Glossary of Common Art Terms
Abstract: A style of art that is not realistic. Unusual lines, colors, and shapes make the subject look unrealistic. It is often characterized by the use of geometric lines and shapes, and bold, bright colors.
Aesthetic: Ideas about what makes a work of art beautiful or satisfying.
Analogous colors: Colors that appear next to each other on the color wheel. Analogous colors have one hue in common. For example, blue, blue-green, and blue-violet all contain blue. Also called related colors.
Assemblage: A three-dimensional work of art made by joining materials and objects together.
Asymmetrical balance: A type of balance in which the two sides of an artwork are not exactly alike, but are still visually balanced.
Background: The part of an artwork that seems the farthest away.
Balance: The arrangement of the elements in a work of art to create a sense of equilibrium. Balance is a principle of design.
Bird’s-eye view: A point of view looking down from above.
Bisque: Clay that has been fired once and is unglazed.
Blend: To mix or rub colors together.
Block: In printmaking, a piece of flat material, such as wood, clay or metal, into which a design has been carved. It is also known as a plate. The block is used to print the design.
Border: A frame-like edge around a shape or image.
Brayer: In printing, a rubber roller used to spread ink over a surface.
Brush stroke: A line, shape, mark or texture made with a paintbrush.
Center of interest: The part of an artwork that you notice first.
Cityscape: Artwork that gives a view of a city.
Close-up: A very near or close view of an object or subject.
Coil: A rope-like shape that has been rolled from clay or other such material.
Collage: Artwork made by gluing bits of paper, pictures, fabric or other materials to a flat surface.
Color: What is perceived when waves of light strike the retina. Color is an element of art.
Color wheel: Colors arranged in a certain order in the shape of a circle.
Complementary colors: Colors that contrast with one another. Complementary colors are opposite one another on the color wheel.
Compose: To design or create something by arranging different parts into a whole.
Composition: The arrangement of elements in a work of art. All works of art have an order determined by the artist. Composition creates a hierarchy within the work, which tells the viewer the relative importance of the imagery and elements included.
Contrast: The effect of showing the difference between two unlike things, such as a dark color and a light color.
Contour: The line that forms the edge of any shape or form. The outline of a shape.
Contrasting colors: Colors placed opposite one another on the color wheel. Also called complementary colors. For example, orange and blue are contrasting colors.
Cool colors: The family of colors that includes greens, blues and violets. Cool colors bring to mind cool things, places and feelings.
Crayon etching: A picture made by rubbing wax crayon onto paper and then scratching a design into the wax.
Critique: The process of using description, analysis, interpretation and judgment to evaluate a work of art.
Cross-hatching: A method of showing value by using parallel lines at different angles that get darker as they are drawn closer together.
Cultural style: A style of art that shows something about the culture (customs, beliefs, art, way of life of a people) in which the artist lives or lived.
Depth: The apparent distance from front to back in an artwork.
Design: A plan for the arrangement of the art elements (lines, spaces, colors, shapes, forms and textures) in an artwork. Also, design is the act of arranging the parts of an artwork.
Detail: A small part of an artwork.
Distance: The sense of depth or space between objects in an artwork.
Drawing: An artwork consisting of lines and shapes/forms sketched on paper with materials such as pencils, pens, chalk or pastels.
Elements of art: The basic parts of an artwork. Line, color, pattern, shape, form, texture and space are elements of art.
Emphasis: It is the importance given to a certain object or areas in an artwork. Color, texture, shape and size can be used to create emphasis. Emphasis is a principle of design.
Etching: The act or process of making designs or pictures on a metal plate, glass, etc., by the corrosive action of an acid; an impression taken from an etched plate.
Exaggeration: Showing something in a way that makes it seem larger or more important than it is.
Expression: A special look that communicates strong feeling. A smile is an expression of happiness.
Focal Point: The area in a work of art that an artist emphasizes.
Folk Art: Art made by people who have not been formally trained in art. Folk art usually reflects the artist’s culture or tradition.
Foreground: The part of an artwork that seems the closest to you.
Foreshortening: Shortening lines or objects in an artwork to create an impression of depth and distance.
