Art Vocabulary

Here is an alphabetical list of words pertaining to art.  It is a very big list! At the elementary level we do not learn all of these terms, but we try to tackle as much as we can. We leave some for the middle, high school, and college art teachers to teach! To learn what your artist's vocabulary includes for their grade level, refer to the art journals please!

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2D OR TWO- DIMENSIONAL:  things that look flat. For example, a square is a 2-D shape.
3D OR THREE- DIMENSIONAL:  things that look (or are) solid. For example, a cube is a 3-D shape.
ABSTRACT:  art that does not attempt to represent the appearance of objects, real or imaginary. The artist takes an image or object and changes its appearance by leaving out details, simplifying or rearranging its parts to express his or her idea or feeling. Abstraction can occur in varying degrees, perhaps to the extent where you may not recognize the subject in the final product. Abstract work with no recognizable subject matter is called non-objective art.
ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISTS:  a group of New York artists of the 1940's-50's, including Jackson Pollock. They made abstract works meant to express their feelings.
ACRYLIC:  pigment in a plastic binder medium; water-based paint that adheres to most surfaces.
ACTION PAINTING:  a way of painting by splashing and dripping paint with energetic movements. It was made famous by Jackson Pollock.
ADDITIVE TECHNIQUE:  joining a smaller piece of clay to a larger piece.
AERIAL PERSPECTIVE: the effect of distance or atmosphere shown through haziness or changes in color.
AESTHETIC: the science of the beautiful in art; defined by visual, moral, social, and contemporary standards.
ALLEGORY:  something which has a hidden symbolic meaning.
ARCHITECTURE:  the art of making plans for buildings or a style of building
ARMATURE:  a base made of wire, iron, cardboard, or sticks for supporting a sculpture.
ART:  things made to be looked at, especially paintings and sculptures. It can also be used to describe anything creative, including music and poetry.
ART CRITICISM:  describing and evaluating the media, processes, and meanings of works of visual arts, and making comparative judgments
ART ELEMENTS:  visual arts components such as line, texture, color, form, value, and space
ART HISTORY:  a record of the visual arts, incorporating information, interpretations, and judgments about art objects, artists, and conceptual influences on developments in the visual arts
ARTIFACT: hand-made object that represents a particular culture or period.
ART MOVEMENT:  a group of artists who work together and share ideas, and often hold joint exhibitions
ART NOUVEAU:  an art and design movement of the 1890's, known for flowery, decorative patterns as in the work of Gustav Klimt
ASSEMBLAGE: a sculpture created of related or unrelated materials
ASYMMETRICAL:  different on either side of a central axis
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BACKGROUND:  the part of a picture that appears to be farthest away from the viewer
BALANCE:  equilibrium in a composition, either symmetrical or asymmetrical
BAREN:  a flat, round Japanese device that is used in printmaking in lieu of a mechanical press
BAS-RELIEF:  low-relief sculpture that projects slightly from a background
BISQUE:  dull, fired ceramic clay before glazing
BLEEDING:  the tendency for some colors to show through a second layer of paint
BLENDING:  the transition of color from one tone to another; for example, in a sky
BLOCK:  a piece of material with a hand-cut design on its surface from which multiple copies are printed
BRAYER:  a rubber roller used to apply ink in printmaking
BRUSH STROKES:  marks in paint made by a brush
BUST:  sculpture of head, neck, and sometimes shoulders
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CALLIGRAPHY:  fine handwriting in ink with a quill, reed pen, or brush; follows specific rules or designs
CANVAS:  a strong cloth which, since the Renaissance, many artists have used as a surface for painting
CARICATURE:  character studies that usually exaggerate one or more features
CARTOON:  full-scale drawing for tapestry or wall painting; or a humorous satirical drawing
CARVING:  a subtractive method of sculpture; taking away wood or stone
CERAMIC:  any object made of clay and fired
CHALK:  calcium carbonate, used in gesso, mixed with colored pigment to make pastels
