Art Dictionary


Abstract Art. An artwork that is not representational but communicates through colours, marks and other visual elements.

Abstract Expressionism. A prominent art movement that emerged in the mid-20th century, particularly during the 1940s and 1950s, is defined by its emphasis on spontaneous, non-representational, and emotionally charged compositions, often created through gestural brushwork and the exploration of the artist’s inner emotions and experiences.

Acrylic Paint. Acrylic paint is a type of fast-drying, water-based paint composed of pigments suspended in an acrylic polymer emulsion, often used in various artistic and decorative applications.

Additive Process. An additive process is a method of creating objects or images by adding material or information in a sequential and cumulative manner, typically employed in 3D printing, computer graphics, and digital design.

Aesthetic. The idea of what is beautiful or pleasing to the eye.

Aerial Perspective. Aerial perspective is a visual phenomenon in art and perception where distant objects appear lighter, hazier, and less distinct due to the scattering of light and atmospheric conditions, creating a sense of depth and distance in a composition.

Alternating Rhythm. Alternating rhythm is an artistic principle characterised by a repeating sequence of elements that regularly change in a systematic pattern, creating a dynamic and visually engaging composition.

Analogous Colours. Analogous colours are a group of hues on the colours wheel that are adjacent to each other and share similar characteristics.

Analyse. To analyse is to examine something carefully and systematically in order to understand its components, structure, and underlying principles.

Arabesque. An arabesque is a decorative artistic motif characterised by intricate and flowing patterns, often inspired by nature, that are typically used in architecture, design, and ornamentation.

Architecture. Architecture is the art and science of designing and constructing buildings and other physical structures that serve both functional and aesthetic purposes.

Armature. An armature is a supportive framework or structure used as a foundation or skeleton to provide stability and shape to sculptures, models, or other three-dimensional artworks.

Art Criticism. Art criticism is the thoughtful evaluation and analysis of artworks, encompassing the assessment of their aesthetic qualities, cultural significance, and the interpretation of their meanings and messages.

Arte Povera. An art movement that originated in Italy in the late 1960s and continued into the 1970s, is characterized by its use of humble and unconventional materials to challenge traditional artistic norms and explore themes of nature, society, and culture.

Artefact. (Artefact – British spelling.  Artifact – American spelling.) An artefact is an object created by humans, often with historical or cultural significance.

Artisan. An artisan is a skilled craftsman or craftswoman who creates handmade and often unique products, emphasizing craftsmanship, attention to detail, and traditional techniques.

Artist Statement. An artist statement is a written document in which an artist describes their artistic practice, motivations, creative intentions, and the meaning behind their artwork, providing insight into their creative process and artistic philosophy.

Art Nouveau. An artistic movement prominent from the late 19th century to the early 20th century (approximately 1890-1910), is characterised by its ornate, flowing designs inspired by natural forms, emphasizing decorative arts, architecture, and graphic design.

Assemblage. A three-dimensional artwork made by joining materials and objects together.

Asymmetrical Balance. Asymmetrical balance is a design principle in which visual elements of different sizes, shapes, or weights are arranged harmoniously to create equilibrium without mirroring each other, resulting in a dynamic and visually interesting composition.

Atmospheric Perspective. Atmospheric perspective is a visual phenomenon in art where distant objects appear less distinct, lighter in colour, and hazier than closer objects, due to the effects of atmosphere and air particles, creating a sense of depth and distance in a composition.

Background. The part of an artwork that seems the farthest away.

Balance. The arrangement of the elements in a work of art which create a sense of equilibrium. Balance is a principle of art.

Baren.  A hand tool, originally from Japan, used to gently rub the back of the paper when taking a relief print.

Baroque. An art movement that thrived from the early 17th to the late 18th century. It is known for its elaborate ornamentation, dramatic use of light and shadow, and emotional intensity in visual arts, music, and architecture.

Batik. Batik is a traditional textile art technique where patterns are created on fabric by applying wax to resist dye in specific areas, resulting in colorful and intricate designs often associated with various cultures.

Bench Hook.  A piece of equipment that hooks onto the work surface used to hold pieces in place.  In printing, it holds the printing plate (such as a piece of lino) in place whilst cutting.

Bird’s Eye View. A point of view looking down directly from above.

Bisque.  Clay that has been fired once but is not glazed.

Binder. A binder is a substance used in various materials and processes, such as paints or adhesives, that holds together or adheres different components or particles, providing cohesion and stability to the final product.

Blend. To mix more than one colour/color together.

Brayer or Roller. (Brayer – USA term) (Roller – UK term) A small, rubber roller used to ink the surface of a printing plate.

