Glossary of Art Terms


Abstract Expressionism

An artistic movement made up of American artists in the 1940s and 1950s, also known as the New York School, or more narrowly, action painting. Abstract Expressionism is usually characterized by large abstract painted canvases, although the movement also includes sculpture and other media.


Of or relating to the conservative style of art promoted by an official academy.

Action painting

A term coined by art critic Harold Rosenberg in 1952 to describe the work of artists who painted with gestures that involved more than just the traditional use of the fingers and wrist to paint, including also the arm, shoulder, and even legs. In many of these paintings the movement that went into their making remains visible.


A non-fiction film, usually lasting no more than one to two minutes, showing unedited, unstructured footage of real events, places, people, or things. Actualities preceded documentaries and were popular forms of entertainment from the early 1890s until around 1908.


Relating to or characterized by a concern with beauty or good taste (adjective); a particular taste or approach to the visual qualities of an object (noun).

Allover painting

A canvas covered in paint from edge to edge and from corner to corner, in which each area of the composition is given equal attention and significance.


Aluminum is a relatively soft, durable, lightweight, ductile, and malleable metal with appearance ranging from silvery to dull gray. It is nonmagnetic and does not easily ignite. It is the most abundant metal in the earth’s crust.


An object, outline, or shape having sharp corners, or angles.


The science, art, or profession of designing and constructing buildings, bridges, and other large structures.

Art Nouveau

Decorative style of the late 19th and early 20th centuries that flourished principally in Europe and the U.S. Although it influenced painting and sculpture, its chief manifestations were in architecture and the decorative and graphic arts. It is characterized by sinuous, asymmetrical lines based on organic forms.

Arts and Crafts

Informal movement in architecture and the decorative arts that championed the unity of the arts, the experience of the individual craftsperson, and the qualities of materials and construction in the work itself.

Atelier Populaire

French for “popular workshop,” the renegade print workshop established at Paris's École des Beaux-Arts during nationwide protests in France in May 1968. The workshop created new images daily to respond to events.


The process of writing or creating art without conscious thought. The term was borrowed from physiology, which uses the term to denote involuntary processes that are not under conscious control, such as breathing. The Surrealists later applied to techniques of spontaneous writing, drawing, and painting.



A low-budget movie, especially (formerly) one made for use as a companion to the main attraction in a double feature.

Ball Bearing

A type of bearing designed to reduce friction, a force that resists motion between moving parts.


A term meaning extravagant, complex; applied to a style in art and architecture developed in Europe from the early seventeenth to mid-eighteenth century, emphasizing dramatic, often strained effect and typified by bold, curving forms, elaborate ornamentation, and overall balance of disparate parts.


A wax-resist dyeing technique that is often used to make highly patterned cloth.


A German school of art, design, and architecture, founded in 1919 by Walter Gropius. The school’s curriculum aimed to re-establish the bond between artistic creativity and manufacturing that had been broken by the Industrial Revolution.


A member of the Beat Generation, a group of American writers and artists popular in the 1950s and early 1960s, influenced by Eastern philosophy and religion and known especially for their use of nontraditional forms and their rejection of conventional social values.

Belle Époque

French for “beautiful era,” a term that describes the period in French history beginning in 1890 and ending at the start of World War I in1914, which was characterized by optimism, relative peace across Europe, and new discoveries in technology and science.

Ben-Day dots

Colored dots (generally in four colors: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) used to create shading and secondary colors in the mechanical reproduction of images.


A component of paint that creates uniform consistency or cohesion.


Derived from the Greek words bios (life) and morphe (form), a term referring to abstract forms or images that evoke associations with living forms such as plants and the human body.

Black Maria

The world’s first film studio, invented in 1892–93 by American inventor Thomas Alva Edison and his assistant and protégé, William K. L. Dickson. Comprised of an armature of wooden planks covered with tar paper, the structure was set on tracks so that it could be moved into optimal sunlight and outfitted with a roof made of panels that could be raised or lowered to control the amount of light coming in.


A heavy fabric interwoven with a rich, raised design.


The manner in which a painter applies paint with a brush.

Built Environment

Human-made surroundings that provide the setting for human activity.

Byzantine Empire

An empire of the eastern Mediterranean region, dating from AD 395, when the Roman Empire was partitioned into eastern and western portions. Its extent varied greatly over the centuries, but its core remained the Balkan Peninsula and Asia Minor. The empire collapsed when its capital, Constantinople, fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.



Decorative handwriting or lettering.


A group of artistic, literary, or musical works that are generally accepted as representing a field.


A rendering, usually a drawing, of a person or thing with exaggerated or distorted features, meant to satirize the subject.


Small handheld photographic cards, first popularized in the 1850s. Inexpensive and mass-produced, these cards depicted individual or celebrity portraits, and were popularly traded or collected in albums.


