Art Encyclopedia

Art Encyclopedia

If you would like to prepare for school subjects or simply increase your general knowledge, then enjoy our art encyclopedia. We tried to focus only on very important terms and definitions. We also kept our terminology very brief so that you absorb the concept more quickly and easily.

Art Glossary (Page 1)


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.
ABSORBENT GROUND: A chalk ground which absorbs oil and is used in oil painting to achieve a matt effect and to speed up drying.
ABSTRACT: Art that looks as if it contains little or no recognizable or realistic forms from the physical world. Focus is on formal elements such as colors, lines, or shapes. Artists often "abstract" objects by changing, simplifying, or exaggerating what they see.
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.
ABSTRACT / ABSTRACTION: Abstract means the modification of a (usually) natural form by simplification or distortion. Abstraction is the category of such modified images.
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.
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 EMULSION: A water dispersion of polymers or co-polymers of acrylic acid, methacrylic acid, or acrylonitrile. Acrylic emulsions dry by evaporation of the water and film coalescence.
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.
ACRYLIC SOLUTION: A solution of acrylic resin in a volatile solvent. Paints made with an acrylic solution binder resemble oil paints more than those made with acrylic emulsion binders.
ADDITIVE COLOR: Color that results from the mixture of two or more colored lights, the visual blending of separate spots of transmitted colored light.
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.
ALKYD: Synthetic resin used in paints and mediums. As a medium Liquin from Winsor and Newton works as a binder that encapsulates the pigment and speeds the drying time. In Paints W&N Griffith paints are good example of alkyd paints.
ALLA PRIMA: The method of oil painting in which the desired effects of the final painting are achieved in the first application of paint as opposed to the technique of covering the canvas in layers with the final painting being achieved at the end.
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.
ANHYDROUS: Free from water.
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.
ARCHIVAL: Refers to materials that meet certain criteria for permanence such as lignin-free, ph neutral, alkaline-buffered, stable in light, etc.
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.
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.
ARTIST: A practitioner in the arts, generally recognized as a professional by critics and peers.
ASSEMBLAGE: 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.
ASTM: The American Society for Testing and Materials. An independent standard for certain paint qualities, adopted by most manufacturers.
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: 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.
BINDER: The nonvolatile adhesive liquid portion of a paint that attaches pigment particles and the paint film as a whole to the support.
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.
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".
BISTRE: A brown, transparent pigment.
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.
BLEEDING: In artwork, the effect of a dark color seeping through a lighter color to the surface.
BLENDING: Smoothing the edges of two colors together so that they have a smooth gradation where they meet.
BLOOM: A dull, progressively opaque, white effect caused on varnished surfaces by damp conditions.
BODY COLOR: Opaque paint, such as gouache, which has the covering power to obliterate underlying color.
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: A distinctive style of artistic handwriting created by using special pen nibs that allow a calligrapher to vary the thickness of a letter's line elements; an elegant, decorative writing, developed to an art form itself, used to enhance the artistic appeal and visual beauty of handwritten papers and manuscripts.
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.
CARTOON: Other than what we watch on TV it is a planning device in mural painting, often a full-scale line drawing of the design, without color and tone.
CASEIN: A natural protein obtained from cow's milk. Produces a flat, water-resistant film.
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.
CHIAROSCURO: Italian term for light and dark, referring to the modeling of form by the use of light and shade.
CHROMA: The relative intensity or purity of a hue when compared to grayness or lack of hue.
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.
CLASSICAL ART: Referring to the art of ancient Greece and Rome (300–400 BCE) and characterized by its emphasis on balance, proportion, and harmony.
CMYK: The abbreviation for cyan (C), magenta (M), yellow (Y) and black (K). It is the colors used in a four color printing process.
COCKLING: Wrinkling or puckering in paper supports, caused by applying washes onto a flimsy or improperly stretched surface.
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: Introduced by the Cubists, the technique of creating a work of art by adhering flat articles such as paper, fabrics, string or other materials to a flat surface such as a canvas whereby a three-dimensional result is achieved.
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.
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.
COMMEMORATION: To remember or mark a particular event or person from the past through ceremony or memorial.
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.".
COMMISSION: Refers to the act of hiring someone to execute a certain work of art or set of artworks.
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 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.
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: 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.
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: 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.

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