CHINA:  translucent ware fired at 2,230 degrees F; porcelain
CHIAROSCURO:  the use of light and shadow to create a focal point or mood
CLASSICAL:  originating in Greece and Rome; represents unadorned beauty
CLAY:  a moist earth of decomposed rock; used in products such as pottery, bricks, tiles, and sculpture
COILING:  a method of creating pots by building bottom and walls with even, ropelike coils
COLLAGE:  a work of art created by arranging and gluing assorted materials onto a flat surface
COLOR WHEEL:  an arrangement of colors that shows how to mix the primary colors to create new colors

Analogous-colors closely related on a color wheel. Example: red, red-orange, yellow
Complementary - colors which fall directly opposite each other on the color wheel. Example: blue/orange
Primary - Blue, yellow, red. Colors from which all other colors are derived. Primary colors cannot be mixed from other colors
Secondary colors - colors made by mixing equal proportions of any two primary colors. Example: red + blue = violet
Cool -blues, greens
Warm - reds, yellows
Monochromatic-a color scheme that involves different values of a single color
Harmonious-colors, such as red and orange, that come next to each other on the color wheel. Seen side by side, they seem to blend together
Neutral-complementary colors mixed to produce a dull, subdued color (variations of gray); the non-colors of black and white
Receding-cool colors which we generally perceive to be moving away in a field of color
Advancing-warm colors which we generally perceive to be coming forward in a field of color

COMMISSION:  the hiring of one or more artists to create a work of art
COMPOSITION:  the placement of forms, shapes, colors, and light and dark areas in a work of art. Artists use composition to direct the viewer's eye to the most important elements of a work of art.
CONTEMPORARY ART:  generally defined as art produced during the second half of the 20th century.
CONTEXT:  a set of interrelated conditions (such as social, economic, political) in the visual arts that influence and give meaning to the development and reception of thoughts, ideas, or concepts and that define specific cultures and eras.
CONTOUR LINES:  outside and inside lines defining an image or shape
CONTRAST:  to set in opposition for the purpose of comparison
CRAFTMANSHIP:  having skill at a particular skill
CRAYON:  a stick of wax used for coloring or drawing
CRAY-PAS:  an oily crayon used for coloring, drawing, and blending
CROSSHATCH:  to create differences in value through a crossed series of parallel lines
CUBISM:  natural forms changed by geometrical reduction
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DEPTH:  the illusion of space in a picture plane.
DESIGN:  the organization of line, form, color, value, texture and space in an eye-pleasing arrangement
DETAILS:  dealing with some item by showing all of the particulars
DIPTYCH:  two painted panels that are usually hinged together.
DONOR:  a client or patron of an artist who donates the work to an institution; in altarpieces the donor and family were often included in the painting
DRAWING:  usually a work in pen, pencil, or charcoal on
DRYBRUSH:  a technique used with wet media applied with an almost-empty brush
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EASEL:  a support for an artist's canvas during painting
EDITION:  signing, numbering, and dating a print
ELEMENTS OF ART:  the visual "tools" artists use to create art. The categories include line, color, shape, space, light and texture
EMBELLISH:  to add ornamental details to
EMPHASIS:  a design principle that gives dominance to a particular area through color, size, or repetition
ENGOBE:  painting with colored slip
EXPRESSIONISM:  the painting of feelings, sometimes with recognizable images, often totally abstract
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FACEMAP:  a proportional map of the human features
FANTASY:  product of the imagination
FAUVES:  the name given to a group of young painters around 1905-10 who used vibrant, unnatural colors. Matisse and Derain were leading members. The name means "wild beasts" in French
FIGURE:  the human or animal form used in creating art
FIRING:  making clay products permanent through baking at high temperatures in a kiln
FOCAL POINT:  an area of an artwork that first attracts and usually sustains the viewer's attention
FOREGROUND:  in a scene or artwork, the part that seems closest to the viewer