The first synthetic plastic material, developed in the 1860s and 1870s from a combination of camphor and nitrocellulose. Tough, flexible, and moldable, it was used to make many mass-produced items, including photographic film for both still and motion picture cameras. Despite its flammability and tendency to discolor and crack with age, celluloid was used in motion picture production until the 1930s, when it began to be replaced by cellulose-acetate safety film.


The act, process, or practice of examining books, films, or other material to remove or suppress what is considered morally, politically, or otherwise objectionable.


Objects, such as pots and vases, made of clay hardened by heat.

Chine collé

A printmaking technique that transfers an image to a lightweight paper that is bonded to a heavier surface.

Chromogenic color print

Photographs made from a positive color transparency or a negative. The color is achieved in the print by the layering of silver salts sensitized to the three primary colors: red, yellow, and blue. After each emulsified layer has been exposed, colors emerge in a chemical development process.


A combination motion picture camera, printer, and projector invented by French photographers, photographic equipment manufacturers, and brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière in 1895. The Cinématographe was used to create the world’s first movie theater when the Lumière brothers set it up in the back room of a Parisian café and projected their films. Unlike Thomas Alva Edison’s and William K. L. Dickson’s electrically powered Kinetograph, the Cinématographe was compact and hand-cranked, so it could be easily transported to shoot films on location.


The person who sets up both camera and lighting for each shot in a film. The cinematographer has major influence over the look and feel of a shot or scene and is often held in as high esteem as the director. Cinematography is the art of positioning a camera and lighting a scene.

City planner

An individual who helps guide and shape the future development of a community. A city planner considers environmental and social issues, and what kinds of resources are needed to improve the quality of life for the community residents, particularly in terms of what types of new building projects may be necessary.


An image with urban scenery as its primary focus; an urban environment.


A metal covering that sheathes a metal structure.


The principles embodied in the styles, theories, or philosophies of the art of ancient Greece and Rome.

Color Field paintings

Paintings of large areas of color, typically with no strong contrasts of tone or obvious focus of attention.


A decorative or structural feature, most often composed of stone, typically having a cylindrical or polygonal shaft.


The technique of affixing cast-off items to a traditional support, like a canvas.

Complementary colors

Colors located opposite one another on the color wheel. When mixed together, complementary colors produce a shade of gray or brown. When one stares at a color for a sustained period of time then looks at a white surface, an afterimage of the complementary color will appear.


The state of being pressed down under a weight or squeezed together.


Two or more things having a common center.

Conceptual art

Art that emerged in the late 1960s, emphasizing ideas and theoretical practices rather than the creation of visual forms. In 1967, the artist Sol LeWitt gave the new genre its name in his essay “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art,” in which he wrote, “The idea itself, even if not made visual, is as much a work of art as any finished product.”


Developed by the Russian avant-garde at the time of the October Revolution of 1917, the goal of this idealistic movement was to make art universally understandable and essential to everyday life.


The subject matter or significance of a work of art, especially as contrasted with its form.

Contrast (photography)

In photography, the range of light to dark areas in the composition. An image with high contrast will have a greater variability in tonality while a photograph with low contrast will have a more similar range of tones.


General agreement on or acceptance of certain practices or attitudes; a widely used and accepted device or technique, as in drama, literature, or visual art.

Cor-Ten steel

A steel alloy that develops a rust-like appearance when exposed to weather for several years, eliminating the need for repainting. Because of this quality, it is also called weathering steel.


In photography, editing, typically by removing the outer edges of the image. This process may happen in the darkroom or on a computer.


Having the shape of a cube.


An artistic movement begun in 1907, when artists Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque together developed a visual language whose geometric planes and compressed space challenged the conventions of representation in painting. Traditional subjects—nudes, landscapes, and still lifes—were reinvented as increasingly fragmented compositions. Its influence extended to an international network of artists working in Paris in those years and beyond.

Cultural icon

A person, symbol, object, or place that is widely recognized or culturally significant to a large group of people.


A person whose job it is to research and manage a collection and organize exhibitions.



A photographic technique invented by Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre in 1839. A daguerreotype uses a silver or silver-coated-copper plate to develop an image in a camera obscura. The image is formed when the light-sensitive plate is exposed to light through a camera lens. A daguerreotype was a unique, direct positive image that could not produce copies.

De Stijl (The Style)

Meaning “the style” in Dutch, a term describing a group of artists and architects whose style is characterized by the use of primary colors, rectangular shapes, and asymmetrical compositions. The movement was a direct response to the chaotic and destructive events of World War I, and its members believed that developing a new artistic style represented a means of rebuilding and creating a harmonic order.

Decorative Arts

A term used to describe the design and aesthetics of functional objects with an emphasis on unique and hand-crafted forms often available in limited quantity.

Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider)

Artist group active in Munich, Germany, from 1911 to 1914, and closely associated with the development of Expressionism. The group’s aim was to express their own inner desires in a variety of forms, rather than to strive for a unified style or theme.

Design brief

A written record describing the elements and scope of a design project.


A person who conceives and gives form to objects used in everyday life.

Die Brücke (the Bridge)

Artist group active in Dresden, Germany, from 1905 to 1913, and closely associated with the development of Expressionism. The group is associated with an interest in the distortion of reality and expressive use of color to respond to the turmoil of modern urban society.


A work of art made up of two parts, usually hinged together.

Direct Cinema

A method of documentary filmmaking developed in the late 1950s and early 1960s in the United States and Canada through which filmmakers sought to capture their subjects as directly as possible. Reducing equipment and crews to bare essentials, they used handheld cameras and attempted to make themselves unobtrusive, allowing life to unfold before the camera. American Direct Cinema pioneers include Richard Leacock, Robert Drew, D. A. Pennebaker, and brothers Albert and David Maysles.

Direct positive

A photographic term referring to a positive image made directly by exposure to light and by development without the use of a negative. In a direct positive print an image is produced on a surface and then treated chemically to imitate the tonal range of nature.

Documentary film

A genre encompassing non-fiction films intended to document some aspect of reality, often for the purposes of instruction, education, or developing a historical record.

Documentary photography

A genre of photography that aims to objectively chronicle a subject or event.

Double exposure

In photography and filmmaking, a technique in which film is exposed twice to capture and merge two different images into a single image.


A person who draws plans or designs, often of structures to be built; a person who draws skillfully, especially an artist.


A type of intaglio printmaking process that involves using an abrasive or sharp-pointed tool to scratch lines into the surface of a metal plate. The term may also refer to the process or to the tool used.


The ability to alter a material’s shape under tensile stress, such as stretching or pulling.



Artistic manipulation of the natural landscape, typically though not exclusively enacted on a large scale.

École des Beaux-Arts

French for “school of fine art,” a term for art schools that advance a classical approach to art, design, and literature based on ancient Greek or Roman forms.


A scale drawing of the side, front, or back of a structure.


The craft of decorating fabric or other materials with thread or yarn using a needle.


A combination of two or more liquids that do not blend easily on their own, such as oil and water. For example, painters can use egg yolk to emulsify oil paint and water.


A type of paint made from very fine pigments and resin that form a glossy surface. Also, the application of this paint to a material in order to create a smooth and glossy surface.


A photographic print that is bigger than the original negative. Because enlargements can be made, cameras can remain small and portable yet photographers can still produce big photographic prints. Before the development of enlargement techniques, the size of a photograph was determined by the size of its negative.


Transitory written and printed matter (receipts, notes, tickets, clippings, etc.) not originally intended to be kept or preserved.


A type of print made by scratching marks onto the surface of a metal plate (usually copper, zinc, or steel) that has been treated with an acid-resistant waxy ground. When the plate is placed into a vat of acid, the acid bites through the exposed portions of the plate. The plate is inked, and an image is created by running the plate and paper through a printing press.


An international artistic movement in art, architecture, literature, and performance that flourished between 1905 and 1920, especially in Germany and Austria, that favored the expression of subjective emotions and experience over depictions of objective reality. Conventions of Expressionist style include distortion, exaggeration, fantasy, and vivid, jarring, violent, or dynamic application of color.

Exquisite Corpse

A game in which each participant takes turns writing or drawing on a sheet of paper, folds it to conceal his or her contribution, then passes it to the next player for a further contribution. The game gained popularity in artistic circles during the 1920s, when it was adopted as a technique by artists of the Surrealist movement.



French for “wild beasts,” the term was coined in 1905 by art critic Louis Vauxcelles to describe paintings by artists like Henri Matisse and André Derain, which were characterized by a tendency toward vibrant color and bold brushstrokes over realistic or representational qualities.


The style of painting practiced by les Fauves (French for “wild beasts”) in the early 20th century, associated especially with Henri Matisse and André Derain, whose works emphasized strong, vibrant color and bold brushstrokes over realistic or representational qualities

Feminist art

Art seeking to challenge the dominance of men in both art and society, to gain recognition and equality for women artists, and to question assumptions about womanhood. Beginning in the 1960s and 1970s, feminist artists used a variety of mediums—including painting, performance art, and crafts historically considered “women’s work”—to make work aimed at ending sexism and oppression and exposing femininity to be a masquerade or set of poses adopted by women to conform to societal expectations. While many of the debates inaugurated in these decades are still ongoing, a younger generation of feminist artists takes an approach incorporating intersecting concerns about race, class, forms of privilege, and gender identity and fluidity. Both feminism and feminist art continue to evolve.


