Glossary of Art Terms

A

Abstract Expressionism

The dominant artistic movement in the 1940s and 1950s, Abstract Expressionism was the first to place New York City at the forefront of international modern art. The associated artists developed greatly varying stylistic approaches, but shared a commitment to an abstract art that powerfully expresses personal convictions and profound human values. They championed bold, gestural abstraction in all mediums, particularly large painted canvases.

Academic

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

Action painting

Art critic Harold Rosenberg coined the term “action painting” in 1952 to describe the work of artists who painted using bold gestures that engaged more of the body than traditional easel painting. Often the viewer can see broad brushstrokes, drips, splashes, or other evidence of the physical action that took place upon the canvas.

Actuality

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

Aesthetic

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

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.

Angular

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

Arts and Crafts movement

Informal movement in design and architecture that championed the unity of the arts, the experience of the individual craftsperson, and the qualities of materials and construction in the work itself. Emphasis was placed on simple, functional forms and the use of local materials and time-tested traditions of construction.

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.

Automatism

Strategies of writing or creating art that aimed to access the unconscious mind. The Surrealists, in particular, experimented with automatist techniques of writing, drawing, and painting.

B

B movie

A low-budget movie, especially 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.

Baroque

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.

Batik

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

Bauhaus

The school of art and design founded in Germany by Walter Gropius in 1919, and shut down by the Nazis in 1933. The faculty brought together artists, architects, and designers, and developed an experimental pedagogy that focused on materials and functions rather than traditional art school methodologies. In its successive incarnations in Weimar, Dessau, and Berlin, it became the site of influential conversations about the role of modern art and design in society.

Beat

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 in 1914, 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.

Binder

A component of paint that creates uniform consistency or cohesion.

Biomorphic

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, developed 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.

Brocade

A heavy fabric interwoven with a rich, raised design.

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.

C

Calligraphy

Decorative handwriting or lettering.

Canon

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

Caricature

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

Cartes-de-visite

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.

Celluloid

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.

Censorship

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

Ceramics

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

Chine collé

A technique, used in conjunction with printmaking processes such as etching or lithography, that results in a two-layered paper support: a tissue-thin paper, cut to the size of the printing plate, and a larger, thicker support paper below. Both the tissue and the support sheet are placed on top of the inked plate and run together through the printing press, sometimes with a thin layer of adhesive between them to reinforce the bond produced through the pressure of the press. The process creates a subtle, delicate backdrop to the printed image. Chine is the French word for China, referring to the fact that the thin paper originally used with this technique was imported from China, as well as India or Japan; collé is the French word for "glued."

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.

Cinématographe

A combination motion-picture camera, printer, and projector invented by French photographers, photographic equipment manufacturers, and brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière in 1895. The Lumière brothers used the Cinématographe to show their films when they set up the world's first movie theater, in the back room of a Parisian café. Unlike Thomas Alva Edison 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.

Cinematographer

The person who sets up both camera and lighting for each shot in a film, the cinematographer has a major influence over the look and feel of a shot or scene, and is often as highly esteemed 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.

Cityscape

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

Cladding

A metal covering that sheathes a metal structure.

Classicism

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

Color

The perceived hue of an object, produced by the manner in which it reflects or emits light into the eye. Also, a substance, such as a dye, pigment, or paint, that imparts a hue.

Color Field paintings

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

Column

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

Combine

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

Commission

To request, or the request for, the production of a work of art.

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.

Composition

The arrangement of the individual elements within a work of art so as to form a unified whole; also used to refer to a work of art, music, or literature, or its structure or organization.

Concentric

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.” Conceptual artists used their work to question the notion of what art is, and to critique the underlying ideological structures of artistic production, distribution, and display.

Constructivism

Developed by the Russian avant-garde at the time of the October Revolution of 1917. Declaring that a post-Revolutionary society demanded a radically new artistic language, Constructivist artists, led by Aleksandr Rodchenko, aimed to strip their works of subjective emotional character, eventually even rejecting painting as an individualist bourgeois form. The Constructivist artist was recast as an engineer of a new society, whose practice served a greater social or utilitarian purpose.

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.

Convention

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.

