October 09, 2011

Glossary of Art Terms

For the last little while I've been compiling a comprehensive glossary of art terms pulled from wherever possible. This here is not even a draft version, there's still much editing to be done. There are some double and tripple entries that need to be consolidated, and the glossary itself is far from complete. What I'm digging about it is that it contains technical as well as critical and historical terms. From movements to techniques, tools and media, the glossary is getting better and better each day. I'll be including more and more art criticism and theory terms as well as others over the next little while as well as terms from the Japanese art lexicon. In the mean time, here's what I've got thus far. Because of character number limits, here's the glossary from A to K. more to come in a second note right away. I hope you find it useful. Any feedback, corrections and suggestions would be most appreciated!



ABC art: A 1960's art movement and style that attempts to use a minimal number of textures, colors, shapes and lines to create simple three-dimensional structures. Also known as minimalism.

Abstract/abstraction: Abstract means the modification of a (usually) natural form by simplification or distortion. Abstraction is the category of such modified images. (See also non-objective.)

Abstraction & abstract art: At its purest, abstraction uses shapes, colors and lines as elements in and for themselves. Abstraction can also be conceptual, such as when a sentence or subject matter is cut up so as to make its meaning nonsensical or unreal. A characteristic trait of 20th century and Modern Art, many artists working today combine representational and abstract elements while others make works without recognizable people, places, or things.

Abstract Expressionism: art that rejects true visual representation. It has few recognizable images with great emphasis on line, color, shape, texture, value; putting the expression of the feelings or emotions of the artist above all else.

Accent: to stress, single out as important. As applied to art it is the emphasis given to certain elements in a painting that allows them to attract more attention. Details that define an object or piece of art.

Accession: a process of increasing an art collection by addition; something added to what you already have ("the art collection grew through accession").

Acrylic paint: a fast-drying synthetic paint made from acrylic resin. Acrylic is a fast-drying water-based "plastic" paint valued for its versatility and clean up with soap and water.

Aerial perspective: refers to creating a sense of depth in painting by imitating the way the atmosphere makes distant objects appear less distinct and more bluish than they would be if nearby. Also known as atmospheric perspective.

Aerial view: refers to viewing a subject from above, looking downward. Also called "birds-eye view".

Aesthetic: Used to describe something as visually-based, beautiful, or pleasing in appearance and to the senses. Aesthetics is a term developed by philosophers during the 18th and 19th centuries and is also the academic or scientific study of beauty and taste in art.

Alla prima: (pronounced ah-la pree-ma) - Italian term, meaning to paint on canvas or other ground directly, in full, opaque color, without any preliminary drawing or underpainting done first. (Underpainting is often done to establish the larger masses of the composition, or to establish tonal values (lights and darks)).

Allegory: An image or story that refers to a related or overarching concept such as good or evil.

All-over space: A type of space in modern painting characterized by the distribution of forms equally "all over" the picture surface, as opposed to the traditional composing method of having a focal point, or center of interest. In "all-over" space, the forms are seen as occupying the same spatial depth, usually on the picture plane; also, they are seen as possessing the same degree of importance in the painting. (In traditional painting, the focal point (or center of interest) is meant to be the most significant part of the painting, both visually and subject-wise, for instance, a portrait; whereas with "all-over" space, there is no one center of interest visually or subject-wise.) The Action painter, Jackson Pollock, was the first to use all-over (also called infinite) space, in his famous "drip" paintings of the 1940's and '50's, and this spatial concept has influenced most two-dimensional art since that time.

Alter-ego: A fictional self, different from one’s own, in an idealized or transformed version.

Analogous colors: any set of three or five colors that are closely related in hue(s). They are usually adjacent (next) to each other on the color wheel.

Animation: Giving movement to something; the process of making moving cartoons or films that use cartoon imagery.

Aperture: A small, narrow opening through which light is focused. Found in cameras, microscopes, and other devices, apertures are often adjustable so as to increase or decrease the amount of light.

Applied art: the use of the principles and elements of design to create functional pieces of works of art.

Appropriation: The act of borrowing imagery or forms to create something new.

Approximate symmetry: the use of forms which are similar on either side of a central axis. They may give a feeling of the exactness or equal relationship but ar sufficiently varied to prevent visual monotony.

Architecture: The art of designing and constructing buildings, architecture can also refer to the building or space that an artist is making a work in relation to, such as with installation art. Architecture has close ties to the visual arts, and many artists' works are very sensitive to the ways in which their art interacts with buildings and exhibition spaces.

Art: the completed work of an artist which is the expression of creativity or imagination, or both that portrays a mood, feeling or tells a story; works of art collectively.

Art brut: French for "raw art", the art of children and outsiders (naive artists and the mentally ill); actually, anyone not producing art for profit or recognition.

Art deco: a style of design and decoration popular in the 1920's and 1930's characterized by designs that are geometric and use highly intense colors, to reflect the rise of commerce, industry and mass production.

Art nouveau: a decorative art movement that emerged in the late nineteenth century; art characterized by dense asymmetrical ornamentation in sinuous forms, it is often symbolic and of an erotic nature.

Artist: a practitioner in the arts, generally recognized as a professional by critics and peers.

Artifact: An object produced or shaped by human craft, especially a rudimentary art form or object, as in the products of prehistoric workmanship. different and yet share the same commitment to questioning artistic conventions.

Assemblage: (pronounced as-sem-blidge) - A type of modern sculpture consisting of combining multiple objects or forms, often 'found' objects. (A found object is one that the artist comes upon and uses, as is or modified, in an artwork.) The most well known assemblages are those made by Robert Rauschenberg in the 1950's and '60's; for example, one assemblage consisted of a stuffed goat with an automobile tire encircling its stomach, mounted on a painted base. The objects are combined for their visual (sculptural) properties, as well as for their expressive properties.

Asymmetrical balance: placement of non-identical forms to either side of a balancing point in such a way that the two sides seem to be of the same visual weight.

Atmospheric: A quality of two-dimensional images which has to do more with space than with volume; an 'airiness,.' seen more in contemporary than traditional images. Also refers to atmospheric perspective, which is a less technical type of perspective, using faded and lighter colors to denote far distance in landscapes.

Atmospheric perspective: Atmospheric, or aerial, perspective, is a less technical type of perspective, which consists of a gradual decrease in intensity of local color, and less contrast of light and dark, as space recedes into the far distance in a landscape painting or drawing. Often, this far distance will also be represented by a light, cool, bluish-gray. (See also perspective.). A technique used by painters for representing three-dimensional space on a flat two-dimensional surface by creating the illusion of depth, or recession within a painting or drawing. Atmospheric perspective suggests that objects closer to the viewer are sharper in detail, color intensity, and value contrast than those farther away. As objects move closer to the horizon they gradually fade to a bluish gray and details blur, imitating the way distant objects appear to the human eye. Also called aerial perspective.

Automatic (writing): Automatic writing was a technique first used by the Dada and Surrealist artists in the early 20th century, to tap into their subconscious to write poetry (Freud's ideas on the subconscious had been introduced in the early part of the 20th century). They would try to connect with their subconscious to access a 'stream of consciousness,' or more 'free' type of poetry. Visual artists in these movements also tried to draw or paint "automatically," by allowing their subconscious to play a large part in the creative process. The Abstract Expressionists of the 1940's and '50's also used this method, for example, Jackson Pollock's "drip" paintings.


Balance: a feeling of equality in weight, attention, or attraction of the various elements within a composition as a means of accomplishing unity.

Beat generation: A group of American youth, writers and artists in the 1950s who experimented with communal living, a nomadic lifestyle, and Eastern philosophy. Often associated with jazz music, the improvisational works by authors such as Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, and Allen Ginsberg challenged traditional forms of literature.

Birds-eye view: seeing from a point of view from an altitude or from a distance; a comprehensive view in a downward direction; also called an "aerial view".
Bitmap image: a pixel-based image (.BMP) with one bit of color information per pixel, also known as a bitmapped image. The only colors displayed in a bitmapped image are black and white. Its quality decreases when the image is enlarged.

Biomorphic: An attribute related to organic, since it describes images derived from biological or natural forms; it was a term frequently used in early- to mid-20th century art. The art of Miro, Arp and Calder contains examples of these simplified organic forms.

Bright brush: refers to a brush that has the same shape as a "flat" however the hairs are not as long as those on the flat brush.

Bristol board: a high quality heavy weight drawing paper, sometimes made with cotton fiber prepared or glued together, usually with a caliper thickness of 0.006" and up, used for many types of two-dimensional artwork, including lettering.

Broken color: Broken color was first used by Manet and the Impressionists in 19th century French painting, where color was applied in small "dabs," as opposed to the traditional method of smoothly blending colors and values (lights and darks) together. This method results in more of a "patchwork" effect, where the dabs render the facets of light on forms, and/or the planes of the forms' volume, by means of color and value. Broken color has continued to be used in much modern and contemporary painting.

Brush: a tool used to apply paints and inks to a surface, consisting of hairs, or bristles held in place by a ferrule attached to a handle. The quality of the hair determines the brush’s quality and cost. Each type of brush has a specific purpose, and different fibers are used for different mediums.

Brushstroke: The mark left by a loaded (filled) brush on a surface. Brushstrokes can be distinguished by their direction, thickness, TEXTURE, and quality. Some artists purposefully obscure individual brushstrokes to achieve a smooth surface. Other artists make their brushstrokes obvious to reveal the process of painting or to express movement or emotion.

Brushwork: the distinctive technique in which an artist uses to apply paint with a brush onto a medium, such as canvas.

Byzantine: A religious style of art developed in the eastern part of the late Roman Empire. Colorful and ornate, Byzantine art is characterized by its use of mosaic and by its flat, graphic style. Before the aesthetic and scientific advances of the Italian Renaissance, Byzantine paintings have shallow perspective and rely heavily on symbols and iconography to convey a story or meaning.


Calligraphy/calligraphic: Calligraphy is beautiful personal handwriting, which has also been practiced in the Orient and Near East for many centuries. The term calligraphic is also applied to drawing or painting which contains brushstrokes reminiscent of calligraphy. The art of handwriting, or letters formed by hand.

Camera obscura: A system of lenses and mirrors developed from the 16th to the 17th centuries, which functioned as a primitive camera for artists. With the camera obscura, painters could project the scene in front of them onto their painting surface, as a preliminary drawing. Vermeer, among others, is thought to have used the camera obscura.

Canvas: a heavy, closely woven fabric; an oil painting on canvas fabric; the support used for an acrylic or oil painting that is typically made of linen or cotton, stretched very tightly and tacked onto a wooden frame. Linen is considered far superior to the heavy cotton for a canvas.

Caricature: A representation of a person or thing that exaggerates their most striking or characteristic features. Famous people and political figures are often drawn as caricatures by cartoonists to humorous ends. Caricatures, when thought of as an accurate likeness, are transformed into stereotypes.

