Art Glossary

Explore our glossary of art terminology.

Abstract
Abstract art is non-representational art or sculpture that does not depict elements of the natural world and signify a departure from realistic portrayal. Art from the Renaissance to the 19th century was realist and representational in nature. As European artists began to be exposed to art from other cultures, they found new ways to depict visual language. By the late 19th century, abstract forms and works began to appear in the art world.
Acrylic
A rival to oil paint, colored pigment is held in a clear plastic solution. It provides bright, long-lasting color and has the advantage of drying more quickly than oils. Acrylic paint is also water-soluble whereas oil paints need hydrocarbon chemicals to break down. The use of acrylic paint was popularized in the 1950s and 60s by Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, David Hockney, and Robert Motherwell.
Aluminum
An innovative canvas, aluminum comes in standard and textured finishes and is a receptive surface for oil paints and photographic prints. Emillions artist, Andreas Nottebohm, has perfected a shimmering three-dimensionality to his aluminum paintings, while Emillions photographer, Ryan Saevitz, uses aluminum photographic printing to bring a modernity to his landscapes and nature scenes.
Art Deco
A style of visual art also known as style moderne that became popular in 1920s France and would infiltrate American design in the 1930s. Art Deco sprang from the geometry apparent in Cubism, the bright colors of Fauvism, and influenced by Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Mayan, Egyptian and Persian art. The geometric shapes, metallics, curving symmetry of the art deco movement energized architecture, jewelry, sculpture, furniture, interior design, and the decorative arts. Art Deco signified a new modern style apart from the romance of the Art Nouveau movement and the classical Edwardian and Victorian styles of the turn-of-the-century.
Bronze
Modern bronze is an alloy composed of mostly 88% copper and 12% tin. The metal alloy has been used since antiquity for cast metal sculpture and remains the most popular medium for sculpture. Emillions artist, Shray, considers bronze a demanding material, due to its permanence and its long use throughout history.
Calligraphy
Calligraphy is a visual art based on writing by hand. In Middle Eastern and Eastern cultures, the ancient art of calligraphy is still practiced by modern masters. Western calligraphy is used more for invitations or announcements but as numerous applications in graphic design, maps, logo design, letterpress, type design, certificates, and many others.
Charcoal
Charcoal comes in three forms: powdered, compressed, and willow or vine. Each kind varies in softness and is used to create different drawing techniques such as shading or fine-detail drawing.
Contemporary
Contemporary art encompasses the art of today, produced by living artists. The art of today benefits from all the previous art movements in history as artists work in a wide array of mediums, formats, and styles, while transgressing art forms: music, architecture, video, performance art, living installations, technology.
Cubism
Cubism is an avant garde art movement that developed in the early 20th century, and influenced art, music, architecture, design, fashion, and literature. Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque were early adopters and champions of cubism. The departure from representational art towards abstract forms spawned offshoots, including Dada, Constructivism, Futurism, and later, abstract art. Alain Beraud paints in a neo-cubist style, a modern interpretation of Cubism.
Expressionism
Expressionism is a modern art style in which the artists explores emotional experience rather than the impressions of an external, physical world. Emerging from Germany at the beginning of the 20th century, Expressionism focused on subjective perspective, evoked through moods or ideas. Edvard Munch’s The Scream embodies Expressionist art.
Figurative
Figurative art is derived from images, objects and elements from the natural world. This representational style of art depends on the execution of formal elements: line, shape, color, light, dark, mass, volume, texture, and perspective. Because figurative art is representational by definition, it’s often seen in contrast to abstract art.
Graphite
All pencils contain graphite, but graphite for drawing pencils contains a filler that combines with the graphite to affect hardness. The softest standard of pencil is 9b, with the hardest labeled 9h. An average writing pencil has a grade of "hb," which is mid-range for hardness. Artists use graphite for its affordability and ease of use; its versatility makes graphite the medium of choice for finely detailed portraiture and realistic renditions.
Impressionism
One of the major art movements of the 19th century, Impressionism emphasizes the quality of light and movement, candid poses and compositions, and a vivid use of color. Scenes of modern life — lounging by a lake, sitting at an outdoor café — are imbued with a sense of vivacity due to freely applied brushstrokes rather than with lines and contours. The Impressionists tended to paint en plein air, to make the most of the temporal quality of sunlight.
Ink
A colored fluid or paste used for writing, drawing or printing. Illustrator Charley Harper's pen and ink drawings epitomized mid-century design and illustration.
Modern
Modern art emerged during the Industrial Revolution of the 1860s and encompassed the art movements of the 20th century into the 1970s. Modern art began with the Impressionists and on through the periods of Post-Impressionism, Fauvism, Cubism, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, and Conceptual Art.
Oil
A paint type where pigments are mixed in an oil, often linseed. Oil paint dries slowly and some art techniques exploit this to build up mixed and layered colors within the work. Oils have been the principal medium for paintings since the 15th century.
