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.
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.
Board
A more modern substrate, board is heavy card with a smooth or embossed surface. A description of a work might, for example, say 'acrylic on board'.
Bought-in
In auction results the prices achieved are given. If a lot is shown as 'bought-in' it means that it did not reach its reserve price and was unsold.
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.
Canvas
Canvas The classic substrate for painting, canvas is a heavy fabric stretched over a wooden frame - a stretcher.
Catalogue raisonné
A comprehensive, annotated listing of all the known works by an artist either in a particular medium or all media. The works are described in a way that lets them be reliably identified by a third party.
Collagraph
A hand printing technique using many separate printing plates to provide limited editions with the visual appeal of an original painting.
Condition
You'd expect a primary market purchase to be in perfect or 'mint' condition. An artwork that has led a hard life might well be 'poor', 'damaged', 'dirty', 'crazed', 'creased', 'deteriorated', 'flaked', etc
Conservation
A skilled technique to repair damage and deterioration.
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.
Diptych
A painting consisting of two panels, each complete in itself, but complementary when displayed next to its partner.
Etching
A printing process resulting, usually, a work with a limited colour range.
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.
Gesso
A white paint consisting of a binder and a pigment such as chalk or gypsum. Gesso is used to prepare a surface which will later be painted over with the finished work.
Hammer price
The price at which auction bidding stopped and the auctioneer's gavel 'hammered' the podium. The actual price will be the hammer price plus the auction house's buyers premium (often 25%) and, in some instances, VAT and resale rights.
Impasto
The application of paint so thickly that it stands out in relief from the substrate.
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.
India Ink
India ink is commonly used for drawing and outlining, and is commonly used in inking comic books.
Intaglio
A portfolio word covering printing techniques like drypoint, etching, engraving, where ink is pressed into marks on the printing plate, the ink then transferring to paper as the plate and paper pass through a press.
Limited Edition
A print made in a limited quantity, each identified with an edition number so that, say, 14/25 would be the 14th print of an edition of 25. After the edition has been completed the printing plates are destroyed.
Mannerism
Mannerism is a style of European art that characterized the Italian High Renaissance around 1520 and lasted until about 1580, when Baroque came into vogue. Mannerism was an outgrowth of and a reaction against the harmonious classicism inherent in Renaissance masters Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael. Mannerist artists tended toward artificial elegance, flat dimensionality, and constrictive spatial relationships. The works of Jacopo Pontormo depicts the Mannerist style.
Medium
A word describing the way an image is put onto a surface, such as oil, acrylic, pastel, watercolour, collage, etc.
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.
Penn And Ink
Pen and ink comprise two of the most basic and portable tools in drawing and art. Pen and ink techniques are seemingly endless; this method combines well with other media such as watercolor, color pencil, acrylic, and even digital media.
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.
Primary
The first sale of a work is always 'primary', whether it is direct from artist, from the artist's agent, from an artist-appointed dealer or even a commissioned work. The price paid on the primary market sets a benchmark determined by the quality of the work, the artist's reputation, the availability of his or her work, its nature - painting or print, for example, and even the size and the materials used.
Primary Art Market
he primary art market refers to when an artwork comes to the market for the first time at a gallery or any other art exhibition. This is the time when the price for the artwork is established for the first time. In technical terms, similar to the maker of a design product, a sail boat, or jewelry, the gallery/dealer, in conjunction with the artist, establishes a selling price based on the cost of research and development/creation of the product. The age-old truism from the economic theory on “supply and demand” defines this pricing structure. When the demand grows for the works of a particular artist’s work, whether paintings, sculptures, photographs, or graphic prints, the value and the price of the art increases. Generally, speaking, the greater the demand, the higher the price the artwork would command on the primary market.
Proof
When prints are made, the first off are 'proofs' which let the artist or printmaker examine them in detail to see whether any corrections or amendments are needed.
Provenance
A very important concept in the secondary market, 'provenance' is the record or records that let the work be traced back to its primary market introduction. Without adequate provenance it is difficult for a work to be accepted as definitely by a particular artist.
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.
Resale Rights
When a work is sold on the secondary market for €1000 or more, the original artist may be entitled to a royalty on the sale. The royalty is calculated on a sliding scale that peaks at 4%.
Secondary
All subsequent sales of a work are on the secondary market. Sources include galleries, private sales and auction sales. Prices achieved on the secondary market – particularly at auction, which is a measure of consumer demand and price expectation - indicate the direction and momentum of interest the artist and their work.
Size
By convention, the height of a work always precedes its width in descriptions.
Triptych
A work consisting of three panels. Often they are hinged, with the two outer panels forming 'doors' over the central panel, thus providing some protection when not on view. The outside of a triptych may also be decorated, but usually not as elaborately as the inside.
Art Brut
The term outsider art was coined by art critic Roger Cardinal in 1972 as an English synonym for art brut (French: [aʁ bʁyt], "raw art" or "rough art"), a label created by French artist Jean Dubuffet to describe art created outside the boundaries of official culture. Dubuffet focused particularly on art by those on the outside of the established art scene, such as children and psychiatric hospital patients. While Dubuffet's term is quite specific, the English term, outsider art, is often applied more broadly to include certain self-taught or naïve art makers who were never institutionalized. Typically, those labeled as outsider artists have little or no contact with the mainstream art world or art institutions. In many cases, their work is discovered only after their deaths. Often, outsider art illustrates extreme mental states, unconventional ideas, or elaborate fantasy worlds. Outsider art has emerged as a successful art marketing category; an annual Outsider Art Fair[3] has taken place in New York since 1993, and there are at least two regularly published journals dedicated to the subject. The term is sometimes misapplied as a catch-all marketing label for art created by people who are outside the mainstream "art world" or "art gallery system", regardless of their circumstances or the content of their work.
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.
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.
Picture
A term used to describe any image that depicts visual perception. Often the word picture refers to the broad arena of art work, photography or thought.
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.
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.