Art Words Glossary

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ArtWords List 



abstract The rendering of images and objects in a stylized or simplified way, so that though they remain recognizable, their formal or expressive aspects are emphasized. Compare both representational and nonobjective.

Abstract Expressionism A painting style of the late 1940s and early 1950s, predominantly American, characterized by its rendering of expressive content by abstract or nonobjective means.

acrylic A plastic resin that, when mixed with water and pigment, forms an inorganic and quick-drying paint medium.

actual texture As opposed to implied or visual texture, the literal tactile quality or feel of a thing.

additive 1) In color, the adjective used to describe the fact that, when different hues of colored light are combined, the resulting mixture is higher in key than the original hues and brighter as well, and as more and more hues are added, the resulting mixture is closer and closer to white ; 2) In sculpture, an adjective used to describe the process in which form is built up, shaped, and enlarged by the addition of materials, as distinguished from subtractive sculptural processes, such as carving.

Aesthetic Pertaining to the appreciation of the beautiful, as opposed to the functional or utilitarian, and, by extension, to the appreciation of any form of art, whether overtly “beautiful” or not.

aesthetic criteria Criteria developed about the visual, aural, and oral aspects of the witnessed event, derived from cultural and emotional values and cognitive meaning. Standards on which to make judgments about the artistic merit of a work of art.

analogous color A color scheme consisting of or limited to adjacent hues on the color wheel, usually within the scope of a primary through one of its related secondaries such as blue, blue-green, and green.

analysis Identifying and examining separate parts as they function independently and together in creative works and studies of the visual arts.

arbitrary color Color that has no realistic or natural relation to the object that is depicted, as in a blue horse, or a purple cow, but which may have emotional or expressive significance.

arch A curved, often semicircular architectural form that spans an opening or space built of wedge-shaped blocks, called voussoirs, with a keystone centered at its top.

art criticism Describing and evaluating the media, processes, and meanings of works of visual art, and making comparative judgments.

Art Deco A popular art and design style of the 1920s and 1930s associated with the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris and characterized by its integration of organic and geometric forms.

art history A record of the visual arts, incorporating information, interpretations, and judgments about art objects, artists, and conceptual influences on developments in the visual arts.

art materials Resources used in the creation and study of visual art, such as paint, clay, cardboard, canvas, film, videotape, models, watercolors, wood, and plastic.

art media Broad categories for grouping works of visual art according to the art materials used.

Art Nouveau The art and design style, characterized by undulating, curvilinear, and organic forms, that dominated popular culture at the turn of the century, and that achieved particular success at the 1900 International Exposition in Paris.

assemblage An additive sculptural process in which various and diverse elements and objects are combined together.

asymmetric balance Balance achieved in a composition when neither side reflects or mirrors the other. Not symmetrical.

atmospheric perspective A technique, often employed in landscape painting, designed to suggest three-dimensional space in the two-dimensional space of the picture plane, and in which forms and objects distant from the viewer become less distinct, often bluer or cooler in color, and contrast among the various distant elements is greatly reduced.

avant-garde Those whose works can be characterized as unorthodox and experimental.

balance Balance is a feeling of equality in weight, attention, or attraction of various elements within an artwork as a means of unifying a composition. May be described as symmetrical or asymmetrical.

Baroque A dominant style of art in Europe in the seventeenth century characterized by its theatrical, or dramatic, use of light and color, by its ornate forms, and by its disregard for classical principles of composition.

bas-relief See low-relief.

Bauhaus A German school of design, founded by Walter Gropius in 1919 and closed by Hitler in 1933.

calligraphy The art of handwriting in a fine and “beautiful” way.

Carolingian art European art from the mid-8th to the early 10th century, given impetus and encouragement by Charlemagne’s desire to restore the civilization of Rome.

cartoon As distinct from common usage, where it refers to a drawing with humorous content, any full-size drawing, subsequently transferred to the working surface, from which a painting or tapestry is made.

chiaroscuro In drawing and painting, the use of light and dark to create the effect of three-dimensional, modeled surfaces.