Casting: A sculptural process, done by pouring a liquid material into a mold and allowing it to cool or harden. Casting is used to make a replica of an object or to make groups of identical objects. Many mass-produced commercial objects, such as toys and dinnerware, are casts.

Center of interest: an emphasized are of the composition.

Ceramics: the art of making objects of clay and firing them in a kiln. Wares of earthenware and porcelain, as well as sculpture are made by ceramists. Enamel is also a ceramic technique. Ceramic materials may be decorated with slip, engobe, or glaze, applied by a number of techniques, including resist, mishima, and sanggam. Pots made can be made by the coil, slab, some other manual technique, or on a potter's wheel.

Charcoal: Compressed burned wood used for drawing.

Cinematography: The art of photographing and lighting films. Cinematography can also refer to the style or genre of a movie or motion picture, such as black-and-white cinematography or documentary cinematography.

Chiaroscuro: (pronounced kyar-oh-scoor-oh) - Italian term for light and dark, referring to the modeling of form by the use of light and shade.

Classical art: Referring to the art of ancient Greece and Rome (300–400 BCE) and characterized by its emphasis on balance, proportion, and harmony.

Collaboration: A working arrangement between an artist and another person, group, or institution. Present throughout art history, collaborations are considered unusual today when artists tend to be valued for their individual voice and contribution to society. Some artists even form long-term working partnerships with other artists—these are seen as distinct from collaborations which are often temporary.

Collage: (pronounced col-laj) - French word for cut and pasted scraps of materials, such as paper, cardboard, chair caning, playing cards, etc., to a painting or drawing surface; sometimes also combined with painting or drawing. The process or product of affixing paper or objects to a two-dimensional surface.

Colonialism: The practice of ruling over another country for the purpose of developing trade, or enforcing one's own culture and values on people from a different culture.

Color: a visual attribute of things that results from the light they emit or transmit or reflect; the visual response to the wavelengths of light, identified as red, blue, green, etc.; primary and secondary colors; warm, cool, and neutral colors, color value; hue; and intensity.

Color field painting: A style of painting begun in the 1950's to '70's, characterized by small or large abstracted areas of color. Mark Rothko is one of the earliest and best known color field painters; Morris Louis, Jules Olitski and Helen Frankenthaler are other examples.

Color permanence: refers to a pigment's lasting power. Tubes and other containers of paint are sometimes labeled with a code indicating a color's degree of permanence. AA, Highest; A, Standard; C,Less than permanent, though fairly durable; C, Fugitive.

Color separation: A traditional photographic process of separating artwork into component films of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black in preparation for printing to ultimately create a full-color printed product. Recent computer innovations have obviated the need for separated film negatives in certain applications.

Color wheel: a round diagram that shows the placement of colors in relationship to each other. It is from the color wheel that “color schemes” are defined.

Commercial art: refers to art that is made for the purposes of commerce. The term is somewhat obsolete and is currently being replaced in many colleges with the term "Visual Communication."

Commemoration: To remember or mark a particular event or person from the past through ceremony or memorial.

Commission: refers to the act of hiring someone to execute a certain work of art or set of artworks.

Complementary colors: two colors directly opposite one another on the color wheel. When placed next to one another, complementary colors are intensified and often appear to vibrate. When mixed, brown or gray is created. Red and green, blue and orange, and yellow and violet have the greatest degree of contrast. Red-violet and yellow-green, red-orange and blue-green, and yellow-orange and blue-violet are also complementary colors. Colors which are located opposite one another on the color wheel (e.g., red and green, yellow and purple, blue and orange); colors which when mixed together will (in color theory) produce a neutral color (a color which is neither warm nor cool). In the case of the three primary colors (red, yellow and blue), the complementary of one primary will be the mixture of the other two primaries (complementary of red will be a mixture of yellow and blue, or green). When placed next to one another, complementary colors will make one another appear much more intense, sometimes in an "eye-popping" sense, which was utilized by Op artists of the 1960's to create optical effects. Also in color theory, an object's primary color has its complementary color in its shadows (e.g., the shadows on and around a painted yellow apple will contain some purple).

Composition: The process of arranging the forms of two- and three-dimensional visual art into a unified whole, by means of elements and principles of design, such as line, shape, color, balance, contrast, space, etc., for purposes of formal clarity and artistic expression. The arrangement of an artwork's formal elements. The arrangement of the design elements within the design area; the ordering of visual and emotional experience to give unity and consistency to a work of art and to allow the observer to comprehend its meaning.

Computer graphics: refers to visual images made with the assistance of computers. Computer graphics are often made with software called drawing, painting, illustrating and photographic programs or applications.

Conception/execution: Conception is the birth process of an artistic idea, from the initial creative impulse through aesthetic refinement, problem-solving, and visualization/realization. Execution is the second half of the creative process: the actual carrying out of the idea, in terms of method and materials, which often involves compromises and alterations of the initial conception. Artists often see the initial conception as the guiding force for their aesthetic decisions, in terms of formal elements of design, and in terms of the expressive content desired. Contemporary conceptual artists place more emphasis on the first part of the creative process; traditional artists are somewhat more concerned with the techniques and methods involved in producing the artwork. The painter Henri Matisse advised, in his essay On Painting, that artists should keep their initial impulse in the front of their minds when working on a painting, to make the best expressive and formal decisions.

Conceptual: Pertaining to the process involved in the initial stages of art-making (i.e., the initial conception, or idea). Also, the name of a contemporary art movement which is mainly concerned with this process of conceiving of and developing the initial idea, as opposed to the carrying-out of the idea into concrete form. I think that conceptual artists also often think of the idea as the real work of art, rather than its concrete manifestation. It is possible for a conceptual art "piece" to not even be a tangible object - it may be an event or a process, which can't be seen itself, but the results of the event or process may be displayed, in text or photographs, for instance. Conceptual art tends to be created across artistic categories - for instance, mixing the mediums of photography, text, sound, sculpture, etc. My feeling about a lot of the conceptual work I have seen is that it tends to be an experiential art, rather than the traditional 'passive' experience of viewing art on a wall or a pedestal. Perhaps because our age and time demand a more interactive experience; or because art had by the late 20th century become a 'commodity,' to be bought and sold like any other commodity, and artists felt a need to avoid this commodification. Two examples come to mind: 1) Maya Lin's memorial to Vietnam veterans in Washington, DC. The traditional bronze statue of soldiers would not have been nearly as effective as a memorial to Vietnam veterans; as it is, it has become a powerful catharsis for Vietnam vets, and also for the two war-era factions - the hawks and the doves - those who protested the war in the 1960's, and those who supported the Vietnam war. 2) In the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, there is a large collection of shoes which belonged to Nazi concentration camp victims. Though this may not be officially a conceptual artwork, it has the characteristics of one, and perhaps was influenced by conceptual art. A photograph on the wall of such belongings would be an adequate representation of the horror of that time. But a huge pile of shoes in a room, to be walked through, to see the different types of shoes which resemble their former owners in personality and age, is to really experience the powerful emotions associated with such horror.

Conceptual art: Works of art in which the idea is equally if not more important than the finished product. Conceptual art can take many forms, from photographs to texts to videos, while sometimes there is no object at all. Emphasizing the ways things are made more than how they look, conceptual art often raises questions about what a work of art can be. Conceptual art is also often difficult to collect or preserve as it can be the artist's own experience that is the work of art.

Consumer society: A society in which mass-produced goods are made attractive and are advertised through mass-communication and media. People who participate in a consumer society by purchasing goods are known as consumers.

Consumption: The intake of objects, images, and popular ideas into one's home, body, or daily life. Be it in the form of food, furniture, art objects, or mass media advertising, consumption is rooted in the sale and purchase of goods in a modern, consumer society like the United States. Involving stuff in the world, from products to slogans, artists whose work deals with consumption are often concerned with what a thing is, how it looks, and how it came into existence.

Contemporary art: The term contemporary describes the most recent art, in this case as distinguished from modern art, which is generally considered to have lost its dominance in the mid-1950's. Art made after 1970 or works of art made by living artists. A loose term that at times overlaps with Modern Art, many museums specialize in showing art by living artists in isolation while other institutions show contemporary art along with works dating back thousands of years. Unlike Modern Art, contemporary art is not defined by a succession of periods, schools, or styles.

Content: As opposed to subject matter, content is the "meaning" of the artwork, e.g., in Moby Dick, the subject matter is a man versus a whale; the content is a complex system of symbols, metaphors, etc. describing man's existence and nature. The subject matter, concepts, or ideas associated with a work of art. A work's content is shaped by the artist's intentions, the context of its presentation, and by the experiences, thoughts, and reactions of the viewer.

Context: The location, information, or time-frame that informs how a work of art is viewed and what it means. Works of art often respond to a particular space or cultural climate. If the context for a work of art is changed or recontextualized, the way in which the work is understood may change as well.

Contour: The outer edge of forms which implies three dimensions, in contrast to an outline, which is a boundary of two-dimensional, flat form. Also, a type of line drawing which captures this three-dimensional outer edge, with its fullness and recession of form.

Contrapposto: (pronounced con-tra-pos-to) - Italian term, meaning to represent freedom of movement within a figure, as in ancient Greek sculpture, the parts being in asymmetrical relationship to one another, usually where the hips and legs twist in one direction, and the chest and shoulders in another.

Contrast: the difference between elements or the opposition to various elements.

Cool colors: In color theory, colors are described as either warm, cool, or neutral. A cool color generally is one which contains a large amount of blue, as opposed to a warm color, which will contain more yellow. In theory, cool colors seem to recede in space, as the distant mountains or hills tend to appear light bluish-gray, and the closer ones will be more green or brown (warmer). In landscape paintings, artists often paint the distant hills in this pale blue color; and it is generally thought that cool colors will recede into space in any painting. However, color is a complex element, and colors often misbehave - it is usually best to go on a case-by-case basis, because colors are influenced greatly by what colors they are next to, appearing "warm" in one setting, and "cool" in another. (I recommend reading the abbreviated version of The Interaction of Color, by Josef Albers, for his ideas and exercises.)

Cropping: the cutting out of extraneous parts of an image, usually a photograph; excluding part of a photo or illustration to show only the portion desired or to fit a given space requirement.

Cross-hatching: The practice of overlapping parallel sets of lines in drawing to indicate lights and darks, or shading. (Hatching is one set of parallel lines, cross-hatching is one set going in one direction, with another overlapped set going in a different, often perpendicular, direction.)

Cubism: art that uses two-dimensional geometric shapes to depict three-dimensional organic forms; a style of painting created by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque in the early 20th century whereby the artist breaks down the natural forms of the subjects into geometric shapes and creates a new kind of pictorial space.

Culture: The rarely questioned system of beliefs, values and practices that form one's life. Cultures are often identified by national borders, ethnicity, and religion—while some cultures cross borders, ethnicities and organized faiths. A culture which involves a select portion of a population and which is organized around a particular interest (such as cars, graffiti, or music) is known as a subculture.