Cropping

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

Cubism

Originally a term of derision used by a critic in 1908, Cubism describes the work of Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and those influenced by them. Working side by side, they developed a visual language whose geometric planes and compressed space challenged what had been the defining conventions of representation in Western painting: the relationship between solid and void, figure and ground. Traditional subjects—nudes, landscapes, and still lifes—were reinvented as increasingly fragmented compositions. Cubism’s 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.

Curator

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

D

Dada

An artistic and literary movement formed in response to the disasters of World War I (1914–18) and to an emerging modern media and machine culture. Dada artists sought to expose accepted and often repressive conventions of order and logic, favoring strategies of chance, spontaneity, and irreverence. Dada artists experimented with a range of mediums, from collage and photomontage to everyday objects and performance, exploding typical concepts of how art should be made and viewed and what materials could be used. An international movement born in neutral Zurich and New York, Dada rapidly spread to Berlin, Cologne, Hannover, Paris, and beyond.

Daguerreotype

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)

A term describing the abstraction pioneered by the Dutch journal De Stijl (The Style), founded in 1917 by the painter and architect Theo van Doesburg. This international group of artists working in all mediums renounced naturalistic representation in favor of a stripped-down formal vocabulary principally consisting of straight lines, rectangular planes, and primary color. In a response to the devastation wreaked by World War I, de Stijl artists aimed to achieve a visual harmony in art that could provide a blueprint for restoring order and balance to everyday life.

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)

Formed in 1911 in Munich as an association of painters and an exhibiting society led by Vasily Kandinsky and Franz Marc. Using a visual vocabulary of abstract forms and prismatic colors, Blaue Reiter artists explored the spiritual values of art as a counter to [what they saw as] the corruption and materialism of their age. The name, meaning “blue rider,” refers to a key motif in Kandinsky’s work: the horse and rider. The group, which published an influential almanac by the same name, dissolved with the onset of World War I.

Design brief

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

Die Brücke (the Bridge)

The artists’ group Die Brücke was established in 1905, a moment that is recognized as the birth of Expressionism. The affiliated artists often turned to simplified or distorted forms and unusually strong, unnatural colors to jolt the viewer and provoke an emotional response. Its leading members were Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Max Pechstein, and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. The name Brücke (“bridge”) reflects these artists’ youthful eagerness to cross into a new future. The Brücke artists worked together communally until 1913.

Diptych

A work of art consisting of two sections or panels, usually hinged together.

Direct Cinema

A method of documentary filmmaking developed in the late 1950s and early 1960s in the US and Canada, in 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 nonfiction films intended to capture some aspect of reality, often for the purposes of instruction, education, or the development of 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 in a single frame.

Drawing

A work of art made with a pencil, pen, crayon, charcoal, or other implements, often consisting of lines and marks (noun); the act of producing a picture with pencil, pen, crayon, charcoal, or other implements (verb, gerund).

Drypoint

An intaglio printmaking technique that creates sharp lines with fuzzy, velvety edges. A diamond-pointed needle is used to incise lines directly into a bare metal printing plate, displacing ridges of metal that adhere to the edges of the incised lines. This displaced metal is called burr. Inking fills the incised lines and clings to the burr. Damp paper is placed on the plate and run through a press, picking up the ink from the incised lines and the burr, resulting in a characteristically fuzzy line.

Ductile

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

E

Earthwork

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.

Elevation

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

Embroidery

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

Emulsion

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.


Enamel

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.


Enlargement

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.

Ephemera

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

Etching

An intaglio printmaking technique that creates thin, fluid lines whose effects can vary from graceful and serpentine to tight and scratchy. An etching needle, a fine-pointed tool, is used to draw on a metal plate that has been coated with a thin layer of waxy ground, making an easy surface to draw though. When the plate is placed in acid, the ground protects the areas it still covers, while the drawn lines expose the plate and are incised, or “bitten,” by the acid. After removing the coating, the plate is inked, filling only the incised lines. Damp paper is placed on the plate and run through a press, forcing the paper into the incised lines to pick up the ink.