Classical style In Greek art, the style of the 5th century B.C., characterized by its emphasis on balance, proportion, and harmony; by extension, any style that is based on logical, rational principles.

classical line A kind of line that is mathematical, precise, and rationally organized, epitomized by the vertical and horizontal grid, as opposed to expressive line.

closed form A form whose contour is regular and continuous; a sense of calm completeness implying a totality within itself.

collage A work made by pasting various scraps or pieces of material–cloth, paper, photographs–onto the surface of the composition.

column A vertical architectural support, usually topped by a capital.

comparative process The basic critical tool of art history and criticism, in which works of art are compared and contrasted with one another in order to establish both continuities and similarities between various works or styles and significant differences or stylistic changes that have occurred historically.

complementary colors Two hues directly opposite one another on the color wheel. The complement of each primary can be produced by mixing equal amounts of the other two primaries (called secondaries).

composition The organization of the formal elements in a work of art.

conceptual art An art form in which the idea behind the work and the process of its making are more important than the final product.

conceptual imagery Imagery derived from imagination, emotion, dreams, or other internal sources; perceptual imagery: imagery derived from experience or perception of the natural world.

constructivism A Russian art movement, fully established by 1921, that was dedicated to nonobjective means of communication.

content The meaning of an image, beyond its overt subject matter, including the emotional, intellectual, symbolic, thematic, and narrative connotations.

context A set of interrelated conditions (such as social, economic, political) in the visual arts that influence and give meaning to the development and reception of thoughts, ideas, or concepts, and that define specific cultures and eras.

contour The visible border of an object in space.

contrast Differences in values, colors, shape, texture (e.g., dark, medium, light; or large, medium, small; or rough, smooth).

cool colors Colors whose relative visual temperature makes them seem cool. Cool colors generally include green, blue-green, blue, blue-violet, and violet.

cross-hatching Two or more sets of roughly parallel and overlapping lines, set at an angle to one another, in order to create a sense of three-dimensional, modeled space. See also hatching.

Cubism A style of art pioneered by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque in the first decade of the 20th century, noted for the geometry of its forms, its fragmentation of the object, and its increasing abstraction.

Dada An art movement that originated during World War I in a number of world capitals, including New York, Paris, Berlin, and Zurich, and that was so antagonistic to traditional styles and materials of art that it was considered by many to be “anti-art”.

delineation The descriptive representation of an object by means of outline or contour drawing.

design Both the process and the result of structuring elements of visual form.

De Stijl A Dutch art movement of the early 20th century that emphasized abstraction and simplicity, reducing form to the rectangle and color to the primaries–red, blue, and yellow.

dome A roof generally in the shape of a hemisphere or half-globe.

edition In printmaking, the number of images authorized by the artist made from a single plate.

electronic media Means of communication characterized by the use of technology, e.g., radio, computers, e.g., virtual reality.

elements of design The component parts of art. The elements help define what principles are; there cannot be a principle without an element. The elements do not occur in isolation but one can be dominant. The elements give the artist a vocabulary to use to help explain art–line, shape, color, value, texture, space/form.

elevation In architecture, the side of a building, or a drawing of the side of a building.

emphasis The principle of visual organization that suggests that certain elements should assume more importance (dominance) than others in the same composition. Dominance contributes to unity because one main idea or feature is emphasized and other elements are subordinate to it.

engraving An intaglio printmaking process in which a sharp tool called a burin is used to incise the plate. The resulting printis also called an engraving.

ensemble The dynamic interaction and harmonious blending of the efforts of the many artists involved in the dramatic activity of theatrical production.

etching An intaglio printmaking process in which a metal plate coated with wax is drawn upon with a sharp tool down to the plate and then placed in an acid bath. The acid eats away at the plate where the lines have been drawn, the wax is removed, and then the plate is inked and printed. The resulting print is also called an etching.

expression In visual arts, a process of conveying ideas, feelings, and meanings through selective use of the communicative possibilities.