Curator: A person who is responsible for the collection, care, research, and exhibition of art or artifacts.

CMYK: the abbreviation for cyan (C), magenta (M), yellow (Y) and black (K). It is the colors used in a four color printing process.


Decorative arts: collective term for such art forms as ceramics, enamels, furniture, glass, ivory, metalwork and textiles, especially when they take forms used as interior decoration.

Decoupage: the Victorian craft of cutting out motifs from paper gluing them to a surface and covering with as many layers of varnish as is required to give a completely smooth finish.

Depth of field: in photography, the area in front of and behind the focused point that is sharp. A shallow depth of field is used in portraits to provide a soft backdrop, whilst a greater depth of field is useful for landscapes to ensure everything from the foreground to the background is in focus. Shorter (wide angle) lenses and smaller apertures increase depth of field.

Design: Relating to popular forms of art including architecture, books, the internet, furniture, and mass media. Today, things that are designed are often mechanically produced or made with the help of a computer. The arrangement of the design elements to create a single effect. The organization or composition of a work; the skilled arrangement of its parts. An effective design is one in which the elements of art and principles of design have been combined to achieve an overall sense of unity.

Designing: the process of relating the elements whether they are similar or contrasting and visually arranging an interesting unity with them using the design principles.

Diptych: Two separate paintings which are attached by hinges or other means, displayed as one artwork.

Directional movement: A principle of visual movement in artworks, which can be carried by line, dots, marks, shapes, patterns, color, and other compositional elements. Directional movement in paintings or sculptures directs the viewer's eye around or through the artwork, in a way which the artist consciously or unconsciously determines. One important function is to keep the viewer's eye from "leaving" the work, and instead cause the viewer to follow an inventive (interesting) path within the work, or exit in one area, only to be brought back in another area.

Displacement: The act or feeling of being removed or alienated from a place or people.

Dominance: the emphasis placed on a particular area or characteristic of a work, with other areas or aspects given subordinate or supporting roles.

Double exposure: a technique used in film and photography to expose two images onto one negative, or sheet of photographic paper.

Double loading: refers to loading a brush with two colors side by side. This is a technique typical of tole and other kinds of decorative painting. Also known as "side loading".

Drawing: Pencil, pen, ink, charcoal or other similar mediums on paper or other support, tending toward a linear quality rather than mass, and also with a tendency toward black-and-white, rather than color (one exception being pastel).


Earthwork - A type of contemporary art begun in the 1960's and '70's, which uses the landscape, or environment, as its medium, either by using natural forms as the actual work of art, or by enhancing natural forms with manmade materials. Two well-known earthwork artists are the husband and wife team of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, and Robert Smithson. Some of these earthworks can be very large, measured in miles. The origin of earth art may have been the environment-conscious '60's and '70's, but earthworks also refer back to ancient earthworks, such as the large Native American and other burial mounds. Christo' and Jeanne-Claude's work is various, usually temporary and site-specific, and ranges from "wrapping" an island or a building (such as the former German Reichstag headquarters), to erecting a very high "curtain" of fabric over miles of uninhabited (and inhabited) land. They work with an army of workers to erect these works, and also work with the surrounding community to get permission and establish guidelines of what they can and cannot do, during which meetings they explain their artistic purposes to community members, and often the residents evolve from their initial reluctance to give permission, to becoming enthusiastic supporters. It is a very interesting process to watch, and I think is another example of how some contemporary art tries to enlist the participation of the public in the art-making process, or at the very least to familiarize the public with artistic motivations. In Christo and Jeanne-Claude's work, I see a kind-of Quixotic whimsy - when they wrapped the former Reichstag headquarters building in Germany, it seemed to me to be a poetic expression of victory over the former Nazi Third Reich tyranny.

Easel: an upright support (generally a tripod) used for displaying something. It is most often used to hold up an artist's canvas while the painter is working or to hold a completed painting for exhibition.

The relationship between organisms and their environment, ecology is also concerned with the relationship between people and nature.

Economy: the deletion of non-essential details to reveal the essence of a form.

Egg tempera: A medium created by mixing pure, ground pigments with egg yolk. This was a very common medium before the invention of oil paints.

Elements of design: those qualities of a design that can be seen and worked with independently of its figurative content. They include line, form, value, texture, color, and shape.

Emphasis: the stress placed on a single area of a work or a unifying visual theme.
encaustic - The process of using pigments dissolved in hot wax as a medium for painting; mostly used long ago, but there are some contemporary artists who have used encaustic, such as Jasper Johns.

Engraving - A general term used to describe traditional printing processes, such as etching, aquatint, drypoint, etc., where an image is made by the use of metal plates and engraving tools, and printed, usually through a printing press. The image can be incised into the plate, or drawn with fluid and then dipped in acid to etch the uncovered areas. These processes are still used by artists, but of course have been supplanted by more modern processes for general printing purposes.

En plein air: French for "in open air," used to describe paintings that have been executed outdoors, rather than in the studio.

Etching: an impression made from an etched plate; an intaglio process in which an image is scratched through an acid-resistant coating on a metal plate. The plate is then dipped in acid which eats into the exposed surface.

A system of morals or judgments which govern one's behavior, ethics often intersect with a work of art or the process of its making. Artists often feel that they have an ethical responsibility to voice political concerns or make changes to society.

Exhibition - A public showing of a piece or a collection of objects. Also called an exhibit.

Expressionistic - A characteristic of some art, generally since the mid-19th century, leaning toward the expression of emotion over objective description. James Ensor, Edvard Munch and Vincent Van Gogh were perhaps the first expressionists, though there was not really a movement per se, but individual artists. At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, expressionism became widely espoused, particularly by German and Austrian artists, such as Emil Nolde, Kirchner, Gustav Klimt, and others. Though there is variation, certain characteristics predominate: bright, even garish, color; harsh contrasts of black and white (as in woodcuts); exaggeration of form; and distortion or elongation of figures. There are still many artists whose work has expressionistic tendencies; in the 1980's there was a period of art called Neo-Expressionist. (The word 'neo' before an art label means that there is a reprise of work similar to the original movement.)

Expressionism: Post-World War I artistic movement, of German origin, that emphasized the expression of inner experience rather than solely realistic portrayal, seeking to depict not objective reality but the subjective emotions and responses that objects and events arouse in the artist.


Façade: An artificial or deceptive appearance or the front or public facing side of a building.

Ferrule: refers to the metal or plastic device that that aligns and anchors paintbrush bristles or hairs in an adhesive. The ferrule is attached to the handle by crimping or by binding wires.

Figurative - A term used to describe art which is based on the figure, usually in realistic or semi-realistic terms; also loosely used to describe an artist who paints or sculpts representationally, as opposed to painting or sculpting in an abstract or non-objective manner.

Figure/ground - The relationship of the picture surface (ground) to the images on the picture surface (figure). The figure is the space occupied by forms (e.g., a person in a portrait) (also known as the 'positive' space); the ground is the "empty" or unoccupied space around the person in the portrait (also known as the 'negative' space) (The ground is also commonly called the 'background.') In art since the early 20th century, this division of the picture plane has been seriously challenged, to the point where there is not a distinction of figure/ground, but rather one continuous surface and space, with no 'positive' or 'negative' space, just one interwoven space.

Filbert: brushes used to create soft edges, blend colors, and has the shape of a flower petal or leaf.

Filigree: a technique used to produce fine intricate patterns in metal. Often used for metal beads, clasps, and bead caps.

Fine art: art created for purely aesthetic expression, communication, or contemplation. Painting and sculpture are the best known of the fine arts.

Fixative: a liquid, similar to varnish, which is usually sprayed over a finished piece of artwork to better preserve it and prevent smudging. Artwork media requiring fixative include drawings done in pencil, charcoal, and pastel.

Flat brush: a brush with a flat shaped end like a screwdriver.

Fluxus: Implying flow or change, the term fluxus was adopted by a group of artists, musicians, and poets in the 1960's to describe a radical attitude and philosophy for producing and exhibiting art. Often presented in non-traditional settings, Fluxus forms included impromptu performances, mail art, and street spectacles.

Foam core: a strong, stiff, resilient, and lightweight board of polystyrene laminated with paper on both of its sides used as backing for art prints before framing. Also referred to as "foam board".

Focal point: In two-dimensional images, the center of interest visually and/or subject-wise; tends to be used more in traditional, representational art than in modern and contemporary art, where the picture surface tends to have more of an overall importance, rather than one important area. A specific area, element or principle that dominates a work of art; the area in a work which the eye is most compellingly drawn. The viewer's eye is usually drawn there first.

Folk art: Art of people who have had no formal, academic training, but whose works are part of an established tradition of style and craftsmanship.

Font: a complete set of characters in a particular size and style of type. This includes the letter set, the number set, and all of the special character and diacritical marks you get by pressing the shift, option, or command/control keys.

Fontography: The field of font design. A person who designs fonts is a "fontographer".

Foreshortening: Perspective applied to a single object in an image, for a three-dimensional effect, which often results in distortion with possible emotional overtones. It is used particularly with the human figure, in Renaissance and Mannerist art. A form of perspective where the nearest parts of an object or form are enlarged so that the rest of the form appears to go back in space; To shorten an object to make it look as if it extends backwards into space.

Form: The shape and structure of a work of art, formal elements include color, shape, pattern, and duration. Many artists strive for a relationship between form and content, so that the way something is made fits with what the artist intends the work to be about or how it will be seen. The volume and shape of a three-dimensional work, perhaps including unfilled areas that are integral to the work as a whole.

Formal: A term used by artists to describe the visual elements of a work of art, such as composition, space, color, etc., i.e., formal elements.

Found object: First used in the early years of the 20th century (in the Dadaist movement), a found object is any object that an artist comes upon, and uses in an artwork, or as the artwork itself. Marcel Duchamp called these works 'readymades.' He exhibited a urinal in the Society of Independent Artists exhibition in New York in 1917, under the signature 'R Mutt'; Dada was the precursor to Surrealism, and was an 'anti-art' movement after World War I, which sought to avoid order and rationality in art. Dada also questioned the very meaning of art: what is art? who decides if an object is art? is it art because an artist places it in a museum and calls it art? etc. Later, Picasso made a bull's head from found objects: the seat and handle bars of a bicycle.

Fractal: a mathematically generated pattern that is reproducible at any magnification or reduction. A geometric pattern that is repeated at ever smaller scales to produce irregular shapes and/or surfaces that cannot be represented by classical geometry.

Frame: something made to enclose a picture or a mirror; enclose in a frame, as of a picture.

Fresco: Wall painting in water-based paint on moist plaster, mostly from the 14th to the 16th centuries; used mostly before the Renaissance produced oil paint as a more easily handled medium. The technique of blending wet plaster with water based paint. As the plaster dries it becomes a lasting surface base. The term applies to the technique as well as the painting itself.

