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Glossary of Art Terms

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.

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.

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

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 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.

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 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.

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

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".

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.

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.

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.

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: 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Drawing: the act of representing an image on a surface by means of adding lines and shades, as with a pencil, crayon, pen, chalk, pastels, etc. Also refers to an illustration that has been drawn by hand.

Emphasis: the stress placed on a single area of a work or a unifying visual theme.

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.

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

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.

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

Focal point: 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.

Form: the volume and shape of a three-dimensional work, perhaps including unfilled areas that are integral to the work as a whole.

Fresco: 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.

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

Glaze: 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.

Graphic art: two-dimensional art forms such as drawing, engraving, etching and illustration in their various forms.

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 (see illustration).

Grisaille: 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 (see illustration).

Mannerism: A style of art that developed in the sixteenth century as a reaction to the classical rationality and balanced harmony of the High Renaissance; characterized by the dramatic use of space and light, exaggerated color, elongation of figures, and distortions of perspective, scale, and proportion.

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.

Medium: material or technique an artist works in; also, the component of paint in which the pigment is dispersed.

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

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.

Mische Technique: Mische Technique is often associated with Fantastic RealismThe name “Mische” in German means mixed and refers to using two different types of media; egg tempera and oil paints. Strictly speaking it could refer to the use other media, but in the context of Fantastic and Visionary art, this is usually what it means. It is a traditional technique that medieval and Renaissance artists used to create detailed paintings with rich depths of colour.

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.

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) (see illustration) .

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.

Mural: a large wall painting, often executed in fresco (see illustration).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Perspective: the art of picturing objects on a flat surface so as to give the appearance of distance or depth.

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.

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.

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

Positive space: space that is occupied by an element or a form.

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

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.

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.

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

Realism: a style of painting which depicts subject matter (form, color, space) as it appears in actuality or ordinary visual experience without distortion or stylization.

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.

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 (see illustration).

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'' (see illustration).

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.

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.

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.

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

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 (see illustration).

Sienna: a form of limonite clay most famous in the production of oil paint pigments. Its yellow-brown color comes from ferric oxides contained within. As a natural pigment, it (along with its chemical cousins ochre and umber) was one of the first pigments to be used by humans, and is found in many cave paintings.

Silhouette: a dark image outlined against a lighter background.

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.

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.

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 (see illustration).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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

Wash: used in watercolor painting, brush drawing, and occasionally in oil painting to describe a broad thin layer of diluted pigment or ink. Also refers to a drawing made in this technique.

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 8th century China.

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