1. A series of moving images, especially those recorded on film and projected onto a screen or other surface (noun); 2. A sheet or roll of a flexible transparent material coated with an emulsion sensitive to light and used to capture an image for a photograph or film (noun); 3. To record on film or video using a movie camera (verb).

Film still

A photograph taken during the production of a film that shows a particular moment or scene. These photographs are often used as advertisements or posters for the film.


A specific size and style of a typeface design (for example, Arial 12pt bold, or Times New Roman 10pt italics). The term is often confused with typeface, which is a particular design of type.


The shape or structure of an object.

Found objects

An object—often utilitarian, manufactured, or naturally occurring—that was not originally designed for an artistic purpose, but has been discovered and repurposed in an artistic context.

Free association

A technique developed by psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud to help discover ideas and associations that a patient had developed, initially, at a subconscious level.


Technique of reproducing a texture or relief design by laying paper over it and rubbing it with some drawing medium, for example pencil or crayon. Max Ernst and other Surrealist artists incorporated such rubbings into their paintings by means of collage.


An Italian movement in art and literature, founded in 1909 by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, characterized by an aesthetic that glorified the mechanical world, war, and dynamic speed.


Gelatin silver print

A black-and-white photographic print made by exposing paper, which has been made light-sensitive by a coating of gelatin silver halide emulsion, to artificial or natural light; a photographic process invented by Dr. Richard Leach Maddox in 1871


A category of artistic practice having a particular form, content, or technique.


An opaque watercolor paint; a painting produced with such paint.


A visual representation or design on a surface.


Characterized by ludicrous, repulsive, or incongruous distortion, as of appearance or manner; ugly, outlandish, or bizarre, as in character or appearance.



A performance, event, or situation considered as art, especially those initiated by the artists group Fluxus in the early 1960s. Such events are often planned, but involve elements of improvisation, may take place in any location, are multidisciplinary, and frequently involve audience participation.


Stiff board made of compressed and treated wood pulp.

Harlem Renaissance

An African American literary, artistic, and intellectual flowering, centered in the New York City neighborhood of Harlem and spanning the 1920s to the mid-1930s. Considered one of the most creative periods in American history, it fostered a new African American cultural identity.


A clown figure, traditionally presented in a mask and multicolored costume.


A pictographic communication system, closely associated with the ancient Egyptians, in which many of the symbols are stylized, recognizable pictures of the things and ideas represented.

Horizon line

A line in works of art that usually shows where land or water converges with the sky.



Having the character of an icon, i.e., an important and enduring symbol, an object of great attention and devotion.


Subject matter in visual art, often adhering to particular conventions of artistic representation, and imbued with symbolic meanings.


An image used as an object of worship; one that is adored, often blindly or excessively.


A representation of a person or thing in a work of art.


An Italian word for “paste” or “mixture”, used to describe a painting technique where paint (usually oil) is thickly laid on a surface, so that the texture of brush- or palette-knife strokes are clearly visible.


A 19th-century art movement, associated especially with French artists, whose works are characterized by relatively small, thin, visible brushstrokes that coalesce to form a single scene and emphasize movement and the changing qualities of light. Anti-academic in its formal aspects, Impressionism also involved the establishment of independent exhibitions outside of the established and official venues of the day.


The act of improvising, that is, to make, compose, or perform on the spur of the moment and with little or no preparation.

In situ

In its original position or place.

Inclined plane

A flat slanting surface, connecting a lower level to a higher level. Examples include slides, ramps, and slopes.

Industrial design

A field of design concerned with the aesthetics, form, functionality, and production of manufactured consumer objects.

Information Age

The period beginning around 1970 characterized by a shift away from traditional industry and noted for the abundant publication, consumption, and manipulation of information, especially by computers and computer networks. Also known as the Computer Age, Digital Age, or New Media Age.

Institutional critique

An art term describing the systematic inquiry into the practices and ethos surrounding art institutions such as art academies, galleries, and museums, often challenging assumed and historical norms of artistic theory and practice. It often seeks to make visible the historically and socially constructed boundaries between inside and outside and public and private.


A type of print made by first applying a “ground” (an acid-resistant coating) to a metal plate. The artist then uses different types of special tools to remove the ground wherever they desire, and the plate is then submerged in acid. The acid bites into the exposed parts of the plate. Ink is then applied to the plate using a rolled up cloth or roller. The ink stays only on the exposed areas, creating an image. The image is printed onto dampened paper using a printing press.

Interaction Design

The practice of designing digital environments, products, systems, and services for human interaction.

Interior Design

A discipline of design that focuses on the functional and aesthetic aspects of indoor spaces.

International Style

A style of architecture that appeared from 1932 to 1960 and favored boxy structures, lack of decoration, and the use of materials such as steel, concrete, and glass.


Dialogue or narration conveyed in text that is shown between scenes of a silent film.