Bust. A bust is a sculptural representation of a person’s head, neck, and shoulders, typically extending down to the upper chest, often created for commemorative or artistic purposes.

Byzantine. Byzantine refers to the art, culture, and history associated with the Eastern Roman Empire, which existed from the 4th to the 15th century AD, characterised by its distinctive artistic style and strong influence from Greek and Roman traditions.

Canvas. A thick, woven material used for painting on. Often wrapped around a frame.

Calligraphy. Calligraphy is a highly skilled art form of decorative handwriting or lettering, often characterized by precise and expressive brushwork, pens, or other writing instruments, and used for various decorative and communicative purposes.

Carving. Carving is a craft or artistic technique involving the removal of material from a solid object, such as wood, stone, or metal, to create a three-dimensional sculpture or relief with intricate and detailed shapes and patterns.

Casting. Casting is a manufacturing process that involves pouring a molten material, often metal or resin, into a mold to create a three-dimensional object with a specific shape and design.

Ceramics.  The art of making objects from clay and hardening them in a kiln.

Ceremonial Art. Ceremonial art refers to artistic objects, symbols, or performances created and used in religious, cultural, or formal rituals and ceremonies, often imbued with special significance and meaning.

Chalk. Chalk is a soft, white, or coloured sedimentary rock composed mainly of calcium carbonate, commonly used for writing or drawing on chalkboards and sidewalks due to its ease of marking and erasing.

Charcoal. Charcoal is a drawing medium made from burned wood, commonly used for drawing and sketching.

Chiaroscuro comes from the Italian words “chiaro” (light) and “scuro” (dark). It is a technique that uses strong contrasts between light and dark to create the illusion of depth and three-dimensionality on a flat surface.

Cityscape. An artwork that represents the physical aspects of a city or urban area.

Classical Greek Art. An art movement flourishing from the 5th to the 4th century BCE, marked by its emphasis on idealised representations of the human form, architectural harmony, and a profound influence on Western art and aesthetics.

Classicism. Classicism is an artistic and architectural style characterised by a return to the principles and aesthetics of ancient Greek and Roman art, emphasising balance, symmetry, order, and harmony in creative works.

Clay. Clay is a malleable product from the earth made from decomposed rock.  It has the ability to hard when exposed to intense heat. There are different types of clay such as earthenware, stoneware and porcelain.

Constructivism. An influential art and design movement that emerged in the early 20th century, particularly around 1915-1930, is characterized by its emphasis on the use of industrial materials and geometric forms to create functional and socially relevant artworks and designs.

Coil. A rope-like length of clay that is used to make a coil pot or sculpture.

Collage.  An artwork made of paper, picture, fabric or other materials that have been glued to a surface.

Composition describes the different ways elements of an artwork are arranged.

Collagraph – A type of print method where a collage has been created and a print is taken from the surface.  It can be either or both an intaglio or relief print.

Colour/Color.  How we see an object in terms of the way it reflects or emits light. We use colour categories, with names such as red, orange, yellow, green, blue, or purple.

Colour Groups. Colour groups refer to categories or combinations of colours based on their visual properties and relationships, often used in design and art to create harmonious or contrasting colour schemes.

Colour Harmonies. Colour harmonies are combinations of colours in art and design that are visually pleasing and balanced, often achieved through relationships like complementary, analogous, or triadic colors.

Colour Properties. Colour properties are the inherent characteristics of colors, including attributes like hue, saturation, brightness, and temperature, which determine their visual qualities and effects in art and design.

Colour Scheme. A colour scheme is a carefully chosen combination of colours used in design or art to create a harmonious and visually appealing composition, often based on principles such as complementary, analogous, or monochromatic colour relationships.

Colour Wheel (Color – USA) An arrangement of colours in a circle that reveals the relationship between primary, secondary and tertiary colours.

Complimentary Colours. Pairs of colours that are located opposite each other on the colour wheel, creating strong visual contrast when used together.

Composition. The arrangement of visual elements within an artwork.

Computer Design. The process of creating visual or graphic content using specialised software and digital tools, often employed in various fields like graphic design, web design, and 3D modelling.

Conceptual Art. An art movement that emerged in the late 1960s and continues to influence contemporary art, is defined by its emphasis on the idea or concept behind the artwork, often prioritizing intellectual exploration over traditional aesthetic qualities.

Contemporary Art is art of the present day.

Continuous Line Drawing is a type of line drawing where the drawing tool is not taken off the page until the drawing is complete.  It is often a fast paced way of working resulting in fluid mark making.