Expressionism An art that stresses the psychological and emotional content of the work, associated particularly with German art in the early 20th century. See also Abstract Expressionism.

expressionism The broad term that describes emotional art, most often boldly executed and making free use of distortion and arbitrary use of color.

expressive line A kind of line that seems to spring directly from the artist’s emotions or feelings–loose, gestural, and energetic–epitomized by curvilinear forms.

eye level The height of the viewer’s eyes above the ground plane.

Fauvism An art movement of the early 20th century characterized by its use of bold arbitrary color. Its name derives from the French word “fauve,” meaning “wild beast”.

figure-ground relationship In a two-dimensional work, the relationship between a form or figure and its background.

fixative A thin liquid film sprayed over pastel and charcoal drawings to protect them from smudging.

fluting The shallow vertical grooves or channels on a column.

focal point A radial type of balance. It occurs when two or more identical elements are distributed around a center point to create a repetitive equilibrium.

folklife Made up of two words: folk and life. The word “folk” usually means people or refers to a particular group of people. The word “life” includes all of the daily activities people do in their lives. “Folklife” means the daily traditional activities, information, and art forms of a particular group of people.

foreshortening The use of perspective to represent the apparent visual contraction of an object or figure that extends backwards from the picture plane at an angle approaching the perpendicular.

form In visual arts, a) the literal shape and mass of an object or figure; b) more generally, the materials used to make a work of art, the ways in which these materials are utilized in terms of the formal elements (line, light, color, etc.), and the composition that results.

format Basic layout or proportions of a work being presented.

fresco Painting on plaster, either dry (fresco secco) or wet (buon or true fresco). In the former, the paint is an independent layer, separate from the plaster proper; in the latter, the paint is chemically bound to the plaster, and is integral to the wall or support.

Futurism An early 20th century art movement, characterized by its desire to celebrate the movement and speed of modern, industrial life.

gouache A painting medium similar to watercolor, but opaque instead of transparent.

ground The background in two-dimensional works–the area around and between figure(s). Also, the surface onto which paint is applied.

happening A spontaneous, often multimedia event, conceived by artists and performed not only by the artists themselves but often by the public present at the event as well.

hatching An area of closely spaced parallel lines, employed in drawing and engraving, to create the effect of shading or modeling. See also cross-hatching.

harmony The related qualities of the visual elements of a composition. Harmony is achieved by repetition of characteristics that are the same or similar.

Hellenistic art The art of the 3rd and 2nd centuries B.C. in Greece, characterized by its physical realism and emotional drama.

high contrast A maximum of contrast between light and dark.

highlight The spot or one of the spots of highest key or value in a picture.

horizon line In linear perspective, the implied or actual line or edge placed on a two-dimensional surface to represent the point in nature where the sky meets the horizontal land or water plane.

hue A color, usually one of the six basic colors of the spectrum–the three primary colors of red, yellow, and blue, and the three secondary colors of green, orange, and violet.

idealism As opposed to realism, the representation of things according to a preconceived ideal form or type.

imagery The art of making pictures to represent or evoke a particular thing.

impasto Pigment applied very thickly to canvas or support.

implied line As opposed to actual line, a line created by movement or direction, such as the line established by a pointing finger, the direction of a glance, or a body moving through space.

impression In printmaking, a single example of an edition.

Impressionism A late 19th century art movement, centered in France, and characterized by its use of discontinuous strokes of color meant to reproduce the effects of light.

intaglio Any form of printmaking in which the line is incised into the surface of the printing plate, including aquatintdrypointetchingengraving, and mezzotint.

intensity The relative purity of a color’s hue, and a function of its relative brightness or dullness; also known as saturation.

intention What the artist means to convey in a work of art, as opposed, for instance, to the way the work is interpreted.

intermediate colors The range of colors on the color wheel between each primary color and its neighboring secondary colors; yellow-green, for example.

key The relative lightness or darkness of a picture or the colors employed in it.

kinetic art Art that moves.