Jazz Age

The period in American history between World Wars I and II, particularly the 1920s, characterized especially by the rising popularity of jazz and by the open pursuit of social pleasures.


A committee, usually of experts, that judges contestants or applicants in a competition or exhibition.


An act of placing things close together or side by side for comparison or contrast.


Kinetic sculpture

Sculpture that depends on motion.


The world’s first motion picture camera, invented in 1890 by American inventor Thomas Alva Edison and his assistant and protégé, William K. L. Dickson. It was electrically powered and worked with celluloid film, which was advanced through the camera via a system of sprockets.


A cabinet-like apparatus and forerunner of the motion picture film projector invented in 1891 by American inventor Thomas Alva Edison and his assistant and protégé, William K. L. Dickson. When a nickel was dropped into its slot, celluloid film recorded in the Kinetograph would roll through the Kinetoscope, passing between a lens and an electric light bulb (another of Edison’s inventions). A peephole at the top of the Kinetoscope allowed people to view the moving pictures of the celluloid as it rolled past.



Any of various clear or colored synthetic organic coatings that typically dry to form a film.


A printmaking technique based on the repulsion of oil and water, in which an oily substance is applied to a stone or other medium to transfer ink to a paper surface.


Expressing deep personal emotion or observations; highly enthusiastic, rhapsodic.


Magic lantern

Apparatus used to project an image, usually onto a screen. In use from the 17th to the early 20th century, it is a precursor of the modern slide projector. A transparent slide containing the image was placed between a source of illumination and a set of lenses to focus and direct the image.


The ability to alter a material’s shape under compressive stress, such as hammering or rolling.


A sacred Hindu and Buddhist art form, generally circular, that symbolizes the universe.


A public declaration, often political in nature, of a group or individual’s principles, beliefs, and intended courses of action.


Having or showing a certain manner; artificial, stylized, or affected.

Mass Production

The production of large amounts of standardized products through the use of machine-assembly production methods and equipment.


1. A drama, such as a play, film, or television program, characterized by exaggerated emotions, stereotypical characters, and interpersonal conflicts; 2. Behavior or occurrences having melodramatic characteristics.


Transcending physical matter or the laws of nature. Metaphysics refers to the branch of philosophy that studies that fundamental nature of being and knowing.

Mexican Muralist movement

This art movement began in Mexico in the early 1920s when, in an effort to increase literacy, Education Minister José Vasconcelos commissioned artists to create monumental didactic murals depicting Mexico's history on the walls of government buildings. Artists of the Mexican Muralist movement include José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, and David Alfaro Siqueiros.

Middle ground

The part of the picture that is between the foreground and background.


An artistic movement of the 1960s in which artists produced pared-down three-dimensional objects devoid of representational content. Their new vocabulary of simplified, geometric forms made from humble industrial materials challenged traditional notions of craftsmanship, the illusion of spatial depth in painting, and the idea that a work of art must be one of a kind.


A monster in classical Greek mythology that is half man and half bull.

Mixed media

1. A technique involving the use of two or more artistic media, such as ink and pastel or painting and collage, that are combined in a single composition; 2. A designation for an artist who works with a number of different artistic media.


Having a single color. A work of art rendered in only one color.


An assembly of images that relate to each other in some way to create a single work or part of a work of art. A montage is more formal than a collage and is usually based on a theme. The term is also used to describe experimentation in photography and film.


A term for small-scale, three-dimensional works conceived by artists, and often produced commercially, in relatively large editions.


A large painting applied to a wall or ceiling, especially in a public space.


The guiding spirit that is thought to inspire artists; source of genius or inspiration (noun).



A traditional form of calligraphy used mostly for Persian, Urdu, and Malay manuscripts.


Faithful adherence to nature; factual or realistic representation.

Negative (photographic)

A previously exposed and developed photographic film or plate showing an image that, in black-and-white photography, has a reversal of tones (for example, white eyes appear black). In color photography, the image is in complementary colors to the subject (for example, a blue sky appears yellow). The transfer of a negative image to another surface results in a positive image.


A term applied to an avant-garde art movement that flourished principally in France from 1886 to 1906. Led by the example of Georges Seurat, the Neo-Impressionists renounced the spontaneity of Impressionism in favor of a measured painting technique grounded in science and the study of optics. Neo-Impressionists came to believe that separate touches of interwoven pigment result in a greater vibrancy of color than is achieved by the conventional mixing of pigments on the palette.


A style that arose in the second half of the eighteenth century in Europe with the increasing influence of classical antiquity on the development of taste. It was based on first-hand observation and reproduction of antique works and came to dominate European architecture, painting, sculpture, and decorative arts.

Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity)

A representative style of art that was developed in the 1920s in Germany by artists including Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, and George Grosz. Artworks in this style were often satirical in nature, sending a critical eye upon contemporary taste and the postwar society of Germany. In both content and style, artists of this movement directly challenged and broke away from the traditions of the art academies they had attended.