Frottage: (pronounced fro-taj) - French term, meaning to rub a crayon or other tool onto paper or other material, which is placed onto a textured surface, in order to create the texture of that surface on the paper. The Surrealist artist Max Ernst used this technique in some of his collages.

Fugitive colors: Short-lived pigments capable of fading or changing, especially with exposure to light, to atmospheric pollution, or when mixed with certain substances.


Gallery: a room or series of rooms where works of art are exhibited.

Genre: (pronounced jahn-re) - A type of painting representing scenes of everyday life for its own sake, popular from the 17th century to the 19th century. A means of categorizing works of art based on style, form, and subject matter. History painting and landscape are genres of painting; horror and romantic comedy are genres of film; detective and science fiction are genres of literature.

Gesso: An undercoating medium used on the canvas or other painting surface before painting, to prime the canvas; usually a white, chalky, thick liquid. In the mid-20th century, gesso became available already commercially prepared; before this time, artists often mixed their own gesso mixture.

Gesture/gestural: A description of figural movement; the embodiment of the essence of a figure. The concept of gesture in drawing is twofold: it describes the action of a figure; and it embodies the intangible "essence" of a figure or object. The action line of a figure is often a graphic undulating line, which follows the movement of the entire body of the figure being drawn or painted. The term gestural is an extension of this idea to describe a type of painting which is characterized by brushstrokes with a gestural quality, that is, flowing, curved, undulating lines or forms. Gestural composition means a type of composition based on gestural directional movements. The work of Arshile Gorky, the Abstract Expressionist, is an example of gestural painting, which often connotes a spiritual or emotional content.

Grille/Giclée: (pronounced "zee-clay") a printmaking process usually on an IRIS inkjet printer to make reproductions of a photograph of a painting; the printer can produce a very wide range of colors resulting in prints that are of very high quality.

GIF: an acronym for "Graphic Interchange Format", an image format type generated specifically for computer use. Its resolution is usually very low (72 dpi, or that of your computer screen), making it undesirable for printing purposes.

Gild the lily: A phrase meaning to add unnecessary ornamentation to something already beautiful.

Gilding: the application of a gold finish. It can be achieved by applying gold leaf, or by using metallic powders.

Glaze/glazing: A glaze is a thin layer of translucent oil paint applied to all or part of a painting, to modify the tone or color underneath. Glazing is the process of using this technique. a thin layer of translucent acrylic or oil paint applied to all or part of a painting, to modify the tone or color underneath. Glazing is the process of using this technique.

Gold leaf: an extremely thin tissue of gold used for gilding.

Golden section: A mathematical ratio first used by the Greeks in their architecture, and developed further in the Renaissance, which was said to be in tune with divine proportion and the harmony of the universe. It has been used by artists to divide the picture surface (as a compositional device); among others, Seurat and Mondrian are thought to have used this ratio to create compositions.

Gouache: a type of watercolor paint, made heavier and more opaque by the addition of a white pigment (chalk, Chinese white, etc.) in a gum arabic mixture. This results in a stronger color than ordinary watercolor.

Graffiti: Art made on a public surface, such as a building or a street sign, that is not owned by the artist. Dating back to ancient Egypt, graffiti today is often made with spray paint and marker. Seen by some as vandalism, others view graffiti as an important expression of opinions.

Graphic/graphic arts: Two-dimensional art forms such as drawing, engraving, etching and illustration in their various forms.A description applied to flat, two-dimensional images or primarily graphic media such as fonts, comic books, and cartoons. The graphic arts (drawing and engraving) are said to depend for their effect on drawing, as opposed to color. The term graphic describes drawings or prints which lean more toward drawing (line) than color (mass). I think that this division is less pertinent in modern and contemporary art than in traditional art or art of the past.

Graphic design: The applied art of arranging image and text to communicate a message. It may be applied in any media, such as print, digital media, motion pictures, animation, product decoration, packaging, and signs. Graphic design as a practice can be traced back to the origin of the written word, but only in the late 19th century did it become identified as a separate entity.

Graphite: A soft, black, lustrous mineral made of carbon used in lead pencils, paints, crucibles, and as a lubricant.

Grayscale: refers to the range of gray tones between black and white.

Grid: Refers to a series of crossed lines that meet to form a boxed pattern used in the predetermined placement of photographs and graphic elements on a page. A series of non printing horizontal and vertical rules assist in creating and maintaining a grid for page layout. A formal visual vehicle much in currency during 20th century art, the grid is a geometric construct of squares or rectangles that form the underlying or actual structure of some two-dimensional modern art. Though the meaning of the grid to artists is hard to describe in words, it is more than just a visual armature. In a way, it can be said to represent the modern and postmodern stance of the 20th century; and often seems to inspire almost a reverence, as a symbol of aesthetic purity and integrity, particularly of modernism. Many artists have used the grid; two who come to mind are Jasper Johns (paintings) and Louise Nevelson (sculpture).

Grid enlarging: the process of using a grid to enlarge an image; for copying very precisely, another image, on the same or a different scale, usually larger; used in scaling an image by drawing.

Grisaille: (pronounced gri-zale) - Monochrome painting generally employing shades of gray executed in a black pigment and an inert white pigment in oil, gouache or tempera; a stained glass window incorporating muted tones as opposed to bright colors. Painting entirely in monochrome (tones of one color), in a series of grays. Strictly speaking, monochrome is in any one color, such as red, blue or black; grisaille means in neutral grays only (French term). Grisaille may be used for its own sake as decoration, or may be the first stage in building up an oil painting (to establish the tonal range of the image). Grisaille was also formerly used as a model for an engraver to work from.

Guild: During the Middle Ages, tradesmen formed guilds for economic, social and religious purposes; there were often several trades in one guild. Originally, painters were in the same guild as physicians and apothecaries (pharmacists), in Florence, Italy. All painters had to join the guilds, unless they were in the personal service of a ruling prince. Only a Master could set up a studio in business, take pupils and employ journeymen. To become a Master, a painter had to submit a 'master-piece' to the guild as proof of competence. Guild officers supervised the number of apprentices, work conditions, and also materials (they bought in bulk, chose panels to work on). They had a trade union mentality, which centered on uniformity of performance; this led to painters like Michelangelo and da Vinci insisting on the freedom and originality of the artist, with the status of a professional and scholar/gentleman (an inspired being, rather than an honest tradesman). This new attitude toward artists led to the decline of the guilds, and the use of academies, which took over the teaching of art.


Halftone: The reproduction of a continuous tone original, such as a photograph, in which detail and tone value are represented by a series of evenly spaced dots of varying size and shape.

Harmony: the unity of all the visual elements of a composition achieved by the repetition of the same characteristics or those which are similar in nature.

Hatching: A technique used in drawing to indicate light and shade, or form, consisting of parallel lines of varying width, darkness and spacing. Cross-hatching is simply two or more overlapping sets of these parallel sets of lines, at a perpendicular or other angle to the first set of lines.

History painting: Large-scale painting which represents either historical events or scenes from legend and literature. Considered the highest form of art in the 19th century, history paintings are generally grand in execution. Much of Modern Art has been a reaction against history painting, while some contemporary artists have found ways to incorporate the genre into their work.

Horizon line: in a painting, a level line where land or water ends and the sky begins. Vanishing points, where two parallel lines appear to converge, are typically located on this line. A horizon line is used to attain the perspective of depth.

Horizontal balance: the components that are balanced left and right of a central axis.

Hue: Referring to the actual color of a form or object, e.g., a red car.


Icon: an artistic visual representation or symbol of anything considered holy and divine, such as God, saints or deities. An icon could be a painting (including relief painting), sculpture, or mosaic. Also refers to a little picture on a computer screen that represents the various functions of the computer. Generally the user clicks on an icon to start an application or function.

iconography: Symbols and images that have a particular meaning, either learned or universal. Knowledge of the meanings to be attached to pictorial representations; perhaps the visual equivalent of symbols or metaphors in literature. An artist may be aware of his/her iconography and use it consciously; probably just as often, the iconography is used in a semi-conscious way. An artist will intuitively choose images because of meanings they have for him/her, and over the course of time a pattern can often be found, as a logical progression or repeating images. An artist can be said to have a personal iconography, which is often noted and analyzed by others, including art historians, critics, writers and the public. Often, the meanings seen in an artist's work by others differs, somewhat or considerably, from what the artist has intended.

Ideal art: Art which aims to be the true, eternal reality. In the 18th and 19th centuries, this included some Neoclassical art, which emulated the forms and ideas found in classical art (Greece and Rome). In modern times, this could include artists such as Mondrian and Malevich, who considered pure abstraction to be the manifestation of this pure reality. Perhaps the theoretical opposite of ideal art is realism, which tries to depict things not as some ideal, but as they 'really' are.

Identity: How one views oneself, how others perceive you, and how a society as a whole defines groups of people. Important to one's identity are ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, and class, as well as education, childhood, and life experience. For many, being an artist is not just an occupation but also an ethical responsibility. Much art today deals with what it means to be an artist in today's rapidly changing world.

Ideology: An organized system of values and opinions which form the basis of a social, political, or economic agenda. Informed by a culture, ideologies often take the form of rules, codes, or guiding principles.

Illusion: A visually misleading or perceptually altered space or object.

Illustrate: to create designs and pictures for books, magazines, or other print or electronic media to make clear or explain the text or show what happens in a story.

Illustration: a visualization such as drawing, painting, photograph or other work of art that stresses subject more than form. The aim of an Illustration is to elucidate or decorate a story, poem or piece of textual information (such as a newspaper article) by providing a visual representation of something described in the text.

Illustration board: heavy paper or card appropriate as a support for pencil, pen, watercolor, collage, etc.

Illustrator: a graphic artist who specializes in enhancing written text by providing a visual representation that corresponds to the content of the associated text. Also refers to a computer illustration program developed by Adobe Systems, Inc.

Impasto: An Italian term for oil paint applied very thickly onto the canvas or other support, resulting in evident brushstrokes (visible).

Implied line: a line in a work that is subtlety perceived by the viewer but has no physical form; the overall flow of one line into another in a work, with continuation from one area to the next suggested by their common direction and/or juxtaposition.

Impressionism: a loose spontaneous style of painting that originated in France about 1870. The impressionist style of painting is characterized chiefly by concentration on the general impression produced by a scene or object and the use of unmixed primary colors and small strokes to simulate actual reflected light.

Industrial design: the design of the mass-produced products of our everyday environment, from sinks and furniture to computers.

installation: A work of art created for a specific architectural situation, installations often engage multiple senses such as sight, smell and hearing. The placement of individual works of art in a gallery is also commonly referred to as an installation. Installations are generally temporary and stationary, but some installations travel to different locations and exist over longer periods of time. A type of art, usually sculptural, which is often large enough to fill an entire space, such as a gallery, and consists of a number and variety of components. Installation art perhaps began in the 1960's with Ed Kienholz and George Segal, two American sculptors. Ed Kienholz' work contains such elements as cars and institutional furniture (suggesting a state hospital or prison), with the content being death and serious societal issues. Segal's work, in contrast, consists of lifesize plaster figures (cast from real people and usually white), engaged in contemporary and mundane activities, such as adding letters to a movie marquee or waiting for the subway, and often represent the poetry of the mundane. Installation art is often site-specific, meaning that it is created specifically for a certain site. There are many contemporary artists creating installations, such as Judy Pfaff.