kitsch Sentimental, slick, and mass-produced art designed to appeal to the widest possible popular audience.

line The actual or implied connection between two points. Line creates a visual path of action, our eyes tend to follow lines. Line defines the edge and shape two dimensionally. Line has different qualities–thick, thin, light, dark, long, short, and broken. Line can create directional effects. Lines grouped together make patterns and textures. Lines define the contour of shape by moving in and out, back and forth.

linear perspective A system for depicting three-dimensional space on a two- dimensional surface that depends upon two related principles: that things perceived far away are smaller than things nearer the viewer, and that parallel lines receding into the distance converge at a vanishing point on the horizon line.

linocut A form of relief printmaking, similar to a woodcut, in which a block of linoleum is carved so as to leave the image to be printed raised above the surface of the block. The resulting print is also known as a linocut.

lithograph Any print resulting from the process of lithography.

lithography A printmaking process in which a polished stone, often limestone, is drawn upon with a greasy material; the surface is moistened and then inked; the ink adheres only to the greasy lines of the drawing; and the design is transferred to dampened paper, usually in a printing press.

local color As opposed to optical or perceptual color, the actual hue of a thing, independent of the ways in which different conditions of light and atmosphere might affect it.

low (bas-) relief In sculpture, where the figures and objects remain attached to a background plane and project off of it by less than one-half their normal depth.

low contrast A minimum of contrast between light and dark, so that the image is either predominantly dark or predominantly light.

Mannerism The style of art prevalent especially in Italy from about 1525 until the early years of the 17th century, characterized by its dramatic use of light, exaggerated perspective, distorted forms, and vivid colors.

medium 1) (pl. media) A particular material along with its accompanying technique. A specific type of artistic technique or means of expression determined by the use of specific materials. 2) In painting, a liquid added to the paint that makes it easier to manipulate.

Minimalism A style of art, predominantly American, that dates from the mid-20th century, characterized by its rejection of expressive content and its use of “minimal” formal means.

modeling In sculpture, the shaping of a form in some plastic material, such as clay or plaster; in drawing, painting, and printmaking, the rendering of a form, usually by means of hatching or chiaroscuro, to create the illusion of a three-dimensional form.

Modernism The various strategies and directions employed in the 20th century–CubismFuturismExpressionism, etc.–to explore the particular formal properties of any given medium.

monochromatic A color scheme limited to variations of one hue. A hue with its tints and/or shades

mosaic An art form in which small pieces of tile, glass, or stone are fitted together and embedded in cement on surfaces such as walls and floors.

narrative art temporal form of art that tells a story.

naturalistic Synonymous with representational; descriptive of any work that resembles the natural world.

nave The central part of a church, running from the entrance to the choir.

negative shape A background shape produced by its interaction with foreground or figure shape(s).

negative space Empty space, surrounded and shaped so that it acquires a sense of volume or form.

Neoclassicism A style of the late 18th and early 19th centuries that was influenced by the Greek Classical style and that often employed Classical themes for its subject matter.

neutral color A color not associated with any single hue. A neutral can be made by mixing complementary hues

nonobjective art Art that makes no reference to the natural world and that explores the inherent expressive or aesthetic potential of the formal elements–line, shape, color–and the formal compositional principles of a given medium. Also see nonrepresentational.

objective As opposed to subjective, free of personal feelings or emotion; hence, without bias.

one-point linear perspective A version of linear perspective in which there is only one vanishing point in the composition.

open form A form whose contour is irregular or broken, having a sense of unfinished growth.