A tall, four-sided monument that tapers into a pyramid-like form.


A term referring to the islands of the southern, western, and central Pacific Ocean, including Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. The term is sometimes extended to encompass Australia, New Zealand, and the Malay Archipelago.

Old Master

A distinguished European artist of the period from about 1500 to the early 1700s, especially one of the great painters of this period, e.g., Michelangelo.

Open source

In computer software, open source refers to source code that is freely available and may be modified. Open-source software is often developed publicly and collaboratively.


Having characteristics of a biological entity, or organism, or developing in the manner of a living thing.


Accessories, decoration, adornment, or details that have been applied to an object or structure to beautify its appearance.



A work of art made from paint applied to canvas, wood, paper, or another support (noun).

Palette knife

A flexible, thin blade with a handle, typically used for mixing paint colors or applying them to a canvas.


To pivot a movie camera along a horizontal plane in order to follow an object or create a panoramic effect.


An unbroken view on an entire surrounding area.


French for “glued paper,” a collage technique using cut-and-pasted papers.


French for “chewed-up paper,” a technique for creating three-dimensional objects, such as sculpture, from pulped or pasted paper and binders such as glue or plaster.

Paranoiac critical method

Emerging from psychological methods, a creative process, developed by Surrealist artist Salvador Dalí in the 1930s, for the exploration of the creative potential of dream imagery and subconscious thoughts.


A soft and delicate shade of a color; a drawing medium of dried paste manufactured in crayon form made of ground pigments and a water-based binder; a picture or sketch drawn with this type of crayon.


The role that one assumes or displays in public or society; one’s public image or personality, as distinguished from the inner self.

Photocollage (also see Photomontage)

A collage work that includes cut- or torn-and-pasted photographs or photographic reproductions.


A photographic print made by placing objects and other elements on photosensitive paper and exposing it to light.


An image, especially a positive print, recorded by exposing a photosensitive surface to light, especially in a camera.


A printmaking process in which a photographic negative is transferred onto a copper plate.

Photomontage (also see Photocollage)

A collage work that includes cut- or torn-and-pasted photographs or photographic reproductions.


A machine that makes quick duplicate positive or negative copies directly on the surface of prepared paper. Also, the resulting copies.


An image or symbol representing a word or a phrase.


An international style of photography in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, characterized by the creation of artistic tableaus and photographs composed of multiple prints or manipulated negatives, in an effort to advocate for photography as an artistic medium on par with painting.

Picture Plane

The virtual, illusionary plane created by the artist, parallel to the physical surface of a two-dimensional work of art; the physical surface of a two-dimensional work of art, e.g. a painting, drawing, or print.


A substance, usually finely powdered, that produces the color of any medium. When mixed with oil, water, or another fluid, it becomes paint.


A scale drawing or diagram showing the structure or organization of an object or group of objects.


A term applied to many natural and synthetic materials with different forms, properties, and appearances that can be molded.

Plastic Art

A term broadly applied to all the visual arts to distinguish them from such non-visual arts as literature, poetry, or music.


Any of a group of substances that are used in the manufacture of plastics or other materials to impart flexibility, softness, hardness, or other desired physical properties to the finished product.


In printmaking, the flat surface onto which the design is etched, engraved, or otherwise applied.


Capable of being shaped, bent, or stretched out.


A material made of thin layers of wood that have been heated, glued, and pressed together by a machine.


A technique of painting developed by French painters Georges-Pierre Seurat and Paul Signac, in which small, distinct points of unmixed color are applied in patterns to form an image.


One of the most common forms of plastic known for being tough, light, and flexible. Made of synthetic materials, polyethylene is commonly used in plastic bags, food containers, and other packaging.

Pop art

A movement composed of initially British, then American artists in the 1950s and 1960s, which was characterized by references to imagery and products from popular culture, media, and advertising.


A representation of a particular individual.


In photography, images capable of being produced in multiples that result from the transfer of a negative image to another surface, such as a photographic print on paper.


A term coined in 1910 by the English art critic and painter Roger Fry and applied to the reaction against the naturalistic depiction of light and color in Impressionism, led by Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, and Georges Seurat. Though each of these artists developed his own, distinctive style, they were unified by their interest in expressing their emotional and psychological responses to the world through bold colors and expressive, often symbolic images. Post-Impressionism can be roughly dated from 1886 to 1905.


A popular nineteenth-century optical toy invented by a Parisian science teacher named Charles-Émile Reynaud and comprised of a cylinder fitted with a strip of paper printed with 12 sequential image frames. When the cylinder spins, a mirror fixed in its center reflects the images and makes them appear animated.

Primary color

One of three base colors (blue, red, or yellow) that can be combined to make a range of colors.


To prepare a surface for painting by covering it with primer, or an undercoat.