JPEG: an acronym for "Joint Photographic Experts Group" is a commonly used standard method of compressing photographic images on the Web. JPEG graphics are capable of reproducing a full range of color while still remaining small enough for Web use.

Justified type: in typography, Text spaced out between words to create columns with both edges flush or evenly aligned. With narrow columns, justification can create awkward gaps. However, with wide columns, justification can add elegant symmetry.

juxtaposition: the act of placing or positioning items in the image area side by side or next to one another to illustrate some comparison. The state or position of being placed close together or side by side, so as to permit comparison or contrast.


Kern: in typography, to reduce space between two or three characters so those characters appear better fitted together. Also referred to as kerning.

Kiln: (pronounced "kill") refers to an oven in which pottery or ceramic ware is fired.

Kinetic: Having mechanical or moving parts that can be set in motion; art that moves.

Kitsch: Used to describe items that are overly decorative or sentimental, kitsch may also have negative connotations—meaning tastelessness or bad taste in art. Things generally considered to be kitschy in popular American culture include ceramic figurines, black velvet paintings, rhinestones, and glitter. However, what is kitsch in one cultural context may not be in another.


Lacquer: refers to a clear or colored finish material that dries to a hard, glossy finish. Usually applied with a sprayer, lacquer dries too quickly for smooth application with a brush, unless it is specially formulated.

Land art: Also known as earth art or earthworks, land art uses the raw materials of the natural world to make large-scale, outdoor sculpture. Often taking many years to complete, some earthworks made in the 1970s exist to this day while others are still under construction.

Landscape: a painting, drawing or photograph which depicts outdoor scenery. They typically include trees, streams, buildings, crops, mountains, wildlife, rivers and forests.

Leading: in typography, (rhymes with heading) the space between lines of type, often measured from the baseline of one line to the baseline of the next, and less frequently measured from ascender to ascender. Dates back to hot metal days when strips of lead were inserted between lines of type to provide line spacing.

Lenticular: A printed image that shows depth or motion as the viewing angle changes; of or relating to a lens.

Lexicon: Literally, a vocabulary. A collection of terms or characteristics used in a particular profession, subject, or style.

Life drawing: drawings of a human figure. Usually of nude figures so that the artist can understand how the muscles look and how light, tone and shadow reflect around the body.

Light table: refers to a table made especially for working with negatives, viewing transparencies and slides, and pasting up artwork, that has a translucent top with a light shining up through it.

Likeness: refers to the similarity in appearance or character or nature between persons or things.

Limited edition: a limit placed on the number of prints produced in a particular edition, in order to create a scarcity of the print. Limited editions are signed and numbered by the artist. Once the prints in the edition have been sold out, the digital file is then destroyed by the Giclée Printmaker in order to maintain the integrity of the limited edition. The image will not be published again in the same form.

Line: an actual or implied mark, path, mass, or edge, where length is dominant.

Linear: Describing a quality related to the use of line in painting or sculpture; can refer to directional movement in composition, or the actual use of the element of line in the image or sculpture, as contrasted with the use of mass or shape forms.

Linear perspective: a system for creating the illusion of depth on a two-dimensional surface. The system is based on a scientifically or mathematically derived series of actual or implied lines that intersect at a vanishing point on the horizon. Linear perspective determines the relative size of objects from the foreground of an image to the background.

Linseed oil: the most popular drying oil used as paint medium. The medium hardens over several weeks as components of the oil polymerize to form an insoluble matrix. Driers can be added to accelerate this process.

Lithography: uses the principle that oil and water don't mix as the basis of the printing process; a method of printing using plates whose image areas attract ink and whose non image areas repel ink. Non image areas may be coated with water to repel the oily ink or may have a surface, such as silicon, that repels ink.

Local color: An objects true color; the actual color as distinguished from the apparent color of objects and surfaces; true color, without shadows or reflections. The actual color of a form or object, uninfluenced by the effects of light or reflected color. For instance, a vase may be turquoise (the local color), but appear pale blue because of sunlight hitting it in certain places; dark blue because of areas in shadow; and many subtle color shades in certain areas because of reflected light from surrounding surfaces.

Lowercase: in typography, small letters of a typeface, as opposed to the capital letters, or uppercase letters. Derived from the location of the type cases in which typographers used to store metal or wood letterforms.

Lyrical: A quality applied to various art forms (poetry, prose, visual art, dance and music), referring to a certain ethereal, musical, expressive, or poetic quality of artistic expression. Although difficult to define, when a visual work of art is described as having a lyrical quality, it means that it possesses a certain spiritual or emotional quality; perhaps the color relationships may be said to "sing"; or the linear quality of directional movement may be of a sensitive and expressive nature; or the work expresses a particularly profound, passionate or tender sentiment, perhaps related to romanticism or other lofty expression.


Macramé: an old craft form of textile-making using knotting rather than weaving or knitting. Its primary knots are the square knot and forms of hitching (full hitch and double half hitches). It has been used by sailors, especially in elaborate or ornamental knotting forms to decorate anything from knife handles to bottles to parts of ships.

Magenta: one of the four process colors, or CMYK, the M is for magenta. A color also known as fuchsia and hot pink; a moderate to vivid purplish red or pink.

Mannerism/mannered: Mannerism was a style of art in 16th century Italy, characterized by somewhat distorted (usually human) forms and a high emotional key. Practitioners included the artist Pontormo. In modern and contemporary art, the term mannered when applied to a style or work of art is somewhat critical, implying that the style or work of art is done not from the inner convictions and perceptions of the artist, but rather out of the artist's historical artistic habits or preconceptions. In other words, the work appears contrived or forced, as opposed to arrived at by genuine and self-aware creative impulses.

Marbling: the art or process of producing certain patterns of a veined or mottled appearance in imitation of marble by means of colors so prepared as to float on a mucilaginous liquid which possesses antagonistic properties to the colors prepared for the purpose.

Masterpiece: a work done with extraordinary skill, especially a work of art, craft or intellect that is an exceptionally great achievement.

Mass/masses: Shapes or forms used in visual art, as contrasted with lines; also masses often form the large part(s) of the compositional structure, without the additional complexity of detail.

Medium: Medium: material or technique an artist works in; also, the component of paint in which the pigment is dispersed. Material or technique an artist works in; also, the (usually liquid or semi-liquid) vehicle in which pigments are carried or mixed (e.g., oil, egg yolk, water, refined linseed oil).

Metaphor: A relationship between disparate visual or verbal sources where one kind of object, idea, or image is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them. Artists use metaphor to bridge differences between seemingly dissimilar images and ideas.

Mineral spirits: an inexpensive paint thinner which cleans brushes, thins paint, cleans furniture, and removes wax often used as a substitute for turpentine.

Miniature: a representational work of art made on a greatly reduced scale.

Minimal design: omitting all non-essential or un-important elements and details which don't really contribute to the essence of the overall composition in order to emphasize what is important.

Minimal art: A type of abstract art, primarily three-dimensional, which often uses industrial materials in geometric or repetitive ways. Reduced to basic shapes (cubes, spheres) or bare materials (steel, neon tubing, bricks), minimalist objects of the 1960s expressed more the artist's process than his or her emotions.

Minimalism: a movement and style of art from the 20th century which attempts to reduce art to the basic geometric shapes with the fewest colors, lines, and textures. Minimal art does not seek to be representational of any object. Also known as ABC art.

Mixed media: the art technique where an artist employs different types of physical materials such as ink and pastel or painting and collage etc. and combines them in a single work.

Mobile: (pronounced mo-beel) - A type of kinetic sculpture (that which moves), invented and first used by the artist Alexander Calder. Trained as an engineer, Calder built many hanging mobiles with various attached forms, which moved and changed with air currents, etc. Many of them were very large, and hang in museum lobbies or auditoriums, from the ceiling. The forms which rotate and change their configurations are often of a biomorphic nature, similar to those used by Hans Arp and Juan Miro.

Model: a person who poses for an artist.

Modeling: Three-dimensional effect created by the use of changes in color, the use of lights and darks, cross-hatching, etc.

Modern art: Generally considered to be the period from about 1905-6 to the mid-1950's, when Pop art ushered in what is referred to as the postmodern period in art. Modern art is generally characterized by formal experimentation and exploration, and mostly seriousness of purpose. (Dada and Surrealism may be the exceptions to this rule.)

Modernism: An historical period and attitude from the early to mid-20th century, characterized by experimentation, abstraction, a desire to provoke, and a belief in progress. Modern artists strove to go beyond that which had come before. Works of modern art may be visually different and yet share the same commitment to questioning artistic conventions. Modern Art is oriented towards developing new visual languages (rather than preserving and continuing those of the past) and takes the form of a series of periods, schools, and styles.

Monochromatic: a color scheme limited to variations of one hue, a hue with its tints and/or shades.

Monochrome: painting done in a range of tones of a single color.

Montage: an artwork comprising of seemingly unrelated shots or scenes which, when combined of various existing images such as from photographs or prints and arranged so that they join, overlap or blend to create a new image which achieve meaning (as in, shot A and shot B together give rise to an third idea, which is then supported by shot C, and so on) .

Monument: A public work of art, usually large in scale, which commemorates a group of people, historical event, or ideal. Monuments are most often made at the invitation of a civic group or government. A type of monument, memorials come in a variety of scales, materials, and audiences. Less a tribute than an invitation to remember, memorials can also be subtle, inconclusive, or abstract.

Mosaic: an art medium in which small pieces of colored glass, stone, or ceramic tile called tessera are embedded in a background material such as plaster or mortar. Also, works made using this technique.

Motif: (pronounced mo-teef) - A recurrent or dominant theme in a work of visual or literary art. A French term which refers to: the subject matter or content of a work of art (e.g., a landscape motif); also refers to a visual element used in a work of art, as in a recurring motif (i.e., Warhol used the motif of soup cans in his early works; or Mondrian used rectangles as a visual motif.

Movement: as it applies to art, the path that our eyes follow when we look at a work of art.

Multicultural: Influenced by a diversity of ethnic, religious, cultural or national perspectives.

Mural: a large wall painting, often executed in fresco.

Mythology: An allegorical narrative often incorporating legendary heroes, gods, and demi-gods of a particular people or culture.


Naïve art: art created by untrained artists. It is characterized by simplicity and a lack of the elements or qualities found in the art of formally trained artists.

