Glossary of Art Terms


Abstract or abstraction – abstraction is the category of the modification of objects from its natural form and shape using the method of either simplifying it or distorting it.

All-over space – this is a type of modern painting space where the distribution of the objects are spread ‘all over’ the surface equally. Generally, it is very much like obtaining balance in the painting as in traditional paintings, one would usually use central focal point.


Broken color – adopted first by the impressionist movement and by Manet, this is where color is dabbed onto the surface of the painting, which creates the continuity in what is trying to portray as opposed to the conventional blending of colors.

Calligraphy – a type of typography art which involves technique and skill. This is considered to be a type of cursive writing which looks more elegant as well as more carefully imprinted. The beautiful handwriting differs from Chinese Calligraphy which uses the Chinese brush and black ink to imprint the Chinese characters, usually done in personal styles and shapes.

Camera obscura –  This is actually an old type of camera used by artists during the 16th and 17th centuries that basically is a system of lenses and mirrors. The system was used by artists to project the image onto the surface of the painting before tracing it on. Today, artists use the OHP projectors while more contemporary artists are using LCD projectors for this purpose.

Collage – This word came from the French language which involves the cutting and pasting of various medium like paper, scraps, cloth, cards and such to create an artwork which will also include some painting on or around the materials.

Contemporary art – This is a classification of modern art form which is produced in recent times, mostly after the Second World War

Diptych – This is where two paintings are separately attached by hinges or any other ways but are being displayed together to represent one single piece of artwork.
Drawing – a technique which usually adopts pencil, pen, charcoal, ink or other medium on paper or the surface of a painting.

Earthwork – This is typically a type of contemporary art which started in the 1960s where landscape is used. Manmade material is usually the main medium which could be very large in size. This is because the work usually adopts the real environment like trees, houses and hills.

Engraving – a traditional printing method which uses the methods of aquatint, drypointing, etching and such. Metal plates are used and then images are engraved on the surface using specialised tools.

Expressionism – This is an art movement which uses objective description to express the emotions in the body of work. Some of the masters in this movement include the very legendary Vincent Van Gogh, James Ensor and others.

Figurative – work of art which is based on figures. This could be either semi-realistic or realistic where the artist would either paint the still life figure or uses other ways for expression.

Gesso – a method used for priming the canvas where this medium is used for undercoating before the artwork starts. It usually comes in liquid form which is chalky and thick.

Graphic arts – The discipline in art which involved applying affects onto the work. This is commonly adopted in the area of mass media as does not involve as much expression as other forms like fine art. Graphic arts are more contrasting and uses effects to produce the final artwork.

Hue – Hue refers to the actual colour of any object.

Iconography – This is the knowledge of meanings of pictorial representations. Comes from the word Icon, it is where a certain picture is used to represent a certain message although it is very subjective and differs from one another.

Installation – A major segment of contemporary art today where artists usually produce their art form in 3 Dimensional method. Here is where one uses any type of material they deem appropriate and then produce a piece of art and this could be in a form of a sculpture and such.

Linear – as the natural definition goes, linear in art is a description of the usage of line in the art work.

Mass – this is where visual art adopts shapes or forms instead of lines.

Medium – The material which is used by artists to produce their artwork. In labelling of artworks, mixed media would refer to the artist’s method in finishing the artwork where a mixed mode of many types of medium were used.

Modern art – different from contemporary art, Modern art is one of the major art movements that took place around the early 1900s  up until the 1950s.

Motif – this is a French word which is used to refer to the content of a particular piece of work. For instead, the phrase water motif tells one that the painting used water as the main object of expression.

Naturalism – this is a specific painting style where the analysis of the tone and the color of the subject matter is used to paint the work.

Negative space – this is the space in a piece of work like a painting where there are no forms. This is actually the ‘empty’ area of the canvas.

One-point linear perspective – this is typically a mathematical system which was developed in 15th century in Italy where 2-Dimensional images are used to indicate the spatial distance.

Painterly – this is a term which is used to describe artwork which refers to the technique that produces patches instead of the linear or outline styles.

Palette – this is basically a piece of wood, plastic or glass which the artist use to put color and for mixing them before applying them onto the canvas.

Pastel – similar to crayons, it is a medium which is made from mixing gum water with chalk.
Positive space – as opposed to Negative Space, this is the area of the painting which is occupied by images or forms. Basically, it is the ‘non-empty’ space in the painting.

Postmodern – this is a period which came after the modern art movement which is after the 1950s. Postmodernism is known to have created the Pop art movement with artists like Andy Warhol.

Printmaking – a technique used by artists particularly in the fine art segment. Printmaking includes a variety of other sub techniques which include silk-screening, etching, woodcut and more.

Realism – paintings which are representational where it does not idealize the object painted. Realistic painting is where the artist paints the object as how he or she sees it.

Scumbling – this is a technique used in painting where a layer of opaque oil paint is laid over another which is of a different color.

Sgraffito – comes from the Italian word which describes the laying of one color over another to
allow the underneath color to show through the upper layer.

Subject matter – basically used to explain the artwork, the subject matter refers to the actual content and message of a particular piece.

Triptych – this refers to paintings which are produced with one panel in the centre while there are 2 other paintings on its ‘wings’.

Underpainting – it is a thin, semi-opaque layer of paint which is used under a canvas or the surface before the actual work begins.

Value – known also as tone, this can be describe as the intensity of a line or shape from black to white.


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