Pastel
A crayon made from pure powder pigments and a binder, such as gum or resin. The pigments used in pastels are the same as those used in oil paints. Pastels have been used widely since the Renaissance and major painters including Edgar Degas, Marie Cassatt, Edvard Munch, Pablo Picasso chose this medium as an alternate to oils at various times throughout their careers. Picasso lobbied the French manufacturer, Henri Sennelier, to produce a better grade oil pastel when supplies were scarce during the post-war years in Europe.
Plexiglass
Plexiglas, a thermoplastic polymer, can be described as a high-impact, scratch resistant acrylic glass. Emillions artist MM Ciciovan's newest series, Stardust, consists of oils on Plexiglas.
Pop Art
Originating in the UK in the 1950s and quickly influencing art in the United States, pop art challenged traditional fine art by employing imagery from contemporary popular culture such as advertisements, brands, and celebrities. The use of consumerist images highlighted the banal elements of culture and presented them in an ironic fashion. Pop Art preceded the postmodern art movement, but can also be considered the earliest stage of postmodernism itself.
Realism
The Realist art movement began in mid-19th century France and depicted scenes truthfully without artificial or implausible conventions. Realism attempted to represent subjects as accurately as possible, very often portraying laborers working, or ordinary people in regular activities. Also called naturalism.
Watercolors
A solid or paste-like paint that is thinned with water before being painted, usually onto paper or board. Artists who gravitated to watercolors included J. M. W. Turner, James Whistler, Paul Klee, Georgia O'Keefe, Edward Hopper, and many others.
Drawing
A drawing describes the visual art process in which a person uses various instruments to mark on a surface. Throughout history, drawing has been the fundamental means by which to communicate ideas visually. Drawing can be abstract or representational. Common drawing tools include graphite, pen and ink, charcoal—colored marking tools of various media. Prior to beginning a painting or sculpture an artist will often make numerous drawing sketches of the subject to be used as a sort of road map or reference for the work underway. Drawing is often the preferred tool that teachers of art students use to promote accurate study of perspective and anatomy.
Furniture
Though utilitarian in nature, furniture is often artful in design. Furniture plays many roles in art genres and form often defining the mood of a room. It can be religious, symbolic and period specific as well. The construction can be complex or simple, the design and external treatment are just as important as the internal structure.
Giclée
A French term meaning "squirted or sprayed." The process involves high-quality, larger-format inkjet printing. The prints produced must be 300 dpi or greater in resolution, the substrate used must be of archival quality, and involves the use of pigment-based inks that can last for over a century without fading.
Limited Edition
An artist looking to appeal to a large audience will often replicate his or her work by creating copies or prints in a limited number, thereby making the work available to many as opposed to only creating one original piece. A limited edition is restricted in the number of copies produced. A limited edition is less expensive than an original and is often used in marketing an artist to a different demographic than the collectors of originals. Collectors trying out a new artist will sometimes buy a limited edition to get a feel for the artist before committing to the purchase of an original. The value of the work is directly related to the number of editions of the work. The lower the edition, the higher the value of the work. In the medium of photography, limited editions of the original work are often employed in order to make the piece available to more collectors.
Mixed Media
A term that refers to the use of more than one type of medium to create a work of art. It is important for mixed media artists to choose a solid foundation and allow ample time for drying between layers to uphold the integrity of the work. Mixed media is often experimental so it is important to purchase mixed media works that have had time to dry to avoid any unwanted cracking or peeling that may come through in the drying process.
Painting
Painting is used to convey creative expression. Much like drawing, painting is a visual art form. Brushes, and various tools are used to apply pigment to a hard surface. Throughout history, painting has been used to describe a moment, historical record, political views, emotion and many other areas of the human condition. Paint or pigment has been mixed with oils, egg, thinner, and a variety of other less common additives to give the image qualities such as mood, integrity, depth and adhesion.
Photography
Photography describes a technology that records lasting images from real life by utilizing light or other electromagnetic radiation, either electronically or through an image sensor or chemically using a light-sensitive material. A camera is the tool used to capture and focus light reflected from objects into a replicate image on the light-sensitive surface inside the device (camera) during a timed period called "exposure". The result is an invisible image which is later chemically brought forth into a visible image or recorded on a digital card inserted in camera. Photography is often used to document a period, mood or moment. The immediacy of the camera's ability to capture images gives cause to the role of photography in art.
Portrait
A portrait is the term mostly used for the representation of the likeness of a person, animal or scene created using paint, photography, sculpture, or other artistic mediums. In a portrait of a person the facial expression is often the predominant subject of the image.
Prints
A print is a multiple of an original work. It can be done on any number of substrates: paper, canvas, aluminum; use either pigment or dyed inks; and created on any type of printer. Prints can be printed in unlimited or open editions or limited edition runs, where only a designated number of prints will be made of a certain size or type of substrate used.
Sculpture
A term used to describe a visual art practice that employs three dimensions. Sculptures can be made of any material however quite often you will find wood, bronze, clay, marble, ceramic, metal and paper as the medium of choice. Sculptures can be free-standing, meaning you can walk or move around them for 360 degrees or they can be relief, meaning an image was carved on a two-dimensional surface. A relief is only partly attached to a background surface. Sculpture is one of the oldest, most durable forms of artistic expression.