Contour Drawing is a type of drawing where only the outlines of shapes within the subject of the drawing are drawn. (See also continuous lines drawing)

Contrast. Contrast is the degree of difference or variation in visual elements, such as color, texture, or tone, used to create emphasis, interest, or clarity in art and design.

Critique. A process of using judgement, analysis, interpretation and description to evaluate an artwork.

Cross Hatching is a drawing technique where sets of parallel lines are placed over each other to create different tones/values.

Cubism. An influential art movement that developed in the early 20th century, particularly around 1907-1920, is defined by its fragmentation and geometric representation of objects, challenging traditional perspectives and leading to abstracted, multifaceted compositions.

Cyanotype. A photographic printing process invented in the 19th century by Sir John Herschel and popularized by Anna Atkins in the 1840s, involves using light-sensitive chemicals to create blue and white images on paper or fabric through exposure to sunlight or UV light.

Dadaism. An avant-garde art movement that emerged in the early 20th century, particularly during the years 1916-1924, is defined by its rejection of traditional aesthetics and its embrace of absurdity, randomness, and anti-art sentiments as a response to the disillusionment of World War I.

Décollage is French and means ‘unstick’. In art it describes the process of making art by pealing or ripping away layers.

Direct Observation is drawing from life rather than drawing from a photograph.

Egyptian Art is an art movement spanning over three millennia from approximately 3100 BCE to 30 BCE, it is a distinctive and enduring artistic tradition characterised by a focus on hierarchical representation, symbolism, and the preservation of cultural and religious beliefs through monumental architecture, sculptures, and intricate hieroglyphic inscriptions.

Environmental Art enhances or engages with the environment or makes a statement on environmental issues.

Etching. An intaglio printmaking technique dating back to the 16th century and still practiced today, involves incising or “etching” a design onto a metal plate with acid, allowing for the creation of detailed and expressive prints.

Expressionism. An artistic movement that emerged in the early 20th century, particularly around 1905-1920, is characterised by its focus on conveying intense emotion, often through distorted or exaggerated depictions of reality, across various art forms.

Fauvism. An avant-garde art movement that emerged in the early 20th century, particularly around 1905-1907, is known for its bold use of vivid, non-naturalistic colors and simplified forms to express emotion and artistic freedom.

Firing.  The process of heating clay in a kiln to a high temperature to harden it.

Foreground. The part of the artwork that seems to be closest to you.

Forms are three-dimensional and occupy space or give the illusion that they occupy space.  Real Forms occupy space, such as sculptures or buildings.

Futurism. An avant-garde art movement originating in Italy in the early 20th century, primarily during the years 1909-1944, is characterised by its celebration of modern technology, speed, and dynamism, often depicted through bold, energetic compositions.

Frottage is the technique of taking a rubbing from a textured surface to create an artwork or parts of an artwork.

Genre. Genre refers to a category or type of artistic work characterized by similar subject matter, themes, or style conventions, providing a framework for classifying and understanding creative works within a particular genre.

Geometric Shapes are precise shapes that can be described using mathematical names e.g. square, triangle and circle.

Gesture Drawing. Gesture drawing is a quick and expressive sketching technique used in art to capture the essential movements, poses, and rhythms of a subject, emphasizing fluidity and spontaneity over detail and precision.

Glass. A transparent or translucent material formed by melting silica, soda ash, and lime, commonly used in art for creating delicate and visually appealing objects.

Glaze.  A vitreous coating applied to ceramics. Vitreous means like glass in appearance.

Gothic. Gothic refers to an architectural style prevalent in Europe from the 12th to the 16th century, characterized by pointed arches, ribbed vaults, and ornate decoration, often associated with medieval cathedrals and churches.

Gouache Paint. Gouache paint is a water-based medium consisting of opaque pigments bound with a gum arabic or other binder, commonly used in painting for its vibrant colors and matte finish.

Gradation. Gradually transitioning from one colour hue to another, or from one shade to another.

Graphic Design. Graphic design is the art and practice of visual communication that involves creating and combining images, typography, and other elements to convey messages or information effectively and aesthetically.

Grid. A grid is a systematic arrangement of intersecting horizontal and vertical lines used in design and layout to organize content, align elements, and maintain visual consistency within a composition.

Gumstrip is a gummed tape, essential for stretching watercolour paper.  It can also be used for constructing card sculptures.

Hard-Edge Painting. Hard-edge painting is a style of abstract art characterized by sharp, clearly defined edges and flat areas of color, often created using masking techniques or precise brushwork to achieve geometric precision and visual clarity.

Harmony. Harmony refers to the pleasing arrangement and combination of visual elements, such as color, form, and composition, that creates a sense of unity and balance in a work of art.

