The laundry list of “isms” in the history of art has long been a thorn in the side of many an art student. Why do they proliferate, and where do these names come from? It is worth remembering that artistic movements through the 18th century were classified post facto by art historians working in the 19th century, but the names of the first modern art movements – Impressionism, Fauvism
, and Cubism, for example – originated contemporaneously as insults; the Impressionists’ work was “sketchy” and “unfinished,” hence Impressionism; the garish colors and crude brushwork of the Fauves earned them the nick name of “wild beasts” (the word’s meaning in French). But beginning with the first “Manifesto of Futurism
,” written by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti” in 1909, many of these “movements” were in fact self-defined, tight-knight groups. Or there were the attempts of the press to come to terms with the rapid-fire new advances in painting, where every exhibition yielded a new set of stylistic attributes that begged classification. If the Renaissance lasted for two centuries, it is no surprise that the quick succession of new art terms sent many contemporary viewers into a tailspin.