Expressionism

Encompasses varying stylistic approaches that emphasize intense personal expression. Renouncing the stiff bourgeois social values that prevailed at the turn of the 20th century, and rejecting the traditions of the state-sponsored art academies, Expressionist artists turned to boldly simplified or distorted forms and exaggerated, sometimes clashing colors. As Expressionism evolved from the beginning of the 20th century through the early 1920s, its crucial themes and genres reflected deeply humanistic concerns and an ambivalent attitude toward modernity, eventually confronting the devastating experience of World War I and its aftermath.

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.

F

Facade

Any public-facing side of a building, often featuring decorative finishes.

Fauvism

A style of painting in the first decade of the 20th century that emphasized strong, vibrant color and bold brushstrokes over realistic or representational qualities. Central among the loose group of artists were Henri Matisse and Andre Derain. When their paintings were exhibited in 1905, a critic derisively described the works—with their expressive and non-naturalistic palette—as the product of Fauves (“wild beasts”).

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.

Film

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.

Font

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.

Form

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 repurposed in an artistic context.

Frottage

A technique that involves rubbing pencil, graphite, chalk, crayon, or another medium onto a sheet of paper that has been placed on top of a textured object or surface. The process causes the raised portions of the surface below to be translated to the sheet. The term is derived from the French frotter, which means “to rub.”

Futurism

An Italian movement in art and literature catalyzed by a 1909 manifesto published in a newspaper by Italian poet F. T. Marinetti. The text celebrated new technology and modernization while advocating for a violent and decisive break from the past. Working in the years just before World War I, the Futurists portrayed their subjects—often humans, machines, and vehicles in motion—with fragmented forms and surfaces that evoke the energy and dynamism of urban life in the early 20th century.

G

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

Genre

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

Gouache

A water-based matte paint, sometimes called opaque watercolor, composed of ground pigments and plant-based binders, such as gum Arabic or gum tragacanth. The opacity of gouache derives from the addition of white fillers, such as clay or chalk, or a higher ratio of pigment to binder.

Graphic

A visual representation or design on a surface.

Grotesque

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

H

Happening

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.

Hardboard

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.

Hieroglyphics

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.

I

Iconography

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

Idol

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

Image

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

Impasto

An Italian word for “mixture,” used to describe a painting technique wherein paint is thickly laid on a surface, so that brushstrokes or palette knife marks are visible.

Impressionism

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.

Improvisation

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.

Intaglio

A general term for metal-plate printmaking techniques, including etching, drypoint, engraving, aquatint, and mezzotint. The word comes from the Italian intagliare, meaning “to incise” or “to carve.” In intaglio printing, the lines or areas that hold the ink are incised below the surface of the plate, and printing relies on the pressure of a press to force damp paper into these incised lines or areas, to pick up ink.


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.

Intertitle

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

J

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.

Juxtaposition

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

K

Kinetic sculpture

Sculpture that depends on motion.

Kinetograph

The world’s first motion-picture camera, developed 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.

Kinetoscope

A cabinet-like apparatus, forerunner of the motion-picture film projector, developed 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 moving pictures as the celluloid rolled past.

L

Lacquer

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

Lithography

A printmaking technique that involves drawing with greasy crayons or a liquid called tusche, on a polished slab of limestone; aluminum plates, which are less cumbersome to handle, may also be used. The term is derived from the Greek words for stone (litho) and drawing (graph). When the greasy image is ready to be printed, a chemical mixture is applied across the surface of the stone or plate in order to securely bond it. This surface is then dampened with water, which adheres only to the blank, non-greasy areas. Oily printer’s ink, applied with a roller, sticks to the greasy imagery and not to areas protected by the film of water. Damp paper is placed on top of this surface and run through a press to transfer the image. In addition to the traditional method described here, other types of lithography include offset lithography, photolithography, and transfer lithography.


M

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.

Malleable

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

Mandala

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

Manifesto

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

Mannered

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.

Melodrama

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.

Metaphysical

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.

Minimalism

A primarily American artistic movement of the 1960s, characterized by simple geometric forms devoid of representational content. Relying on industrial technologies and rational processes, Minimalist artists challenged traditional notions of craftsmanship, using commercial materials such as fiberglass and aluminum, and often employing mathematical systems to determine the composition of their works.

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.

Monochrome

A work of art rendered in only one color.