Hatching. Hatching is a drawing technique where parallel lines or strokes are closely spaced and used to create areas of shadow, texture, or form, adding depth and dimension to an artwork.

Horizon Line – The line in an artwork where the sky and land appear to meet.

Hue is a pure colour that hasn’t had any white or black added to it.

Iconography. Iconography refers to the study or interpretation of symbols, images, and motifs within art, literature, or culture, often used to convey specific meanings, themes, or cultural references.

Illusions in art trick the viewer into believing what they think they see.

Illustrator.  A person who draws or creates pictures for magazines, books, advertising, etc.

Imitationalism. Imitationalism is an artistic style or approach that aims to faithfully represent or depict the appearance of real-life subjects, often prioritising accuracy and realism in the portrayal of objects, people, or scenes.

Impasto. Impasto is a painting technique where thick layers of paint are applied to the canvas with a brush or palette knife, creating a textured surface that adds depth, dimension, and visual interest to the artwork.

Implied Form.  An artwork can have implied form if it appears to have depth.  This can be created with perspective, tone/value or colour.

Impressionism. An art movement that emerged in the late 19th century, primarily during the 1860s to 1880s. The movement is characterised by the portrayal of fleeting moments, atmospheric effects, and the immediate sensory “impression” of a scene, often achieved through loose brushwork and vibrant colour palettes.

Impressionistic. Impressionistic refers to an artistic style characterised by the use of loose brushwork, vibrant colors, and the depiction of light and atmosphere to capture the fleeting impressions of a scene or subject, often associated with the late 19th-century French art movement led by artists such as Claude Monet and Edgar Degas.

Ink. Ink is a liquid or paste containing pigments or dyes, used for writing, drawing, or printing, typically applied with a pen, brush, or printing press onto paper or other surfaces.

Installation Art. An art form that began to flourish in the mid-20th century and continues to evolve today, involves the creation of immersive, three-dimensional environments or experiences within a specific space, often challenging traditional notions of artistic presentation and engagement.

Intaglio Printing.  A type of printing where ink is applied to a printing plate that has recessed areas.  The ink is wiped away leaving ink in the recessed areas only.  Ink is transferred to paper under the pressure of a printing press.

Intensity. Intensity refers to the brightness or saturation of a color, representing the degree of purity or vividness, with high intensity colours appearing more vibrant and vivid than those with lower intensity.

Intermediate Colours. Intermediate colours are hues created by mixing equal amounts of a primary color with its adjacent secondary color on the colour wheel, resulting in a wide range of tertiary colors located between the primary and secondary hues.

Interpret. To interpret is to explain or understand the meaning, significance, or intention behind something, such as a work of art.

Kiln.  The furnace in which clay is fired to harden it.

Land Art/Earth Art. An art movement that emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s, focusing on creating large-scale, site-specific artworks in natural environments using natural materials, often blurring the boundaries between art and the landscape itself.

Landscape.  An artwork showing an area of land.

Leather Hard. Is the condition of clay that has been partially dried so that shrinkage is complete. It has a similar consistency to leather and can be handled without deforming.

Line.  A line is a path made by an object moving across a surface.

Line Drawing.  A line drawing is a drawing made of only lines. It does not include any shading.

Lino* Cutting Tool. A sharp tool used to cut away the surface of lino to create a relief surface.

Lino* Print.  A type of relief print created from a piece of lino that has had parts of its surface cut away leaving a raised surface that can be printed.

*Lino is an abbreviation for Linoleum.  Linoleum was invented in the mid-1800’s as a floor covering and in the 1890’s artists started using it as an artistic medium.

Lineage-Based Cultures. Lineage-based cultures are societies where social organization, inheritance, and identity are primarily determined by one’s familial lineage or ancestry, often influencing aspects such as social status, responsibilities, and relationships within the community.

Linear Perspective. Linear perspective is a drawing technique used in art to create the illusion of depth and three-dimensionality on a two-dimensional surface by representing parallel lines as converging toward a vanishing point on the horizon line.

Mannerism. An art movement that emerged in the late 16th century characterised by exaggerated and often distorted depictions of the human figure, as well as complex compositions, reflecting a departure from the classical ideals of the Renaissance.

Mat. A mat is a flat, often rectangular piece of material, such as paper or cardboard, used to frame and protect artwork, photographs, or documents by providing a border and separating them from the frame’s glass or acrylic surface.

Media. A type of art material e.g. watercolour, charcoal, pastels.

‘The artist worked with a range of different media such as charcoal and pastels.’