FORESHORTENING:  the technique of distortion in perspective in order for the subject to appear 3-dimensional
FORM:  a three-dimensional shape, such as the human form or an abstract form
FOUND OBJECT:  an object which an artist has not made, but has chosen to exhibit as a work of art. It can be a natural object, such as driftwood, or a man-made object such as a bottle
FREE-FORM:  irregular shapes or forms; shapes that are not geometric
FRESCOS:  wall paintings made by painting onto wet plaster
FUNCTIONAL:  having a special purpose
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GEOMETRIC:  shapes and forms related to mathematical principles. Geometric shapes include circles, squares, rectangles, triangles and ellipses. Geometric forms include cones, cubes, cylinders, slabs, pyramids and spheres
GENRE:  subjects and scenes depicting everyday life. Or, a particular kind of paintings, such as portraits, landscapes, and still lifes
GESSO:  an under painting medium made of glue, plaster of Paris or chalk and water
GESTURE:  the implication of motion in a shape
GLAZE:  a glass-like coating that makes ceramics waterproof
GLUE:  a jelly-like protein substance used for sticking things together
GOUACHE:  thick, water-based paints
GREENWARE:  clay in an unfired state
GRID:  network of crossing lines used to create a regular pattern
GUIDELINES:  lines an artist makes that help "guide" the drawing. Usually these are not seen in the final piece.
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HIGHLIGHT:  a light area that represents the reflection of light
HORIZON LINE:  a level line where water or land seems to end and the sky begins. It is usually on the eye level of the observer. If the horizon cannot be seen, its placement may be imagined based on the placement of trees, grasses, mountains and the like.
HORIZONTAL:  side to side and parallel to the horizon
HUE:  refers to the common name of the color such as red or green
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ILLUSTRATION:  work of art created to accompany a story or other literary work in print. Illustrations usually appear in reproduced form in books, magazines and newspapers
IMPASTO:  thick, opaque paint applied with a brush, knife or fingers, creating various textural features on the surface of the painting
IMPRESSIONISM:  a style of painting that seeks to represent the momentary effects of sunlight on color. The main interest was in depicting contemporary life in a new objective manner by rendering an "impression" of what the eye sees in one particular moment rather than what the mind knows to be there
INCISING:  scoring the clay with various objects
INK:  usually a liquid colored material used in printmaking.
INTENSITY:  color used in its purest hue without mixing can be said to have its purest intensity
ITALIAN RENAISSANCE:  revival of classical art, literature, and learning based on humanism
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KILN:  an oven for drying, firing and glazing clay
KITSCH:  artwork, often mass produced, that goes beyond good taste
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LANDSCAPE:  the scenery of an inland area, a painting or drawing of the land or natural environment
LAYER:  lying over or under another
LINE:  the path traced by a moving point
LINOLEUM:  a hard floor covering utilized by artists as a block on which designs are carved for printing
LITHOGRAPH:  a print made by drawing on a flat, porous limestone with greasy material, then applying greasy ink which adheres only to the drawn lines. Dampened paper is applied to the stone and is rubbed over with a special press to make the final print
LUMINISM:  1850-1870 style of painting characterized by emphasizing light and transparent veils of colored atmosphere in landscapes and seascapes.(Associated with Hudson River School artists)
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MEDIUM:  the material used to make a work of art. Examples include oil, watercolor, pencil, pen and ink, tempera, and pastel
MEMORY:  something remembered
MIDDLEGROUND:  the part of the painting that lies between the background and the foreground
MIXED MEDIA:  used to describe art made from more than one material or medium
MOBILE/STABILE:  terms coined to describe work created by Alexander Calder: the mobile is a hanging, movable sculpture; the stabile rests on the ground but may also have moving parts.