Montage

An assembly of images that relate to one another 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.

Multiple

A term referring to small-scale, three-dimensional works of art conceived and produced in relatively large editions, and often issued by the same individuals or organizations that publish prints.

Mural

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

Muse

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

N

Nastaliq

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

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.

Neo-Impressionism

A term coined by French art critic Fénéon in 1886, 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 pigment result in a greater vibrancy of color than is achieved by the conventional mixing of pigments on the palette.

Neoclassical

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.

O

Obelisk

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

Oceania

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.

Organic

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

Ornamentation

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

P

Paint

A combination of pigment, binder, and solvent (noun); the act of producing a picture using paint (verb, gerund).


Painting

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.


Panning

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

Panorama

An unbroken view on an entire surrounding area.

Papier-collé

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

Papier-mâché

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.

Pastel

A soft and delicate shade of a color (adjective); a soft drawing stick composed of finely ground pigment mixed with a gum tragacanth binder (noun). Pastel sticks are often applied to a textured paper support. The pastel particles sit loosely on the surface of the paper and can be blended using brushes, fingers, or other soft implements. Pastels can also be dipped into water to create a denser mark on the paper or ground into a powder and mixed with water to create a paint that can be applied by brush. Because pastel drawings are easily smudged they are sometimes sprayed with fixative, a thin layer of adhesive.

Persona

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

Photogram

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

Photograph

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

Photogravure

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

Photomontage

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

Photostat

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

Pictograph

An image or symbol representing a word or a phrase.

Pictorialism

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.

Pigment

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

Plan

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

Plastic

A term applied to many natural and synthetic materials with different forms, properties, and appearances that are malleable and can be molded into different shapes or objects.

Plastic Art

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

Plasticizer

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.

Plate

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

Pliable

Capable of being shaped, bent, or stretched out.

Plywood

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

Pointillism

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

Polyethylene

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 comprising initially British, then American artists in the 1950s and 1960s. Pop artists borrowed imagery from popular culture—from sources including television, comic books, and print advertising—often to challenge conventional values propagated by the mass media, from notions of femininity and domesticity to consumerism and patriotism. Their often subversive and irreverent strategies of appropriation extended to their materials and methods of production, which were drawn from the commercial world.

Portrait

A representation of a particular individual, usually intended to capture their likeness or personality.

Positive

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.

Post-Impressionism

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.

Postmodernism

In art, postmodernism refers to a reaction against modernism. It is less a cohesive movement than an approach and attitude toward art, culture, and society. Its main characteristics include anti-authoritarianism, or refusal to recognize the authority of any single style or definition of what art should be; and the collapsing of the distinction between high culture and mass or popular culture, and between art and everyday life. Postmodern art can be also characterized by a deliberate use of earlier styles and conventions, and an eclectic mixing of different artistic and popular styles and mediums.

Praxinoscope

A popular 19th-century optical toy, invented by a Parisian science teacher named Charles-Émile Reynaud, 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.

Prime

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.

Print

A work of art on paper that usually exists in multiple copies. It is created not by drawing directly on paper, but through a transfer process. The artist begins by creating a composition on another surface, such as metal or wood, and the transfer occurs when that surface is inked and a sheet of paper, placed in contact with it, is run through a printing press. Four common printmaking techniques are woodcut, etching, lithography, and screenprint.

Profile

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

Prop

An object used to aid or enhance a story or performance.

Propaganda

Any systematic, widespread dissemination or promotion of particular ideas, doctrines, practices, etc. to further one’s own cause or to damage an opposing one; ideas, doctrines, or allegations spread in this manner, now often used disparagingly to connote deception or distortion. Propaganda may take many different forms, including public or recorded speeches, texts, films, and visual or artistic matter such as posters, paintings, sculptures, or public monuments.

Proportion

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

Prototype

An early sample built to test a concept or process.

PVC

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

R

Rayograph

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.

Readymade

A term coined by Marcel Duchamp in 1915 to describe prefabricated, often mass-produced objects isolated from their intended use and elevated to the status of art by the artist choosing and designating them as such. The term “assisted Readymade” refers to works of this type whose components have been combined or modified by the artist.

Relics

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

Renaissance

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.

Rendering

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

Rococo

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.