Medieval Art. An art movement spanning from the 5th to the 15th century CE, encompassing a diverse range of artistic expressions rooted in Christian religious themes, characterized by ornate manuscripts, illuminated manuscripts, stained glass windows, and religious sculpture, often commissioned by the church or royalty.

Medium. (Media is the plural of this art word) A type of art material, e.g. watercolour, charcoal, pastels.  ‘Watercolour is a popular painting medium’.

Metal. Metal is a solid material characterized by its luster, malleability, and conductivity, commonly used in various applications such as construction, manufacturing, and art due to its durability and versatility.

Metamorphosis Art – is art that shows one object transform into another, either in stages or across the object.

Middle Ground. The middle layer of an artwork that appears to be between the foreground and background.

Mimetic. Mimetic, in artistic terms, refers to a style or approach that closely imitates or represents the appearance of real-life subjects with accuracy and detail.

Minimalism. An art movement that emerged in the mid-20th century, particularly during the 1960s, is defined by its use of simple geometric shapes, monochromatic colour palettes, and a reduction of elements to their essential form, often emphasising a sense of purity and minimal ornamentation.

Mixed Media.  Mixed media refers to an artwork that is created using more than one type of media or materials. e.g an artwork made with both collage and paint.

Mobile. A mobile is a type of sculpture or decorative object consisting of suspended elements that are balanced and arranged to move freely in response to air currents or manual manipulation.

Model. A model is a three-dimensional representation or replica of an object, structure, or concept, often used for study, visualisation, or demonstration purposes in fields such as architecture, engineering, and design.

Modernism. Modernism is an artistic and cultural movement that emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, characterized by a departure from traditional forms and conventions, and an emphasis on innovation, experimentation, and self-expression in art, literature, and design.

Mod Podge – is a white runny glue.  It is similar to PVA (see below) only with more water in it, so not as strong.

Monochromatic. Monochromatic refers to a colour scheme composed of variations of a single hue, typically including different shades, tints, and tones, resulting in a harmonious and unified visual effect.

Monoprinting. A type of printmaking where the image can only be made once.

Monotype. A type of printmaking where a non-absorbant surface is drawn onto, usually with printing ink, and then one print is taken by transferring the image onto paper.

Montage is an collage of images that combine to create an artwork.

Mosaic. A mosaic is an art form or decorative technique where small pieces of colored glass, stone, or other materials are arranged and set into a surface to create patterns, images, or designs.

Motif. A motif is a recurring design element, pattern, or theme used in art, literature, or decoration, serving to convey symbolic meaning or aesthetic coherence within a composition.

Movement or Art Movement.    A style in art with a specific common philosophy or goal, followed by a group of artists during a specific period of time.

Mural. A mural is a large-scale artwork or painting created directly on a wall, ceiling, or other permanent surface, often depicting scenes, images, or messages intended for public viewing or decoration.

Narrative Artwork. Narrative artwork is visual storytelling that communicates a sequence of events, emotions, or ideas through images, symbols, and composition, often presenting a cohesive narrative arc or message to the viewer.

Naturalism. Naturalism is an artistic style or approach that aims to depict subjects or scenes from the natural world with a high degree of realism and accuracy, often emphasising detail, texture, and the effects of light and shadow.

Natural Forms An object found in nature that has not been changed or altered.

Naturalistic. Naturalistic refers to an artistic representation that closely resembles or imitates the appearance of real-life subjects or scenes, often emphasizing accuracy, detail, and fidelity to nature.

Negative Space is the space around and in between the object of the image.

Neoclassicism. A prominent artistic movement from the mid-18th to the early 19th century. The movement is marked by a revival of classical Greek and Roman aesthetics, emphasising simplicity, symmetry, and a return to rationality in art, architecture, and literature.

Neo-Expressionism. An art movement that gained prominence in the late 20th century, particularly during the 1970s and 1980s, is characterised by a revival of expressive and emotionally charged artistic styles, often featuring bold brushwork, intense colour, and a return to figurative representation.

Neo-Impressionism. An art movement that arose in the late 19th century, particularly in the 1880s and 1890s, is distinguished by its use of small, individual dots or strokes of pure color applied in a systematic manner to create harmonious and optically vibrant compositions.

Neutral Colours. Neutral colours are hues that lack strong chromatic intensity or saturation, such as white, black, gray, and beige, often used as a base or background in design and art, and complementing a wide range of other colors.

Observational Drawing.  Drawing what you see, not what you think you see.

Oil Paint. Oil paint is a type of slow-drying paint consisting of pigments suspended in a drying oil, typically linseed oil, often used by artists for its rich colours, smooth texture, and blending capabilities.