MODEL: one who poses for an artist
MOSAIC:  a design or picture created by imbedding stones or pieces of glass on a floor, vault or wall
MURAL:  a large painting or artwork, generally designed for and created on the wall or ceiling of a public building
MUSEUM/GALLERY:  A place where collections of objects, artifacts, and art are on display and are protected
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NAIVE ART:  a term used to describe work by untrained artists
NONOBJECTIVE:  an abstract artwork not based on anything in reality
NEGATIVE SPACE:  the area surrounding a shape, often seen as a void
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OLD MASTER:  one of many celebrated European painters from about 1500-1800, or a painting by one of them
OP ART:  short for "Optical Art." An art movement in the 1950's-60's where artists used abstract, geometric shapes and patterns to create optical illusions and the impression of movement
OPAQUE:  ability of paint to cover over a surface. Not seen through
OPTICAL ILLUSION:  image that appears different than it actually is
ORGANIC:  having a quality that resembles living things, also referred to as biomorphic, free flowing, non-geometric
ORIGAMI: Japanese art of paper folding
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PAINT:  apply liquid color to a surface
PAINTBRUSH:  a brush tool for applying paint
PALETTE:  a tray or board on which colors of paint are mixed. Also, the set of colors used by an artist in a painting
PATRONS:  people who pay artists to produce work for them
PATTERN:  a design made by repeating a motif at regular intervals
PERSPECTIVE:  a technique for creating the illusion of depth on a 2-D surface
PHOTOGRAPHER:  a person who takes photographs
PHOTOREALISM:  an incredibly detailed, almost photographic style, such as in paintings by Close
PLANE:  something that is flat or level.
PLEIN AIR:  French for "in the open air," in art, it means sketching and/or painting out-of- doors.
POINTILLISM:  the application of pure color in small dots, allowing the eye to mix (such as red and blue dots side by side, which the eye sees as violet). It was developed in 1855 by Georges Seurat.
POLYGON:  a closed plane figure made with three or more lines
POP ART:  a mid-20th-century British and American art movement which used images from popular culture, such as comic strips and advertisements. Andy Warhol was a famous Pop artist.
PORTRAIT:  a picture of a person or images that portray a person
POSE:  to sit or stand still for an artist
POST-IMPRESSIONISM:  a term used to describe the variety of styles that developed in the 1880's-90's following Impressionism. It includes the work of Cezanne, Gauguin, and van Gogh.
POTTERY:  earthen pots, vessels, dishes, etc.
PRINT:  a work of art created from a "plate" that has been transformed through a technique such as engraving, etching, or woodcut and then inked and transferred to paper
PROPORTION:  the relationship of one object to another in size, shape, number or degree
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RAINBOW:  an arc of colors made from the sun and refraction of water.
RADIAL DESIGN:  branching out from the middle.
REALISM: (1850-1900) a style in which an artist tries to create an image that resembles the natural world
REFLECTION:  a repeating tessellated shape that mirrors itself
RENAISSANCE:  a period in the 15th and 16th centuries when there were lots of new discoveries in art and science.
REPETITION:  recurring again and again
RESIST:  something that opposes a particular action
RHYTHM:  the controlled movements found in all good design, they can be established through the use of any of the elements of design--lines, areas of light and shade, spots of color, repetitions of shapes and spaces, or textures surfaces
ROMANTICS:  a group of late 18th and early 19th-century artists, including Caspar David Friedrich, who were inspired by a love of nature
ROTATION:  a tessellated shape that repeats around a point
RUBBINGS:  to use pressure and friction over a piece of paper to capture the texture
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SCISSORS: a cutting instrument for paper
SCORING:  making marks on the edges of two pieces of clay before joining with slip
SCULPTURE:  a statue or 3-D work of art
SEASCAPE:  artwork that shows a scene of the sea, ocean, large lake or coastline
SFUMATO:  a smoky, hazy effect with soft edges
SHADE: any color mixed with black
SHAPE:  the outline of a figure or form. Shapes can be geometric (rectangles, triangles, and circles, etc.) or organic (irregular)
SILHOUETTE:  portrait or picture cut from black paper or done in solid black upon a light background
SKETCH:  a rough outline or drawing showing the main features of something
SLAB:  clay evenly rolled and formed by draping or joining
 clay diluted with water to the consistency of cream; used for joining or as an engobe
SMOCK:  a loose outer garment worn especially for protection of clothing
2D space as in drawings, paintings or prints on flat surfaces, or 3D as in sculptures, architecture or ceramics
Pictorial: the flat surface of the paper, canvas, or other material and is also known as the picture plane
SPECTRUM:  the group of different colors including red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet seen when light passes through a prism and falls on a surface or when sunlight is affected by drops of water
STAINED GLASS:  pieces of colored glass put together to make a picture
STENCILING:  applying paint to a wall or cloth surface through a hole cut in metal or oiled cardboard
STILL LIFE:  an arrangement of fruit, flowers, food or assorted unmoving objects. The plural is "still lifes" (not "lives").
