critics were horrified by the Pop artists' use of such low subject matter and by their apparently uncritical treatment of it. In fact Pop both took art into new areas of subject matter and developed new ways of presenting it in art.

Chief artists in America were Lichtenstein, Oldenburg, Warhol; in Britain, Blake, Caulfield, Hamilton, Hockney, Jones, Self.

Royal Academy Schools

The Royal Academy Schools is an independent establishment that offers the only three-year, full-time postgraduate course in the UK. As the country's oldest art school, it has a strong sense of identity, tradition and community, having developed continuously since its foundation with the Royal Academy in 1768. It is regarded throughout the world as a centre of excellence.