Glossary of Art Terms

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

A

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Abstract/Abstraction
abstract means the modification of a (usually) natural form by simplification or distortion. Abstraction is the category of such modified images. Also see Non-Objective.
Artist's Proof
an artist's proof is one outside the regular edition, but printed at the same time or after the regular edition from the same plates without changes. By custom, the artist retains the A/Ps for his personal use or sale
Assemblage
(pronounced as-sem-blidge) - A type of modern sculpture consisting of combining multiple objects or forms, often 'found' objects

B

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Biomorphic
images derived from biological or natural forms; it was a term frequently used in early- to mid-20th century art

C

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Calligraphy/Calligraphic
calligraphy is beautiful personal handwriting; the term calligraphic is also applied to drawing or painting which contains brushstrokes reminiscent of calligraphy
Cartoon
a planning device in mural painting, often a full-scale line drawing of the design, without color and tone
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
Cockling
wrinkling or puckering in paper supports, caused by applying washes onto a flimsy or improperly stretched surface
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
Color Field Painting
a style of painting begun in the 1950s to '70s, characterized by small or large abstracted areas of color
Composition
the arrangement of elements by an artist in a painting or drawing
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-1950s
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
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.)

D

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Diptych
two separate paintings which are attached by hinges or other means, displayed as one artwork
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)

E

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Edition
in printmaking, the total number of prints made and approved by an artist, usually numbered consecutively
Encaustic
the process of using pigments dissolved in hot wax as a medium for painting
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

F

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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
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
Fresco
wall painting in water-based paint on moist plaster
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

G

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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
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
Gouache
opaque watercolors used for illustrations
Grisaille
(pronounced gri-zale) - 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

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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

I

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

J

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K

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L

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M

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Mannerism/Mannered
mannerism was a style of art in 16th century Italy, characterized by somewhat distorted (usually human) forms and a high emotional key. In modern and contemporary art, the work appears contrived or forced, as opposed to arrived at by genuine and self-aware creative impulses
Maquette
in sculpture, a small model in wax or clay, made as a preliminary sketch, presented to a client for his approval of the proposed work, or entered in a competition for a prize or scholarship
Medium
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)
Mobile
(pronounced mo-beel) - A type of kinetic sculpture (that which moves), invented and first used by the artist Alexander Calder
Modern Art
generally considered to be the period from about 1905-6 to the mid-1950s, 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.)

N

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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
Negative Space
in a painting or sculpture, the areas where there are no forms (the "empty" areas)
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-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
Not Sold
This indicates an item that did not sell at auction because it did not receive bids equal to or greater than the reserve (minimum bid) amount set by the consignor.

O

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P

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Palette
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
Pastel
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
Patina
originally the green brown encrustation on bronze, this now includes the natural effects of age or exposure on a surface
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)
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 1920s, such as Max Ernst)
Postmodern
a term used to describe the period of art which followed the modern period, i.e., from the 1950s 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
Printmaking
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

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R

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Realism
representational painting which, unlike ideal art, desires to depict forms and images as they really are, without idealizing them
Representational Art
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
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.

S

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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
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)
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
Silverpoint
a drawing method using a piece of metal, usually silver wire, drawn on a ground prepared with Chinese white, sometimes with pigment added
Stippling
a drawing technique consisting of many small dots or flecks to construct the image
Study
a preliminary drawing for a painting; also, a work done just to "study" nature in general

T

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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."
Trompe L'oeil
french for "deceive the eye". A painting with extreme naturalistic details, aiming to persuade the viewer that they are looking at an actual object, not a representation

U

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Underpainting
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

V

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Value
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

W

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X

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Y

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Z

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