S

Satire

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

Scene

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.

Screenprint

A stencil-based printmaking technique in which the first step is to stretch and attach a woven fabric (originally made of silk, but now more commonly of synthetic material) tightly over a wooden frame to create a screen. Areas of the screen that are not part of the image are blocked out with a variety of stencil-based methods. A squeegee is then used to press ink through the unblocked areas of the screen, directly onto paper. Screenprints typically feature bold, hard-edged areas of flat, unmodulated color. Also known as silkscreen and serigraphy.

Sculptor

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.

Sculpture

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.

Set-dresser

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.

Short

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

Shutter

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.

Site-specific

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.

Solvent

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.

Sound-on-disc

A sound technology, first developed in the early 20th century, that became commercially viable in 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 interlocking mechanism.

Sound-on-film

A sound technology, initially developed in the early 20th century, that became commercially viable in the late 1920s and eventually supplanted 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 projectors.

Special effect

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

Stain

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


Stencil

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

Street photography

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

Strobe

Fast bursts of intermittent light used to illuminate moving subjects.

Stylized

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.

Sublime

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.

Suprematism

A term coined by Russian artist Kazimir Malevich in 1915 to describe a new mode of abstract painting that abandoned all reference to the outside world. His new style claimed "the supremacy of pure feeling or perception in the pictorial arts" and rejected the deliberate illusions of representational painting. Using the basic components of painting’s language—color, line, and brushwork—he constructed a visual vocabulary of colored geometric shapes floating against white backgrounds, which he felt mapped the boundless space of the ideal.

Surrealism

An artistic and literary movement led by French poet André Breton from 1924 through World War II. Drawing on the psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud, the Surrealists sought to overthrow what they perceived as the oppressive rationalism of modern society by accessing the sur réalisme (superior reality) of the subconscious. In his 1924 “Surrealist Manifesto,” Breton argued for an uninhibited mode of expression derived from the mind’s involuntary mechanisms, particularly dreams, and called on artists to explore the uncharted depths of the imagination with radical new methods and visual forms. These ranged from abstract “automatic” drawings to hyper-realistic painted scenes inspired by dreams and nightmares to uncanny combinations of materials and objects.

Synthetic

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

T

Tempera

A painting medium in which colored pigment is mixed with a water-soluble binder, such as egg yolk; a painting done in this medium.

Tension

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

The New Art

An international, middle-class artistic movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries that emphasized the unity of the arts and sought to reflect the intensive psychic and sensory stimuli of the modern city. Although it influenced painting and sculpture, the movement’s chief manifestations were in design, performance art, and architecture. Variants in cities throughout Europe and the US accrued labels such as Arte Nova, Glasgow Style, Stile Liberty, and Arte Modernista. The version commonly referred to as Art Nouveau flourished in France and Belgium and was characterized by sinuous, asymmetrical lines based on organic forms. Its more rectilinear counterpart, called Jugendstil or Secession style, flourished concurrently in Germany and Central Europe.

Tint

In painting, a color plus white.


Tone

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


Triptych

A work of art consisting of three sections or panels, usually hinged together.

Trope

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.


Typeface

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.

Typography

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

V

Vantage point

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

Vaudeville

A type of theatrical variety show, developed in the early 1880s in America, that 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, performing animals, 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.

Venus

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.

Viewpoint

The position from which something is viewed or observed.

Virtuosity

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

Viscosity

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).


W

Watercolor

Paints composed of pigments ground to an extremely fine texture in an aqueous solution of gum Arabic or gum tragacanth. The absence of white fillers, such as those in gouache, creates a medium with luminous transparency.

Wax-print cotton

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

Welding

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

Wet-collodion

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.

Woodcut

A printmaking technique that involves printing an image from a carved plank of wood. The image is cut into the wood using tools such as chisels, gouges, and knives. Raised areas of the image are inked and printed, while cut away or recessed areas do not receive ink and appear blank on the printed paper. Woodcuts can be printed on a press or by hand, using a spoon or similar tool to rub the back of the paper.

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.

Z

Ziggurat

A terraced pyramid form comprising successively receding stories.

Zoetrope

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.

Zoopraxiscope

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.