Oil Pastels. Oil pastels are drawing tools made of pigment, wax, and a non-drying oil binder, allowing for vibrant and blendable colours to be applied to various surfaces with a smooth and creamy texture.

One Point Perspective is a type of linear perspective in which all objects in a scene converge towards a single vanishing point on the horizon, creating an illusion of depth and spatial organization.

Op Art. Op Art is an artistic style that uses optical illusions and geometric patterns to create visual effects that confuse or deceive the viewer’s perception of depth, movement, and space.

Organic Shapes are irregular or uneven shapes. These can often be found in nature.

Overlapping. Overlapping is a technique in art and design where one object or element is positioned in front of another, creating a sense of depth and spatial relationships within a composition.

Paint. Paint is a liquid mixture consisting of pigments, binders, and solvents, applied to surfaces with a brush, roller, or spray gun to add color, protection, or decoration.

Painterly. A descriptive term used in art from the 16th century to the present day, refers to a technique characterised by visible brushwork, texture, and a loose, expressive style that emphasises the act of painting itself.

Painting. Painting is the artistic practice of applying pigments or other coloring agents to a surface, such as canvas or paper, using brushes, knives, or other tools to create images, compositions, or expressions of creativity.

Palette. A palette is a flat surface or board used by artists to hold and mix colors during painting, typically made of wood, plastic, or other materials, and featuring compartments or wells for organizing and storing paint.

Paper. Paper is a thin material made from cellulose fibers derived from wood pulp, used for writing, printing, drawing, packaging, and various other applications due to its versatility, affordability, and ease of production.

Papier-mâché. Papier-mâché is a crafting technique where strips of paper or paper pulp are soaked in a paste, typically consisting of water and glue, and then moulded or layered to create three-dimensional objects or sculptures.

Pastels. Pastels are dry drawing sticks made from powdered pigment and a binder, typically used in a wide range of colors for drawing and coloring on paper, providing a soft and blendable texture.

Pattern.  A pattern is a design in which shapes, lines, colours or forms are repeated. The part that is repeated is called a motif. Patterns can be regular or irregular.

Pencil. A pencil is a writing or drawing tool consisting of a thin graphite or colored core encased in a cylindrical wooden shaft, typically used for creating marks or lines on paper or other surfaces.

Performance Art. An art form that emerged in the mid-20th century and continues to evolve today, involves live presentations by artists that often incorporate actions, gestures, or spoken words to convey artistic expression and engage with the audience in a direct and experiential manner.

Perspective – refers to the representation of objects in three-dimensional space on the two-dimensional surface of a picture.

Persuasive. Persuasive refers to an approach or communication intended to influence or convince others of a particular idea, belief, or course of action through reasoning, argumentation, or emotional appeal.

Photography. A visual medium that originated in the early 19th century, particularly with the invention of the daguerreotype in 1839 and the calotype in the 1840s, is the art and science of capturing and preserving images using light-sensitive materials, resulting in a wide range of visual documentation and artistic expression.

Photojournalism. A practice that gained prominence in the early to mid-20th century and continues today, involves the use of photographs to convey news stories, events, and social issues, providing a visual documentation of current events and journalism.

Photomontage. A technique that originated in the early 20th century, particularly in the Dada and Surrealist movements of the 1910s and 1920s, involves the combination of multiple photographic images or fragments to create a new composite image with often surreal or juxtaposed elements.

Photorealism. An art movement that gained prominence in the late 1960s and early 1970s, is characterized by its meticulous attention to detail and the creation of paintings or drawings that closely resemble high-resolution photographs.

Picture Plane. The picture plane is the imaginary flat surface in a painting or drawing where the artist creates a representation of three-dimensional space, serving as the interface between the viewer and the depicted scene or subject.

Pigment. Pigment is a coloured substance, typically in powder form, used to add color to paints, inks, dyes, and other materials by absorbing or reflecting certain wavelengths of light.

Plaster. Plaster is a building material composed of gypsum, lime, or cement mixed with water to form a paste, used for coating walls, ceilings, and creating decorative or sculptural elements in architecture and art.

Plein Air. A term dating back to the mid-19th century and still in use today, refers to the practice of creating art outdoors, particularly painting, to capture the immediate visual and atmospheric qualities of the natural world.

Point of View. Point of view refers to the perspective or viewpoint from which a story, narrative, or artwork is presented, shaping the interpretation, emotions, and understanding of the audience or viewer.

Pop Art. An art movement that gained prominence in the mid-20th century, particularly in the 1950s and 1960s, is characterised by its use of everyday objects, popular culture, and commercial imagery to create art that often comments on consumerism and mass media.