Narrative: The representation in art, by form and content, of an event or story. Whether a literal story, event, or subject matter—or a more abstract relationship between colors, forms and materials—narrative in visual art applies as much to the work as it does to the viewer's "story" of what they see and experience.

Naturalism: A style of painting which uses an analysis of tone (value) and color of its subject, resulting in a representation of the appearance of forms or landscapes. Impressionism has naturalistic tendencies, because it analyzes tone and color in the play of light on surfaces. Naturalism can also have a sensual character (as against composition and drawing). The Impressionists were influenced by 19th century researches into the physics of color by Chevreul (a scientist) and others, which showed that an object casts a shadow which contains its complementary color (see complementary color). This theory eventually hardened into Neo-Impressionism, where Seurat and others sought the maximum optical truth about nature and the ideal composition and color relationships. This line of inquiry also led eventually to Post-Impressionism, where Gauguin and Van Gogh, among others, used color in a purely artistic and anti-naturalistic manner, which was non-intellectual. (Color used by Gauguin and Van Gogh is often deliberately independent of the local or light-influenced color of objects; and beyond that in the early 20th century, the Fauve painters used bright color and forms even more distant from their perceptual origins.)

Negative space: The unoccupied or empty space left after the positive shapes have been laid down by the artist; however, because these areas have boundaries, they also function as shapes in the total design. In a painting or sculpture, the areas where there are no forms (the "empty" areas). In a painting, this means the areas which have no forms or objects (sometimes also called the 'background' ). In sculpture, this means the "holes" between forms or within a form (e.g., Henry Moore sculptures). Negative space is the other side of the coin of positive space, which is space actually occupied by forms in a painting or sculpture (the figure in a portrait). The notions of positive and negative space were advanced during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, replacing the more traditional notion of a 'background' which was subordinate to and separate from the subject image - portrait, still life, etc. Since about 1950, the notions of positive and negative space have also been replaced by much contemporary art, which sees the picture surface not as positive and negative areas, but rather one continuous surface where every area is equally important, and at the same spatial depth. (See also positive space.)

Neutral color: Colors of very low saturation, approaching grays. A color which in color theory is neither warm nor cool. Neutral colors are said to result from the combination of two complementary colors (e.g., red and green, blue and orange, and yellow and purple). Neutral colors can also be mixed by other means. (See also complementary colors, and warm and cool colors.)

Non-objective: A term used to describe visual art which is not based on existing, observable forms, but rather on abstract or idealized forms, such as geometric, mathematical, imaginary, etc. Non-objective art came into existence in the early 20th century, often with much theoretical accompaniment. Mondrian is an example of an artist whose work is non-objective. (See also abstract.)

Non-representational: Non-representational art is art which is not based on external appearances; this covers several types of art - abstract, non-objective, and decorative; as contrasted with representational art, which is art based on "real" imagery, whether actually existant or existant only in the artist's imagination.


Oil paint: a type of paint made from color particles( pigment) and linseed oil. Oil paint dries slowly, can be used thick or thin, and with glazes. Because it dries slowly, oil paint is easier to blend from dark to light creating the illusion of three-dimensions. Used by most artists since the Renaissance.

One-point linear perspective: Developed in 15th century Italy, a mathematical system for indicating spatial distance in two-dimensional images, where lines converge in a single vanishing point located on the horizon line, as seen by a stationary viewer. (See also two-point linear perspective.)

Op art: Short for Optical Art, a style popular in the 1960s that was based on optical principles and optical illusion. Op Art deals in complex color interactions, to the point where colors and lines seem to vibrate before the eyes.

Oral tradition: The spoken relation and preservation, from one generation to the next, of a people's cultural history and ancestry, often by a storyteller in narrative form.

Organic: A description of images which are partly or wholly derived from natural forms, such as curvilinear, irregular, indicative of growth, biologically-based, etc.

Original: the term 'original' can imply exclusivity or the idea that the work is 'one of a kind' rather than a copy by any method including offset-lithography, digital printing or by forgery. Not all paintings can be considered original since the term also refers to the image being newly created, so a painted copy of another work is not an original.

Originality: The quality of being new and original; not derived from something else.

Outsider art: refers to works by those outside of mainstream society. Outsider art broadly includes folk art and ethnic art as well as by prisoners, the mentally ill and others neither trained in art nor making their works to sell them.

Overpainting: the final layer of paint that is applied over the under painting or under layer after it has dried. The idea behind layers of painting is that the under painting is used to define the basic shapes and design so that the overpainting can be used to fill in the details of the piece.


Painterly: Painting technique characterized by openness of form, in which shapes are defined by loose brushwork in light and dark color areas rather than by outline or contour. An adjective used to describe a style of painting which is based not on linear or outline drawing, but rather patches or areas of color. In painterly two-dimensional images, the edges of forms tend to merge into one another, or into the background, rather than be separated by outlines or contours. Titian and Rembrandt are two artists with painterly approaches; Botticelli's work is not painterly, but more linear/drawing oriented.

Palette: A particular range of colors or a tray for mixing colors. A thin piece of glass, wood or other material, or pad of paper, which is used to hold the paint to be used in painting; also, the range of colors used by a particular painter.

Palette knife: a tool originally used by artists for scraping up and mixing the paint from the palette, this implement has been adopted for the application of heavily impacted paint which is spread thickly like butter (see illustration).

Pantone Matching System (PMS): an internationally recognized system of over 3000 pre-mixed colors representing shades on both coated or uncoated stock, along with the precise printing formulas to achieve each color. Each PANTONE color has a specified CMYK equivalent which is numbered and is listed in the swatch guide for quick reference when choosing colors for printing purposes. This system is highly accurate and produces consistent results.

Paper mâché: a technique for creating forms by mixing wet paper pulp with glue or paste. The form hardens as it dries, and becomes suitable for painting. Although paper mâché is a French word which literally means "chewed paper", it was originated by the Chinese - the inventors of paper.

Papyrus: the predecessor of modern paper made from the pith of the papyrus plant used by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans.

Parchment: an early paper material highly valued during the middle ages. Originally made from goat or sheep skin, parchment today is made from organic fibers and affords artists such as calligraphers a crisp, smooth, high quality surface on which to write.

Pastel: A crayon made from pigment mixed with gum and water and pressed into a stick-shaped form; a work of art created from pastels; a pale color. A drawing stick made of pigments ground with chalk and mixed with gum water; also, a drawing executed with these pastel sticks; also, a soft, subdued tint (light shade) of a color.

Pentimenti: Italian term, from the word meaning 'repent'; refers to the lines or marks which remain after an artist corrects his/her drawing (or painting). Traditionally, this meant that these lines or marks remained unintentionally, in the quest for the perfectly drawn figure, for instance. However, at the end of the 19th century (with Cezanne), these marks became part of the visual expression; his figure drawings, for example, often show several contours in the search for the "correct" one contour. With Cezanne's drawings, these multiple contours in fact aid in the expression of three dimensions, more than one contour alone would do, giving a sense of roundness and volume. In addition, these pentimenti contribute in an expressive sense. In drawings and paintings since, some artists have taken advantage of this expressive function of pentimenti, particularly in painting, and have left the marks/lines deliberately, or even created them on purpose. They can add richness to a work.

Performance & performance art: Public, private, or videotaped, performances often involve the artist performing a creative, visually compelling action. Performance art is normally created by people with a visual arts education and relates more to the history of painting and sculpture than to theater or dance. Often taking place in a gallery or on video, performance art rarely involves trained actors or directors.

Permanent pigment: refers to any pigment which is expected to last or remain without essential change and is not likely to deteriorate under certain atmospheric conditions, in normal light or in proximity to other colors.

Perspective: The art of picturing objects on a flat surface so as to give the appearance of distance or depth. A visual formula that creates the illusion of depth and volume on a two-dimensional surface. Perspective also infers a particular vantage point or view.

Persona: A personality that a person projects in public, often representing a character in a fictional context.

Photojournalism: The profession or practice of recording and reporting real or ‘newsworthy’ events using photography.

Photomontage: (pronounced photo-montaj) - A two-dimensional combining of photographs or parts of photographs into an image on paper or other material (a technique much used by the Surrealists in the 1920's, such as Max Ernst).

Photorealism: a style of painting in which an image is created in such exact detail that it looks like a photograph; uses everyday subject matter, and often is larger than life.

Photoshop: a professional image-editing and graphics creation software from Adobe. It provides a large library of effects, filters and layers.

Pictorial/picture surface: The flat plane of the canvas or other support, which is the two-dimensional arena of the image.

Picture plane: The surface of a painting or drawing. The flat surface on which an image is painted, and that part of the image which is closest to the viewer. (In modern and contemporary art, the picture plane is synonymous with pictorial surface, meaning that the entire image is located on the picture plane, as contrasted with art from the Renaissance until the mid-19th century, where the picture surface was considered as a window into which the viewer looked into the illusion of distance.)

Pigment: any coloring agent, made from natural or synthetic substances, used in paints or drawing materials; the substance in paint or anything that absorbs light, producing (reflecting) the same color as the pigment.

Place: A geographic or imaginary location, landscape, origin, or relation in space. Artists are influenced by their surroundings and their works are often in response to a site or historical situation. In American history, places such as the antebellum South or the Wild West are mythic in their hold on the public imagination. Today, artists are continually drawn to the conceptual landscapes of cyberspace, television, and mass media.

Plein air: French for "open air", referring to landscapes painted out of doors with the intention of catching the impression of the open air.

Point of view: the position from which something is seen or considered; for instance, head-on, from overhead, from ground level, etc.

Pointillism: a painting technique in which pure dots of color are dabbed onto the canvas surface. The viewer's eye, when at a distance, is then expected to see these dots merge as cohesive areas of different colors and color ranges.

Pop art: A style of art which seeks its inspiration from commercial art and items of mass culture (such as comic strips, popular foods and brand name packaging). Certain works of art created by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein are examples of pop art. Art which draws its subject matter or appearance from mass media and consumer culture. Transforming "low" culture such as advertisements, comics, and tabloid photographs into the "high" culture of painting and sculpture, Pop artists of the 1950s and 60s reached a wide audience with their cool, detached depiction of contemporary times.

Popular culture: Literature, broadcasting, music, dance, theater, sports, and other cultural aspects of social life distinguished by their broad-based presence and popularity across ethnic, social, and regional groups.

Portrait: a painting, photograph, or other artistic representation of a person.

Positive space: Space that is occupied by an element or a form. The areas of a painting or sculpture which are occupied by forms or images, as contrasted with negative space, which are the "empty" areas where no forms/images are located. For example, in a portrait, the figure would be the positive space, the "background" would be the negative space. In painting since around 1950, the differentiation between positive and negative space has given way to a sense of a continuous surface/space/plane, where all the forms are located on the picture surface, rather than on different planes in space. (See also negative space.)

Postmodern: A term used to describe the period of art which followed the modern period, i.e., from the 1950's until recently. The term implies a shift away from the formal rigors of the modernists, toward the less formally and emotionally stringent Pop artists, and other art movements which followed.