Form: A three-dimensional object, such as a cube or a ball. Form is an element of art. Form may be depicted on a two-dimensional surface.
Found object: Something that an artist finds and uses in an artwork such as a scrap of metal or a piece of wood.
Fresco: Painting made on fresh, wet plaster with pigments suspended in water.
Functional: Designed with a useful purpose in mind.
Harmony: A principle of art that combines elements of art in a composition to stress similarities of separate but related parts.
Highlights: Areas of direct light on an object.
Horizon line: In an artwork, the line where the ground and sky appear to meet.
Hue: Another word for color.
Illusion: An image that tricks the eye or seems to be something it is not.
Illustration: A picture used to help explain something or tell a story. An illustrator creates pictures for books, magazines or other printed works.
Impasto: Thick, heavy application of paint with either a brush or palette knife.
Implied: Suggested, but not actually shown, as in an implied line.
Intensity: The brightness or dullness of a color.
Intermediate colors: Colors that are a mixture of a primary and a secondary color. Blue-green, red-orange and red-violet are examples of intermediate colors.
Landscape: A drawing or painting that shows outdoor scenery such as trees, lakes, mountains and fields.
Line: A mark on a surface. Lines can be created by a pen, pencil, brush, stick, etc., on a variety of surfaces. Line is an element of art.
Lithograph: In the graphic arts, a method of printing from a prepared flat stone or a metal or plastic plate, invented in the late eighteenth century. For color lithography, separate drawings are made for each color.
Media: Materials used to create an artwork, such as clay or paint. The singular of media is medium.
Middle ground: In an artwork, the part between the foreground and the background.
Miniature: A representational work of art, usually a portrait, made on a greatly reduced scale. Their place in the 16th and 17th centuries was much the same as wallet snapshots today.
Mixed media: Artworks that are created from more than one medium.
Mobile: A type of sculpture in which objects are suspended and balanced so that they are moved by currents of air.
Monochrome: A color scheme using only tints and shades of a single color.
Monoprint: A print made from a plate that can be used only once.
Montage: Combining parts of several photographs or drawings to produce a new single image.
Mood: The feeling created in a work of art.
Mosaic: An artwork made from small pieces of colored glass, stone, paper or other materials.
Motif: An element that is repeated often enough to be an important feature of a design.
Motion: A sense of movement or action in an artwork.
Movement: The sense of motion or action created in an artwork. Also, a trend in an art is called a movement.
Negative space: The empty space around and between forms or shapes in an artwork.
Neutrals: A word used for black, white and tints and shades of gray. (Some artists use tints and shades of brown as neutrals.)
Nonobjective: A style of art that does not represent real objects.
One-point perspective: The graphic system in which all diagonal lines converge to a singular point on the horizon line.
Opaque: Not letting light through; the opposite of transparent.
Organic: A word describing shapes and forms similar to those in nature and the opposite of geometric.
Palette: A flat surface (palette, board, etc.) on which an artist holds and mixes colors.
Papier-mâché: A process of creating forms by covering an armature or other base with strips of paper that have been soaked in watery paste and then molding the strips. The form hardens as it dries.
Pastel: A crayon made of either chalk or oil.
Pattern: Repeated colors, lines, shapes or textures in an artwork. Pattern is a principal of design.
Perspective: A way of making a flat artwork look as if it has depth. In a painting, an artist creates perspective by making far-away objects smaller and nearby objects larger.
Photogram: A photograph made by placing objects directly on light sensitive material and exposing it directly to light.
Pictographs: Ancient drawings, often found on cave walls, which tell stories or record a culture’s beliefs and practices.
Pinch method: A way of shaping clay into pottery by pinching, pulling and pressing it with the hands.
Plate: In printmaking, a plate is a piece of flat material, such as wood or metal, with a design on the surface. The plate is used to print the design.
Pointillism: “Dot painting.” A style of painting in which small, distinct points of primary colors are combined to create a picture. Viewed at an appropriate distance, the eye “mixes” the dots of color and gives the impression that there is a wide selection of secondary colors.
Positive space: Shapes, forms or lines that stand out from the background in a work of art.
Primary colors: The colors from which all other colors are made. The primary colors are red, yellow and blue.