Portrait. A genre of art dating back to ancient times and enduring to the present day, is a visual representation of a specific person, typically focusing on their likeness and often conveying aspects of their personality or status.

Positive Space. Positive space refers to the area within a composition that is occupied by the main subject or objects, contrasting with negative space, which is the empty or background areas surrounding the subject.

Post-Impressionism. An art movement that followed Impressionism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, is characterized by artists’ exploration of personal expression, vibrant color, and a departure from strict realism, often incorporating distinctive styles and techniques.

Pottery. Pottery is the art and craft of making ceramic objects, such as bowls, vases, and containers, by shaping clay and then firing it in a kiln to harden and solidify, often decorated or glazed for aesthetic appeal and functionality.

Primary Source.  A primary source (in art) is something you can look at directly—for example, a natural object, artefact, building or person.

Printing Board. A flat board used to mix printing inks or rolled with a thin layer of printing ink that can be applied to a printing plate.

Printing Plate.  The flat surface to which ink is applied to transfer an image to paper. They can be made of metal, card or plastic depending on the type of printing process.

PVA Glue – is a strong, white, runny glue.  PVA stands for Polyvinyl Acetate.

Radial Symmetry. Symmetry around a central point of similar shapes that create a star-like arrangement.

Rayograph. A technique developed by artist Man Ray in the early 20th century, particularly in the 1920s, involves creating photographic images without a camera by placing objects directly on photosensitive paper and exposing them to light, resulting in abstract, photogram-like compositions.

Realism. An artistic movement that gained prominence in the mid-19th century and continued into the early 20th century, is defined by its commitment to depicting everyday life, often in a straightforward and unembellished manner, emphasizing accuracy and truthfulness in art.

Relief Printing.  A type of printing where a printing block or plate has ink applied to its surface and not it’s recessed areas, and a print is taken from the inked surface.

Relief Sculpture. An artwork where elements project out from a base surface.

Renaissance Art. An art movement which emerged in the 14th century and continued into the 17th century. Represents a cultural rebirth in Europe, marked by a renewed focus on classical ideals, naturalistic representation, and innovations in painting, sculpture, and architecture.

Rococo. An art movement that emerged in the early 18th century and prevailed into the late 18th century, it’s characterised by its ornate, playful, and light-hearted aesthetic, featuring asymmetry, pastel colours, and intricate decorative motifs in art and interior design.

Romanticism. An artistic movement that flourished from the late 18th to the mid-19th century. The movement is characterised by its emphasis on emotion, individualism, imagination, and a fascination with nature, often expressed through literature, music, and visual arts.

Rule of Thirds is a method for creating compositions that divides an image into 9 sections with two equally spaced horizontal and vertical lines.  The most important aspects of the composition should be placed along these lines and/or at their intersections.

Scale refers to the actual size of an artwork or the size of the objects in an artwork.

Score – To score a piece of clay means to scratch hatch marks into it as part of the joining process. (Usually slip is also added, see below)

Screenprint. A printmaking technique that became popular in the mid-20th century, particularly in the 1960s, involves using a stencil or screen to transfer ink onto a surface, allowing for the reproduction of images and designs with precise color and detail.

Sculpture. An art form dating back to prehistoric times and persisting to the present day, involves the creation of three-dimensional forms and shapes, typically through carving, modeling, or assembling various materials, to convey artistic expression or representational content.

Secondary Colours. Secondary colours are hues resulting from the mixture of two primary colors in equal amounts, namely orange, green, and purple.

Secondary Source. A secondary source (in art) is something produced by others.  For example, reproductions of drawings and artefacts, photographs, film, video or images from the internet.

Self-Portrait. A self-portrait is a visual representation or depiction created by an artist that portrays themselves, typically through painting, drawing, or photography.

Shade.  Any colour to which black has been added.

Shape is an area enclosed by a line.

Slab Built. A method of making ceramic from flat slabs of clay.

Slip. A creamy mixture of clay and water used, with scoring, to join two pieces of clay.

Space is the area between or around objects in an image.

Still Life.  A painting or drawing that shows an arrangement of objects.

Stippling – The art of making a drawing out of numerous, tiny dots.

Stone. Stone refers to a naturally occurring solid mineral substance, often found in the Earth’s crust, characterized by its hardness and durability, used to make sculptures by carving.

Studio Pottery.  Ceramics made by individual artist-potters in small batches, usually in their own studio.

Style. Style is the distinctive manner in which something is presented, expressed, or performed, reflecting unique characteristics or preferences.

Subject Matter. Subject matter refers to the main theme, topic, or focus of a piece of art, literature, or discussion.