Postmodernism: A term that has come to describe the stylistic developments that depart from the norms of modernism. Postmodernism questions the validity of the emphasis of modernists on logic, simplicity, and order, suggesting that ambiguity, uncertainty, and contradiction may also have a valid place.

Potter: a craftsman who shapes pottery on a potter's wheel and bakes them it a kiln.

Potter's wheel: a horizontal disk revolving on a spindle and carrying the clay being shaped by the potter.

Pottery: a form of ceramic technology, where wet clays are shaped and dried, then fired to harden them and make them waterproof.

Primary colors: red, yellow, and blue. With these three colors (and black and white) all other colors can be made. The primary colors themselves can not be made by mixing other colors.

Primitive art: Art that has imagery of folk art , it places emphasis on form and expression and often looks child like.

Principles of design: the basic aesthetic considerations that guide organization of a work of art. They include balance, movement, emphasis, contrast, proportion, space, and unity.

Printmaking: The process by which a work of art can be recreated in great quantity from a single image usually prepared from a plate. The category of fine art printing processes, including etching, lithography, woodcut, and silkscreen, in which multiple images are made from the same metal plate, heavy stone, wood or linoleum block, or silkscreen, with black-and-white or color printing inks.

Process: An artist's investigation, or the steps the artist takes to make a work of art, processes differ widely from artist to artist.

Proportion: A sense of appropriateness in the size relationship of different parts of a work. The relation of one part to the whole, or to other parts (for example, of the human body). For example, the human body is approximately 7 to 7-1/2 times the height of the head; the vertical halfway point of the body is the groin; the legs are halved at the knees, etc. Proportion also refers to the relative sizes of the visual elements in a composition, and their optimum relationships for good design.

Protagonist: A leading or principal figure.

Public art: Works of art that are designed specifically for, or placed in, areas physically accessible to the general public.

Punk rock: An aggressive and rebellious genre of music which emerged in the 1970s, punk is characterized by a do-it-yourself attitude, rawness, and distrust for authority and standards of good taste. Brash colors and a second-hand or recycled aesthetic are stylistic features of punk rock.

Pure symmetry: an equilibrium created by identical parts that are equally distributed on either side of a real or imaginary cent4ral axis in mirror-like repetition.


Quadrilateral: in geometry, a four-sided polygon; examples include squares, rectangles, parallelograms, trapezoids, etc.

Quarry: An open pit or excavation from which stone is taken by cutting, digging or blasting.

Quill: a pen is made from a flight feather (preferably a primary) of a large bird, most often a goose. Quills were used as instruments for writing with ink before the metal dip pen, the fountain pen, and eventually the ball point pen came into use.

Quilting: the process of making a Quilt from beginning to end. Or the actual act of sewing the layers of a quilt together, either by hand or by machine. Also refers to the finished lines of sewn thread that make up the quilting design.


Rabbet: in art, the "L" cut all around the perimeter of the frame, against which glass, mat, or picture panels are installed.

Radial balance: the balance as the result of components that are distributed around a center point or spring out from a central line.

Realism: The realistic and natural representation of people, places, and/or things in a work of art; the opposite of idealization. Representational painting which, unlike ideal art, desires to depict forms and images as they really are, without idealizing them. Courbet was one of the first realists, in opposition to the previous reigning Neoclassical art in France; 19th century realist artists wanted to depict life "as it is," warts and all.

Render: To reproduce or represent by artistic or verbal means.

Repetition: a series of repeated elements having similarity.

RGB: stands for Red, Green, Blue. In web design and design for computer monitors, colors are defined in terms of a combination of these three basic additive colors.

Representational art: Works of art that depict recognizable people, places or things—often figures, landscapes, and still lifes. Art which is based on images which can be found in the objective world, or at least in the artist's imagination; i.e., images which can perhaps be named or recognized. For instance, an objectively faithful depiction of a person is representational art; also, a depiction of an alien from outer space can also be considered a representational image. (See also non-representational.)

Reproduction: a copy of an original print or fine art piece. A reproduction could be in the form of a print, like an offset-lithographic print, or even reproduced in the same medium as the original, as in an oil painting.

Rhythm: a continuance, a flow, or a feeling of movement achieved by the repetition or regulated visual units.

Right brain: refers to a theory in which the right side of the brain is the creative side, responsible for art and spatial comprehension, while the left side is responsible for reading, verbal, and mathematical sorts of tasks.

Ritual: A ceremonial act, or a detailed method or process or accomplishing specific objectives.

Rubbing: A product of rubbing a crayon or other tool onto paper or other material over a textured surface, in order to reproduce that texture into a two-dimensional image. For example, a rubbing of a gravestone, a penny, etc. (See also frottage.)

Rule of thirds: a composition rule that divides the scene into three rows and three columns. The rule states that the painting is much more interesting if the focal point is not in the center of the canvas but rather in one of the outlying regions, preferably at one of the intersection points.


Sable brush: an artist's brush made of sable hairs.

Sans serif: in typography, a typeface, such as Helvetica, that does not have a serif (crossline) decorating the main strokes of the characters. Sans is French for "without''.

Satire: Exposing human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn.

Scale: The comparative size of a thing in relation to another like thing or its ‘normal’ or ‘expected size.’ Scale can refer to an entire work of art or to elements within it.

Sculptor: an artist who creates sculptures.

Sculpture: any three-dimensional form created as an artistic expression. Sculpture is primarily concerned with space: occupying it, relating to it, and influencing the perception of it.

Scumbling: A painting technique (the opposite of glazing), consisting of putting a layer of opaque oil paint over another layer of a different color or tone, so that the lower layer is not completely obliterated, giving an uneven, broken effect.

Seascape: a painting or work of pictorial art that depicts the sea or a scene that includes the sea; a painting representing an expansive view of the ocean or sea; picture or painting depicting life around the sea.

Secondary colors: green, purple, and orange. These three colors are derived from mixing equal amounts of two of the three primary colors.

Self portrait: a portrait an artist makes using himself or herself as its subject, typically drawn or painted from a reflection in a mirror. Also a portrait taken by the photographer of himself, either in a mirror, by means of a remote release, or with a self timer.

Sepia: a golden brown tint sometimes applied to black-and-white pictures. Can give the finished print an antique appearance.

Serif: in typography, serifs are the small features at the end of strokes within letters.

Shade: A color produced by adding black to a pigment. A dark value of a color, i.e., a dark blue; as opposed to a tint, which is a lighter shade of a color, i.e., light blue. Also, to shade a drawing means to add the lights and darks, usually to add a three-dimensional effect.

Shading: showing change from light to dark or dark to light in a picture by darkening areas that would be shadowed and leaving other areas light. Shading is often used to produce illusions of dimension and depth.

Shape: an area which stands out from the space next to it or around it because of a defined boundary or because of a difference of value, color, or texture.

Silhouette: A dark image outlined against a lighter background. An outline drawing of a shape. Originally a silhouette presented a profile portrait filled in with a solid color.

Simplicity: the understanding of what is and is not important in a design. Details that do not have a major impact to the design are omitted to keep it uncluttered.

Site-specific: Works of art that are tied to a unique place, site-specific art is sometimes impermanent. For people unable to visit site-specific works, an experience of the piece is often limited to photographic documentation and word-of-mouth.

Sfumato: (pronounced sfu-ma-to) - Italian term meaning smoke, describing a very delicate gradation of light and shade in the modeling of figures; often ascribed to da Vinci's work (also called blending). Da Vinci wrote that 'light and shade should blend without lines or borders, in the manner of smoke', in his Notes on Painting.

Sgraffito: (pronounced sgraf-ee-to) - Italian term meaning scratched; in painting, one color is laid over another, and scratched in (with the other end of the brush, for example) so that the color underneath shows through.

Shaped canvas: A type of painting/stretched canvas first begun in the 1960's, where the canvas takes other forms than the traditional rectangle. Canvas is stretched over multiple three-dimensional shapes, which are combined to form a three-dimensional, irregularly shaped canvas on which to paint (often abstract or non-objective) images.

Sketch: a rough drawing used to capture the basic elements and structure of a situation often used as the basis for a more detailed work.

Space: the interval or measurable distance between pre-established points.

Spatial cues: Methods of indicating three-dimensional space in two-dimensional images. Examples are: the modeling of forms with light and shade to indicate volume; overlapping of forms to indicate relative spatial position; decrease in the size of images as they recede in space; vertical position in the image (the further away an object is, the higher it is normally located in the image); the use of increased contrast of light and dark (value) in the foreground; the decreasing intensity of colors as they recede in space; the use of a perspective system, of lines converging toward the horizon line. Spatial cues are used also in abstract or non-objective art to indicate relative position in relation to the picture plane, by means of overlapping forms, color and size relationships, and other spatial cues, but generally without perspective and other indications of Renaissance (illusional) space.

Spectacle: A mediated or constructed view or image that is of a remarkable or impressive nature, sensationalizing its subject.

Spirituality: A questioning of humanity's place in the universe, marked by an interest in self-reflection, mortality and meditation. Spirituality is often associated with things that are mysterious, felt before they are understood, and beyond the scope of human thought, time and history. Distinct from religion, spirituality is an attitude and not an organized set of rituals or beliefs.

Stabile: (pronounced stah-beel) - A type of 20th century sculpture which consists of a stationary object, usually on a base of some kind. Described in contrast to a mobile, the free-hanging sculptural invention of sculptor Alexander Calder, stabiles were also created by Calder.

Stained canvas: A method of painting first begun in the 1960's, consisting of the application of (liquid) paint directly to canvas by pouring or rolling, rather than with the traditional brush, and without the prerequisite layer of priming normally done to stretched canvas. Helen Frankenthaler is one example of an artist who worked with stained canvas. This way of applying paint gives a totally different image than one brushed on - obviously a more fluid image, with translucent fields of color - perhaps like the aurora borealis - an effect impossible with traditional brushes.

Stained glass: glass that has been colored or stained through different processes. This term is also used to refer to the art of cutting colored glass into different shapes and joining them together with lead strips to create a pictorial window design.

Statue: a sculpture representing a human or animal.

Stencil: Stiff paper (or other sheet material) with a design cut into it as a template for shapes meant to be copied. Also a method of applying a design by brushing ink or paint through a cut-out surface.

Stereotype: A generalized type, or caricature of a person, place or culture, often negative in tone. Visual as well as verbal, stereotypes tend to be reduced or oversimplified images.

Still life: a painting or other two-dimensional work of art representing inanimate objects such as bottles, fruit, and flowers. Also, the arrangement of these objects from which a drawing, painting, or other art work is made.

Stippling: a drawing technique consisting of many small dots or flecks to construct the image; technique of using small dots to simulate varying degrees of solidity or shading; to paint, engrave, or draw by means of dots or small touches of the brush, pen, or other tool. This technique can be very laborious, so generally small images are stippled. The spacing and darkness of the dots are varied, to indicate three dimensions of an object, and light and shadow; can be a very effective and interesting technique, which can also be used in painting.