Primitive Art

A term initially used to refer to the arts of all of Africa, Asia, and Pre-Columbian America, later used mostly to refer to art from Africa and the Pacific Islands. By the late 20th century the term, with its derogatory connotations, fell out of favor.


A side view, usually referring to that of a human head.


Information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to influence people by promoting or publicizing a particular political cause or point of view.


Refers to the harmonious relation of parts to each other or to the whole.


An early sample built to test a concept or process.


Polyvinyl chloride, abbreviated PVC, is a common type of plastic often used in clothing, upholstery, electrical cable insulation, and inflatable products.



A term invented by Man Ray to describe what is conventionally known as a photogram, or photographic print made by placing objects and other elements on photosensitive paper and exposing it to light.


A term coined by Marcel Duchamp in 1915 to describe prefabricated, often mass-produced objects isolated from their functional context and elevated to the status of art by the mere act of an artist’s selection and designation.


Body parts or personal belongings of saints and other important figures that are preserved for purposes of commemoration or veneration.


A term meaning rebirth or revival; applied to a period characterized by the humanistic revival of classical art, architecture, literature, and learning, originating in Italy in the fourteenth century and later spreading throughout Europe and lasting through the sixteenth century.


A representation, executed in perspective, of a proposed structure.


A style of art, particularly in architecture and decorative art, that originated in France in the early 1700s and is marked by elaborate ornamentation, including, for example, a profusion of scrolls, foliage, and animal forms.


An area, generally agricultural, that is not densely populated.



A genre of visual art that uses humor, irony, ridicule, or caricature to expose or criticize someone or something.


A setting for or a part of a story or narrative.

School of Paris

A loosely defined affiliation of international artists living and working in Paris from 1900 until about 1940, who applied a diversity of new styles and techniques to such traditional subjects as portraiture, figure studies, landscapes, cityscapes, and still lifes. Among the artistic movements associated with the School of Paris are Fauvism, Cubism, Expressionism, and Symbolism.

Screenprinting (also Silkscreening)

A printing technique in which areas of a silkscreen, comprised of woven mesh stretched on a frame, are selectively blocked off with a non-permeable material (typically a photo-emulsion, paper, or plastic film) to form a stencil, which is a negative of the image to be printed. Ink is forced through the mesh onto the printing surface with a squeegee, creating a positive image.


One who produces a three-dimensional work of art using any of a variety of means, including carving wood, chiseling stone, casting or welding metal, molding clay or wax, or assembling materials.


A three-dimensional work of art made by a variety of means, including carving wood, chiseling stone, casting or welding metal, molding clay or wax, or assembling materials.

Secondary color

A color made by mixing at least two primary colors.


The person responsible for arranging the furnishings, drapery, lighting fixtures, artwork, and many other objects that together constitute the setting for scenes in television and film.


Today, any film running for 40 minutes or less and therefore not considered long enough to be a feature-length film.


A mechanical device for controlling the aperture, or opening, in a camera through which light passes to the film or plate. By opening and closing for different amounts of time, the shutter determines the length of the photographic exposure.

Silkscreening (also Screenprinting)

A printing technique in which areas of a silkscreen, comprised of woven mesh stretched on a frame, are selectively blocked off with a non-permeable material (typically a photo-emulsion, paper, or plastic film) to form a stencil, which is a negative of the image to be printed. Ink is forced through the mesh onto the printing surface with a squeegee, creating a positive image.


Describes a work of art designed for a particular location.

Social construct

A concept or practice that doesn’t exist innately in the world but is instead created by society.


A substance capable of dissolving another material. In painting, the solvent is a liquid that thins the paint.

Sound effects

Sounds that are most often added during editing, rather than recorded at the time of filming. Sound effects take a number of different forms. For example, “spot effects” are single sounds, like a gunshot or a thunderclap, and “atmospheres” are continuous sounds, like rain or traffic. Sounds may be directly linked to the action that appears in the shot, like footsteps, or they may provide information about what can’t be seen on the screen, like an approaching train or birdsong.


A sound technology that began to be developed in the early twentieth century and became commercially viable by the late 1920s. In this system, music and dialogue were recorded on waxed records that were played in sync with the film via a turntable connected to a film projector through an interlock.


A sound technology that began to be developed in the early twentieth century and became commercially viable by the late 1920s, eventually supplanting the sound-on-disc system. In sound-on-film, sound waves were converted into light waves that were then photographically inscribed onto the film itself. This allowed for a single strip of film to carry both pictures and the soundtrack, which was imprinted alongside the pictures and read by special image-and-audio-pattern-reading projectors.

Special effect

An illusion created for movies and television by props, camerawork, computer graphics, etc.


In artistic contexts, paint thinned by a considerable amount of solvent. Stains are absorbed into the canvas, rather than remaining on its surface.


