‘isms…. are these shorthand for art historical discussion?

This is a question posed in my course material as I started to read Chapter 19.

One thing I have noticed is those -isms in abundance so what exactly is an ‘ism’?  the dictionary definition is that it is a suffix relating to a belief, attitude or style etc particularly of an artistic or political ideology. This definition is a direct explanation of the prolific use of the suffix throughout the chapter concerned and also the subsequent chapters.

If the dictionary definition is the one to accept then the use of the suffix must surely be a tool to give a name to a movement or belief – for example ‘Expressionism’ or ‘Constructivism’  – if you take the suffix away you are left with an adjective i.e. to express or to construct.  By adding the suffix you turn a simple adjective into a noun and therefore the belief system or movement is described as a whole – it gains a title.

I do not feel this suffix is therefore shorthand purely for art historical discussion but it is a suffix which enables historical artistic periods to be given names that enable a student or reader to identify the individual periods in much the same way the Renaissance or Baroque periods are.

The suffix is identification of the movement or ideology whether political, philosophical or artistic or social.


Merriam Webster. 2016.  Simple definition of ISM [online]. [Date Accessed:  November 2016].  Available from:  http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ism

Oxford University Press. 2016.  Definition of ism in English [online]. [Date Accessed:  November 2016].  Available from: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/_ism

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