Principles of design: Guidelines artists use as they create art works. Unity, variety, emphasis, balance, proportion, pattern and rhythm are the principles of design.
Print: An artwork created by making an impression of a design.
Proportion: The relation of one thing to another with respect to size and placement. Proportion is an element of design.
Radial balance: A type of balance in which lines or shapes spread out from a center point.
Realism: Art style that renders life in a life-like way.
Relief print: A print made by covering a printing block with ink or paint and pressing paper onto the block. The areas or lines gouged out do not print. (Examples: woodcut, block print, linocut)
Relief sculpture: A kind of sculpture in which a design or image is carved into a flat surface.
Resist medium: A material, such as wax, used to protect parts of a surface from paint or dye.
Rhythm: The repeating of elements, such as lines, shapes or colors, that creates a pattern of visual motion in an artwork. Rhythm is a principle of design.
Rubbing: An artwork created by placing paper on a raised surface and then rubbing the paper with chalk, crayon or a pencil.
Sculpture: An artwork made by modeling, carving or joining materials into a three-dimensional form. Clay, wood, stone and metal are often used to make sculptures.
Seascape: A work that includes in the scene the sea, ocean or shore.
Secondary colors: A color made by mixing two primary colors. The secondary colors are green, violet and orange.
Shade: A color made by adding black to a hue. For example, adding black to green results in dark green. Also, a dark value of a color.
Shading: A way of showing gradual changes in lightness or darkness in a drawing or painting. Shading helps make a picture look more realistic.
Shape: A flat area that has clear boundaries. Shape is an element of art.
Sketch: A quick drawing. A sketch can be used to explore a subject or plan an artwork.
Space: An empty surface or area. Also, the area surrounding something.
Stabile: Enormous stable sculptures made of painted sheet metal. Even though they are stationary, stabiles have an implied, lyrical movement.
Still life: An artwork showing an arrangement of objects that cannot move on their own, such as fruit or flowers.
Stippling: Technique of using patterns of dots to create values and value gradation.
Story quilt: A quilt showing pictures that tell a story.
Style: An artist’s own way of designing and creating art. Also a technique used by a group of artists in a particular time or culture.
Subject: What an artwork is about: a person, animal, object or scene.
Subtractive: A word describing sculpture that is made by taking away, or subtracting, material from a larger piece or block.
Symbol: A symbol is a letter, color, sign or picture that expresses a larger meaning, For example, a red heart is often used as a symbol for love.
Symmetrical balance: A type of balance in which both sides of an artwork look the same or almost the same.
Symmetry: Balance created by making both sides of an artwork the same, equal or almost the same.
Tactile: A texture you can feel with your hands.
Technique: The way an artist uses art materials to create a certain type of artwork.
Texture: The way a surface looks and feels, such as smooth, rough or bumpy. Texture is an element of art.
Theme: In an artwork, theme is the artist’s message about the subject of the work.
Three-dimensional: Having height, width and thickness. Forms are three-dimensional.
Tint: A color such as pink that is created by mixing a hue with white. Also, a light value of a color.
Translucent: Something through which light can be seen.
Two-dimensional: Having height and width; flat. Shapes are two-dimensional.
Two-point perspective: Perspective in which receding lines meet at two vanishing points.
Unity: The quality of seeming whole and complete, with all parts looking right together. Unity is a principle of design.
Value: The lightness or darkness of colors. Tints have a light value. Shades have a dark value. Value is an element of art.
Vanishing point: A point on the horizon or eye-level line at which receding parallel lines meet in a perspective drawing.
Variety: The combination of elements or art, such as line, shape or color, in an artwork. Variety is a principle of design.
Visual rhythm: In an artwork, rhythm created by repeating elements, such as colors and lines. Visual rhythm might remind a viewer of music or dance rhythm.
Warm colors: The family of colors that includes reds, yellows and oranges. Warm colors bring to mind warm things, places and feelings.
Woodcut: A type of relief printing. A chisel is used to remove areas of a block of wood. Ink is transferred from the raised surfaces to paper. When more than one color is used, a block must be cut for each color. The Japanese were masters of this technique.
Worm’s-eye view: A point of view from ground level.