Stomp: A kind of pencil consisting of a tight roll of paper or soft leather, or of a cylindrical piece of rubber or other soft material used for rubbing down hard lines in pencil or crayon drawing, for blending the lines of shading so as to produce a uniform tint.

Stretcher: a wooden frame over which the canvas of a painting is stretched.

Studio: The place where an artist works and reflects. Artists often employ studio assistants to help them execute work and manage their careers.

Study: A preliminary drawing for a painting; also, a work done just to "study" nature in general.

Stylized: Used to describe works of art which conform to imagined or invented visual rules. Work that is stylized tends to be less spontaneous or visually responsive to changes in subject matter.

Subject matter: As opposed to content, the subject matter is the subject of the artwork, e.g., still life. The theme of Vanitas (popular a few centuries ago) of vanity, death, universal fate, etc., used in the still life, can be considered the content. The still life objects used in the image are the subject matter. (See also content.)

Sublime: That which impresses the mind with a sense of grandeur and power, inspiring a sense of awe.

Support: the material providing a surface upon which an artist applies color, collage, etc.

Surrealism: an art style developed in Europe in the 1920's, characterized by using the subconscious as a source of creativity to liberate pictorial subjects and ideas. Surrealist paintings often depict unexpected or irrational objects in an atmosphere of fantasy, creating a dreamlike scenario; An art movement in which one's dreams, nightmares, sub consciousness and fantasy inspired the final works.

Symbolism: The practice of representing things by an image, sign, symbol, convention, or association.

Symmetrical balance: the placing of identical forms to either side of the central axis of a work to stabilize it visually.

Synesthesia: A feeling evoked in one sense when another sense is stimulated. Examples of synesthesia include seeing the color yellow and smelling lemons, or smelling hot chocolate and feeling warm.


T square: a guide for drawing horizontal lines on a drafting table. It is also used to guide the triangle that draws vertical lines. Its name comes from the general shape of the instrument where the horizontal member of the T slides on the side of the drafting table.

Tagging: The act of writing graffiti, a tag is often an artist's name or visual trademark.

Tension: to make tense, tighten or stress.

Tertiary colors: also called intermediate colors, these are blends of primary and secondary colors. Colors such as red-orange and blue-green are tertiary colors.

Textile: Materials that are woven, knitted, or made from cloth.

Texture: the tactile surface characteristics of a work of art that are either felt or perceived visually.

Three-dimensional: occupying or giving the illusion of three dimensions (height, width, depth).

Three-dimensional space: a sensation of space which seems to have thickness or depth as well as height and width.

Three-quarter view: a view of a face or any other subject which is half-way between a full and a profile view.

Thumbnail sketch: crude, small pencil drawings used to develop the initial concept for a design.

TIFF: acronym for Tagged Image File Format, a standard graphic image file format usually generated by scanners. Developed by Aldus and Microsoft.

Tint: A light value of a color, i.e., a light red; as opposed to a shade, which is a dark value, i.e., dark red.

Titanium: an oxide used as a white pigment of great permanence and covering power. Usually extended with other whites to improve its brushing and drying properties.

Tole: decorative painting on tin objects.

Tone: The lightness or darkness of an area in terms of black to white; also called value, i.e., a light or dark red, or light or dark gray.

Transition: the change or passing from one condition, place, thing, or activity to another; the passage linking one subject, section, or other part of a composition with another.

Trompe l'oeil: French for "fool the eye." A two-dimensional representation that is so naturalistic that it looks actual or real (three-dimensional.) This form of painting was first used by the Romans thousands of years ago in frescoes and murals.

Turpentine: a high quality oil paint thinner and solvent.

Two-dimensional: having two dimensions (height and width); referring to something that is flat.

Two-dimensional space: a measurable distance on a surface which show height and width but lack any illusion of thickness or depth.

Typography: the study and process of typefaces; how to select, size, arrange, and use them in general. In modern terms. typography includes computer display and output. Traditionally, typography was the use of metal types with raised letterforms that were inked and then pressed onto paper. The appearance of fonts, letters, or characters, typography involves the printed word and graphic design.

Two-point linear perspective: A more recent version of perspective than one-point perspective; using two (or more) points instead of one on the horizon line gave artists a more naturalistic representation of space in two-dimensional images.

Triptych: A painting which consists of one center panel, with two paintings attached on either side by means of hinges or other means, as "wings."


Ultramarine: a vivid blue to purple-blue pigment originally made from ground lapis lazuli. French ultramarine is an artificial substitute.

Uncanny: Peculiarly unsettling, as if of supernatural origin or nature; eerie.

Underdrawing: preliminary drawing that lies under the final painted or inked image.

Underpainting: The preliminary coats of paint in a painting that render the basic outline before the final paint layers are added to complete the work. A layer of color or tone applied to the painting surface before the painting itself is begun, to establish the general compositional masses, the lights and darks (values) in the composition, or as a color to affect/mix with subsequent layers of color. Underpainting is generally a thin, semi-opaque layer of paint.

Unity: An organization of parts so that all contributed to a coherent whole. It is the combined result of all principles of design.

Uppercase: in typography, capital letters, which gained this alternative name from the standard location in which typesetters stored them.

Utopia: An ideal or perfect society, utopias are imagined communities where everyone lives in perfect peace and harmony. Projects as recent as the internet have been proposed as places where a utopia may be possible. Evocative of people's hopes and wishes, utopias are ultimately unrealizable. The negative corollary of utopia is dystopia.


Value: the lightness or darkness of a color; contrasts between light and dark. The lightness or darkness of a line, shape or area in terms of black to white; also called tone; e.g., a light red will have a light value; a dark red will have a dark value.

Vanishing point: in perspective, the point on the horizon in the distance where two lines seem to converge and visibility ends.

Vantage point: A point of view, or a place from which subject matter is viewed.

Vector graphic: a graphic made up of mathematically defined curves and line segments called vectors. Vector graphics can be edited by moving and resizing either the entire graphic or the lines and segments that compose the graphic. Vector graphics can be reduced and enlarged (zoomed in and out) with no loss of resolution.

Vermilion: scarlet red, a variable color that is vivid red but sometimes with an orange tinge.

Vernacular: Everyday language specific to a social group or region; the everyday language spoken by a people as opposed to the literary language.

Vertical balance: the distribution of visual weights in a piece in such a way that top and bottom seem to be in equilibrium.

Viewfinder: a tool used to look through to compose an image. This tool is helpful in selecting the most interesting composition to be found in a larger image by cropping out unwanted perimeters. In photography a viewfinder is what the photographer looks through to compose, and in many cases to focus, the picture.

Vignette: an image or painting where the borders are undefined and seem to fade away gradually until it blends into the background.

Viridian: a blue-green pigment composed more of green than blue. Viridian takes its name from the Latin viridis meaning "green".

Visual communication: the communication of ideas through the visual display of information. Primarily associated with two dimensional images, it includes: alphanumeric, art, signs, and electronic resources. Recent research in the field has focused on web design and graphically oriented usability.

Visual economy: as used in art, a paring down to only the essential elements required to achieve the desired effect; a.k.a. simplicity.

Visual sign: A visible, conventional figure or device that stands for a word, phrase, or operation.

Volume: the mass of three-dimensional shapes in space.

Volumetric: A quality of two-dimensional images characterized by a sense of three dimensions, solidity, volume, as contrasted with atmospheric, which is characterized more by a sense of space, or airiness, than with volume. Volumetric is generally more characteristic of representational or traditional art, than with modern or contemporary art, which is generally less concerned with the depiction of three dimensions in objects and space.

Voyeur: An observer who derives pleasure viewing sensational subjects at a distance.


Warm colors: In color theory, colors which contain a large amount of yellow, as opposed to cool colors, which contain more blue. For example, a yellow-orange color would be warm; a greenish-blue would be cool. Warm colors are thought to appear to be closer to the viewer, while cool colors are thought to recede into the distance. (See also cool colors.)

Wash: A thin layer of translucent (or transparent) paint or ink, particularly in watercolor; also used occasionally in oil painting.

Watercolor: a water-based paint that is a translucent wash of pigment; a painting produced with watercolors.

Watermark: a watermark is a design embossed into a piece of paper during its production and used for identification of the paper and paper maker. The watermark can be seen when the paper is held up to light.

Waterscape: A painting of or including a body of water. It might otherwise be called a marine picture, a seascape, or a riverscape, etc.

Wet-on-wet: a painting technique that is well-known as being the primary method of painting used by Bob Ross. Since lighter colors will usually mix with darker colors if laid over top of them while wet, the technique relies on painting from light colors up. This gives the painting a soft look, and allows the colors to be blended to the painter's desire.

Woodcut: illustrations produced when the original printing plate was engraved on a block of wood. One of the oldest methods of printing, dating back to 8 th century China.

Worm's-eye view: as if seen from the surface of the earth, or the floor Looking up from below.

Wunderkabinett: A German term, a Wunderkabinett is a "cabinet of wonders," and a Wunderkammer is a "chamber of wonders," Both are exhibition spaces in which miscellaneous curiosities—odd and wondrous rarities—are brought together for private contemplation and pleasure. The objects on display in these storage/display spaces were primarily marvels of nature. A precursor of the museum, these cabinets were developments of the Renaissance.

WYSIWYG: (pronounced "wizzy-wig") is an acronym for What You See Is What You Get, and is used in computing to describe a seamlessness between the appearance of edited content on the monitor and final product.


Xenophobia: Irrational fear or hatred of anything foreign or unfamiliar, especially other social or foreign groups. A xenophobe is a person who is unduly fearful or contemptuous of anything foreign, especially of strangers or foreign peoples. Subcategories include racism, sexism, homophobia, and religious intolerance; and specific to the art world, the off-hand dismissal of art by a viewer without attempting to understand it.

Xerography: photographic process which uses an electrically charged metal plate. On exposure to light the electrical charge is destroyed, leaving a latent image in which shadows are represented by charged areas. A powdered pigment dusted over the plate is attracted to the charged areas, producing a visible image.

Xylography: an early form of wood engraving, was first seen in China in the 1st century. It is the oldest known engraving technique.


Yellowing: a discoloration that can occur over time in oil paintings due to excessive use of linseed oil medium; applying any of the varnishes that are prone to yellow with age; or most often – an accumulation of dirt embedded into the varnish.


Zeitgeist: The spirit of the times. A German word for the taste, outlook, or general trend of thought which is characteristic of the cultural productions of a period or generation. The zeitgeist of the early modern period may have been faith in salvation through technological advancement, whereas that of the postmodern period would be disdain for such expressions of certainty.

Zinc white: a common white pigment, zinc white is a brilliant white synthetically derived from the metal zinc.

Zinnober green: another name for chrome green.

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