Subtractive Process. Subtractive process is a method of creating art or design by removing material, such as carving away from a block of wood or stone, to reveal the desired form.

Suprematism. An abstract art movement that emerged in the early 20th century, particularly around 1915-1930, is defined by its use of geometric shapes, primarily squares and rectangles, arranged in a non-objective, non-representational manner, emphasising purity and spirituality in art.

Surrealism. An art movement that developed in the early 20th century, primarily during the 1920s and 1930s, is characterized by its exploration of the irrational and subconscious mind through dreamlike and fantastical imagery in painting, literature, and other creative forms.

Symbolic. Symbolic refers to the use of symbols or objects to represent abstract ideas, concepts, or meanings.

Symmetry. Symmetry is the balanced arrangement of parts or elements on opposite sides of a central axis, resulting in a harmonious and visually pleasing composition.

Tempera Paint. Tempera paint is a water-based artistic medium consisting of pigment mixed with a water-soluble binder such as egg yolk, typically used for creating vibrant and opaque colors on various surfaces.

Tertiary Colors (Intermediate). Tertiary colors, also known as intermediate colors, are hues formed by mixing a primary color with an adjacent secondary color on the color wheel, resulting in a wide range of nuanced shades.

Tessellation.  A tessellation is an arrangement of shapes that fit together in a pattern without any gaps.

Texture is the surface quality of an object.  It can be real or implied.

Real Texture is a texture you can touch.  For example, a surface that feels rough.

Implied Texture is not actually real.  It looks like texture but if you felt it, it would feel smooth.

Three-Dimensional (3D). 3D refers to objects or images that have length, width, and height, enabling them to be perceived as having depth and volume, often created using techniques that mimic the way humans perceive depth in the physical world.

Tint.  Any colour to which white has been added.

Tone generally means how light or dark something is.  It can also mean a colour created by mixing a pure hue with grey.

Tone Drawing.  A tonal drawing is a drawing that includes shades of varying lightness and darkness.

Transition. Transition refers to the process of changing from one state, condition, or form to another, often involving a gradual shift or progression between distinct stages or aspects.

Triadic. Triadic refers to a color scheme in art and design where three colors equidistant from each other on the color wheel are used together, creating a balanced and harmonious visual composition.

Two-Dimensional (2D). 2D refers to objects or images that have only length and width, lacking depth, typically represented on a flat surface such as paper or a screen.

Two Point Perspective is a type of linear perspective that uses two vanishing points on the horizon to create an illusion of depth and spatial organization in a two-dimensional image.

Unity. Unity refers to the cohesive and harmonious arrangement of elements within a composition, creating a sense of completeness and coherence.

Value generally means how light or dark something is.  It can also mean a colour created by mixing a pure hue with grey. (For UK see ‘Tone’.)

Value Scale. A value scale is a systematic arrangement of grayscale tones ranging from light to dark, used to depict variations in lightness and darkness within a work of art or design.

Vanishing Point. A vanishing point is a point on the horizon line in a perspective drawing where parallel lines appear to converge, creating the illusion of depth and distance in two-dimensional representations of three-dimensional space.

Vanitas. Vanitas is a genre of still-life painting that emerged in the 17th century, characterized by symbolic representations of the transience of life, emphasising the inevitability of death and the vanity of earthly pursuits.

Volume. Volume refers to the amount of space occupied by an object or substance, measured in cubic units, indicating its three-dimensional extent.

Warm Colours. Warm colors are hues typically associated with warmth, such as reds, oranges, and yellows, evoking feelings of energy, passion, and coziness.

Wash. A wash is a thin, transparent layer of diluted paint or ink applied to a surface, often used in watercolour painting to create subtle tonal variations or to establish an initial background tone.

Watercolour. Watercolour is a painting technique that uses pigments suspended in a water-based solution to create translucent and vibrant images on paper or other porous surfaces.

Weaving. Weaving is the process of interlacing threads or fibers systematically to create fabric, textiles, or other woven structures, typically using a loom or similar device.

Wood. Wood is a natural material derived from the stems and branches of trees, characterized by its strength, versatility, and suitability for various construction, crafting, and artistic purposes.

Yarn. Yarn is a long, continuous strand of fibres, often made from wool, cotton, or synthetic materials, used for knitting, weaving, crocheting, or other textile crafts.

Zentangle. Zentangle is a structured and meditative art form that involves creating intricate patterns or designs within defined spaces using repetitive strokes, fostering relaxation and mindfulness.


This online art dictionary for students has been created so that art teachers can direct their students to an easy to understand and accurate definition for an art word.  It’s a great way to embed art literacy into your curriculum.

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