An impervious material perforated with letters, shapes, or patterns through which a substance passes through to a surface.

Street photography

A type of photography that captures subjects in candid moments in public places.


Fast bursts of intermittent light used to illuminate moving subjects.


To represent in or make conform to a particular style, especially when highly conventionalized or artistic rather than naturalistic.

Subject matter

The visual or narrative focus of a work of art.


Awe-inspiring or worthy of reverence. In philosophy, literature, and the arts, the sublime refers to a quality of greatness that is beyond all calculation.


Relating to or characteristic of an area, usually residential, on the outskirts of a city.


A term coined by Russian artist Kazimir Malevich in 1915 to describe a style of painting that conforms to his assertion that art expressed in the simplest geometric forms and dynamic compositions reigned supreme over earlier forms of representational art.


Relating to a system or resource use that maintains its own viability by allowing for continual reuse, rather than depletion.


Produced by chemical synthesis, rather than of natural origin; prepared or made artificially.



A type of paint in which pigment is mixed with a water-soluble binder, such as egg yolk.


An urban dwelling made up of several apartments, often overcrowded and located in economically depressed sections of a city.


The state of being stretched or strained; in construction, the level of tautness when a load is applied to a structure.


In painting, a color plus white.


The lightness or darkness of a color. In painting, a color plus gray.


A work of art consisting of three parts, usually hinged together.


A figurative or metaphorical use of a word or expression; a significant or recurrent theme; a motif.

Turpentine burn

A turpentine burn is made by soaking a rag in solvent and scrubbing the canvas directly. This technique removes paint and leaves a stain on the canvas.


A particular design of type. Characters in typefaces include letters, numbers, punctuation marks, and symbols. Some of the most common typefaces include Arial, Times New Roman, and Verdana. The term is often confused with font, which is a specific style and size of a typeface.


The art and technique of designing and/or arranging type letters, numbers, and punctuation marks, and of printing from them.



Having the characteristics of Utopia, an ideal or visionary system of political or social perfection.


Vantage point

A position or place that affords an advantageous perspective; in photography, the position from which a photographer has taken a photograph.


A theatrical variety show developed in the early 1880s in America, which remained the most popular form of entertainment until radio and film supplanted it in the late 1920s. It incorporated an array of short performances like singing, ventriloquism, plate-spinning, contortionists, dancing, animal training, and, at its heart, comedy. Reflecting both the cultural diversity of early-20th-century America and its prejudices, vaudeville fused such traditions as the English Music Hall, minstrel shows of antebellum America, and Yiddish theater. Many of the big names in vaudeville became movie and television stars, including Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and George Burns and Gracie Allen.


The goddess of love and beauty in Roman mythology; a very beautiful woman.

Vernacular photography

Images by amateur photographers of everyday life and subjects, commonly in the form of snapshots. The term is often used to distinguish everyday photography from fine art photography.

Video camera

A camera that captures moving images and converts them into electronic signals so that they can be saved on a storage device, such as videotape or a hard drive, or viewed on a monitor.


The position from which something is viewed or observed.


Great technical skill or captivating personal style, especially as exhibited in the arts.


The thickness of a liquid. In painting, the viscosity of oil paints is altered by adding a binder (such as linseed oil) or a solvent (such as turpentine).



A paint composed of pigment mixed into water; a work of art made with this paint.

Wax-print cotton

Cotton fabric printed on both sides in a wax-resist dye process.


A process of joining two pieces of metal together by heating the surfaces to the point of melting and then pressing them together.


A photographic process invented in 1848 by F. Scott Archer, in which a glass plate, coated with light-sensitive collodion emulsion, is placed in a camera, exposed, developed, and varnished for protection before being used to create prints.

Wide shot

In photography and filmmaking, a shot that reveals much of the context or setting, or a large group of people.

Wiener Werkstätte

An association of Vienna-based visual artists, craftspeople, and designers established in 1903 around the idea that fashionable art, design, furniture, and household goods should be accessible to everyone.


A term loosely applied to any printmaking technique involving a relief image cut into the surface of a wooden block. The wood is covered with ink and applied to a sheet of paper; only the uncut areas of the block will print, while the cut away areas do not receive ink and appear white on the printed image.

Works Progress Administration (WPA)

Among the most famous of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal programs, formed to relieve unemployment during The Great Depression. The WPA ran from 1935 to 1943 and employed millions of people, including artists, to carry out public works projects across the United States.



A terraced pyramid form comprising successively receding stories.


A pre-cinematic device consisting of a cylindrical drum with evenly spaced vertical slits cut into its sides. Its interior held a paper strip printed with sequential drawn or photographic images, which would appear animated when the drum was spun.


19th-century motion-picture device, designed by Edweard Muybridge, in which light is projected through rotating glass disks applied at the rim with a changing sequence of images, creating the illusion of movement.