Optical Painting (Op Art) An art style particularly popular in the 1960s in which line and color are manipulated in ways that stimulate the eye into believing it perceives movement.

optical or perceptual color The color as perceived by the eye, changed by the effects of light and atmosphere, in the way, for instance, that distant mountains appear to be blue.

original print print created by the artist alone and that has been printed by the artist or under the artist’s direct supervision.

outline The contour of a shape or figure depicted by an actual line drawn or painted on the surface.

pastel 1) A soft crayon made of chalk and pigment. Also any work done in this medium. 2) A pale, light color.

perception Visual and sensory awareness, discrimination, and integration of impressions, conditions, and relationships with regard to objects, images, and feelings.

perceptual line Any line that is perceived but not actually drawn, such as a horizon line.

performance art A form of art, popular especially since the late 1960s, that includes not only physical space but the human activity that goes on within it.

perspective A formula for projecting the illusion of three-dimensional space onto a two-dimensional surface. See also linear perspectiveone-point linear perspective, two-point linear perspective, and atmospheric perspective.

photorealistic art Art rendered with such a high degree of representational accuracy that it appears to be photographed rather than drawn or painted.

pictorial space The implied or illusory space in a painting or other two-dimensional work as it appears to recede backward from the picture plane.

picture plane The two-dimensional picture surface.

pigment A coloring agent in powder form used in paints, crayons, and chalks.

polychromatic Having many colors; random or intuitive use of color combinations as opposed to color selection based on a specific color scheme.

Pop Art A style arising in the early 1960s characterized by its emphasis on the forms and imagery of mass culture.

positive shape A figure or foreground shape, as opposed to a negative ground or background shape.

Post-Impressionism A name that describes the painting of a number of artists, working in widely different styles, in the last decades of the 19th century in France.

Postmodernism A term used to describe the willfully plural and eclectic art forms of contemporary art.

primary colors The hues that in theory cannot be created from a mixture of other hues and from which all other hues are created–namely, in pigment, red, yellow, and blue; and in light, red-orange, green, and blue-violet.

principles of design Organize and give order to the elements of design and can be used to describe the visual qualities of an artwork. Balance, focal point, proportion, rhythm, emphasis, harmony, variety and unity.

print Any one of multiple impressions made from a master image.

process A complex operation involving a number of methods or techniques, such as the addition and subtraction processes in sculpture, the etching and intaglio processes in printmaking, or the casting or constructing processes in making jewelry.

proof A trial impression of a print, made before the final edition is run, so that it may be examined and, if necessary, corrected.

proportion In any composition, the comparison and relationship of the parts to each other and to the whole. Proportion can be expressed in terms of a definite ratio, such as “twice as big,” or be expressed by “darker than,” “more neutral than,” or “more important than.”

realism As opposed to idealism, the representation of things with relative fidelity to their appearance in visible nature.

relief 1) In sculpture, where images and forms are attached to a background and project off it. See low-relief and high-relief. 2) In printmaking, any process in which any area of the plate not to be printed is carved away, leaving only the original surface to be printed.

repetition (pattern) An art element repeated over and over.

representational art Any work of art that seeks to resemble the world of natural appearance.

rhythm A continuance, a flow, or a feeling of movement achieved by repetition of regulated visual units, the use of measure accents, that directs the eye through a composition.

Rococo A style of art popular in the first three-quarters of the 18th century, particularly in France, characterized by curvilinear forms, pastel colors, and its light, often frivolous subject matter.

Romanesque art The dominant style of art and architecture in Europe from the 8th to the 12th centuries, characterized, in architecture, by Roman precedents, particularly the round arch and the barrel vault.

Romanticism A dramatic, emotional, and subjective art arising in the early 19th century in opposition to the austere discipline of Neoclassicism.

saturation The purity or intensity of a hue (color) on a scale from bright (full saturation) to dull (low saturation).

scale The comparative size of a thing in relation to another like thing or its “normal” or “expected” size.

secondary colors A hue created by combining two primary colors; in pigment, the secondary colors are traditionally considered to be orange, green, and blue; in light, they are yellow, magenta, and cyan.

shade A color or hue modified by the addition of another color resulting in a hue of lower key or value, in the way, for instance, that the addition of black to red results in maroon.

shape A defined area. Two-dimensional shapes are areas that stand apart or out from the space around them because of a definite boundary or difference of value, color, or texture. Shapes may be geometric, organic, or composite. There are positive and negative shapes which together can be referred to as a “figure-ground relationship.” A figure-ground reversal occurs when the eye switches from seeing a shape as foreground and sees it instead as background.