STUDY:  a drawing that may be used to try out an idea or plan out another work
SUBTRACTIVE TECHNIQUE:  an example: carving is typically a subtractive process, in which the material, such as wood or plaster or clay is chipped or carved away until the desired sculptural form emerges
SURREALISM:  a 20th-century art movement which used bizarre, dream-like images. Rene Magritte and Salvador Dali were famous Surrealists.
SYMBOL:  something that stands for something else; especially a letter, figure or sign that represents a real object or idea
SYMMETRY:  the placement of the same elements on either side of a dividing line in such a way that they form a mirror image of each other
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TEMPERA:  a type of paint made from a mixture of powdered pigments (colors), egg yolk, and distilled water. Tempera paintings are usually done on wooden boards
TEMPLATE:  a contour such as one made out of cardboard in which an artist can form a piece of clay
TERRA COTTA: reddish clay that contains grog, commonly used for ceramic sculpture
TESSELLATION:  a design created by congruent shapes that cover a surface without any of the shapes overlapping each other or having gaps between them
TEXTURE:  the way something feels to the touch. Texture can be real, as in the smoothness of a bronze sculpture, or the bumpiness of thick oil paint on a canvas. Texture can also be implied or imagined, as in painted illusions of the softness of a kitten's fur, or the prickly quality of hay
THEME:  the main idea underlying the subject in a work of art
THROWING:  creating vessels on a potter's wheel
THUMBNAIL SKETCHES:  small sketches.
TILE:  a repeating design that covers and entire surface
TINT: any color mixed with white
TONE:  harmony in colors and values in an artwork
TRANSLUCENT:  clear enough to allow light to pass through
TRANSPARENT: see through
TROMPE L'OEIL:  French phrase meaning, "fool the eye." Trompe l'oeil artists paint images designed to trick people into thinking that they are real.
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VALUE:  the measurement of light and darkness in a work of art
VANISHING POINT:  term used in perspective; all lines lead to this point which may be on or off the canvas
VERTICAL: up and down
VISUAL TEXTURE:  texture that you can see or that an artist will decorate a surface with. You can not feel visual texture
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WASH:  pigment diluted with water and applied to a painting surface to give a translucent effect
WATERCOLOR:  a type of paint made from a mixture of powdered pigments (colors) with a binder and water. Watercolor painting usually transparent, meaning that you can see through it to the surface beneath. Opaque paints (paints that you cannot see through) that are mixed with water are called gouache
WATERCOLOR WASH:  a thin or watery coating of paint
WEARABLE ART: art you can wear
WEDGING:  kneading moist clay to eliminate air bubbles and produce a uniform texture
WET-IN-WET:  the action of spreading paint when new pigment is added to a wet paper
WOODCUT:  a print made when the surface of a block of wood is transformed through cutting, then inked and transferred to paper

Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life...Pablo Picasso

  • Seymour Community School District
  • 10 Circle Drive Seymour, WI 54165
  • Phone: See School homepage
  • Seymour Community School District
  • 10 Circle Drive Seymour, WI 54165
  • Phone: See School homepage