simultaneous contrast A property of complementary colors when placed side by side, resulting in the fact that both appear brighter and more intense than when seen in isolation.

spectrum The colored bands of visible light created when sunlight passes through a prism.

still life A work of art that consists of an arrangement of inanimate objects, such as flowers, fruit, and household objects.

stippling In drawing and printmaking, a pattern of closely placed dots or small marks employed to create the effect of shading or modeling.

style A distinctive or characteristic manner. Any constant, recurring, or conventional manner of treatment or execution of works of art that is characteristic of a particular civilization, time period, artistic movement, or individual artist.

structures Means of organizing the components of a work into a cohesive and meaningful whole, such as sensory qualities, organizational principles, expressive features, and functions of art.

subject matter The literal, visible image in a work of art, as distinguished from its content, which includes the connotative, symbolic, and suggestive aspects of the image.

subjective As opposed to objective, full of personal emotions and feelings.

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

subtractive 1) In color, the adjective used to describe the fact that, when different hues of colored pigment are combined, the resulting mixture is lower in key than the original hues and duller as well, and as more and more hues are added, the resulting mixture is closer and closer to black.

Surrealism A style of art of the early 20th century that emphasized dream imagery, chance operations, and rapid, thoughtless forms of notation that expressed, it was felt, the unconscious mind.

symbol An image, sign, or element, such as a color, that is understood, by convention or context, to suggest some other meaning.

symmetry When two halves of a composition correspond to one another in terms of size, shape, and placement of forms. Symmetrical (bilateral) balance is a form of balance achieved by the use of identical compositional units on either side of a vertical axis.

techniques Specific methods or approaches used in a larger process; for example, graduation of value or hue in painting or conveying linear perspective through overlapping, shading, or varying size or color.

technologies Complex machines used in the study and creation of art, such as lathes, presses, computers, lasers, and video equipment.

texture The actual tactile characteristics of a thing, or the visual simulation of such characteristics.

three-dimensional space Any space that possesses height, width, and depth.

tint A color or hue modified by the addition of another color resulting in a hue of higher key or value, in the way, for instance, that the addition of white to red results in pink.

trompe l’oeil A form of representation that attempts to depict the object as if it were actually present before the eye in three-dimensional space; literally “eye-fooling”.

tools Instruments and equipment used by students to create and learn about art, such as brushes, scissors, brayers, easels, knives, kilns, and cameras.

two-dimensional space Any space that is flat, possessing height and width, but no depth, such as a piece of drawing paper or a canvas.

two-point linear perspective A version of linear perspective in which there are two (or more) vanishing points in the composition.

unity A sense of wholeness in a work of art, all parts working together.

value The range of light and dark on a shape or form or in an entire space. Value is the amount of lightness or darkness in a color. Red when lightened by white is called pink but is actually a light red. When gray or green is added to red it is darkened and we may call it maroon. Pink and maroon are thus light and dark values of red.

vanishing point In linear perspective, the point on the horizon line where parallel lines appear to converge.

variety The use of opposing, contrasting, changing, elaborating, or diversifying elements in a composition to add interest and individualism. The counterweight to harmony in a work of art.

video art An art form that employs television as its medium.

virtual reality An artificial three-dimensionalenvironment, generated through the use of computers, that the viewer experiences as real space.

visual arts A broad category that includes the traditional fine arts such as drawing, painting, printmaking, sculpture; communication and design arts such as film, television, graphics, product design; architecture and environmental arts such as urban, interior, and landscape design; folk arts; and works of art such as ceramics, fibers, jewelry, works in wood, paper, and other materials.

visualization The forming of a mental image or images, particularly visual images, either of objects real and present or of things imagined.

warm colors Colors whose relative visual temperature makes them seem warm. Generally warm colors or hues include red-violet, red, red-orange, orange, yellow-orange, and yellow.

watercolor A painting medium consisting of pigments suspended in a solution of water and gum arabic.