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Lesson Plans

Glossary of Art Terms

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
MichaelDelahunt (MichaelDelahunt)
Wed, 24 Apr 96 09:49:14 -700

I have been thinking that one useful resource to make available on my school's
Web site would be a glossary of art terms-- a list useful to art educators and

Before posting the glossary I've compiled, I'd like to find some of you to
help me improve the list of terms, and their definitions.
I have decided not to include listing any particular artists or titles of
artworks, but have tried to include all other terminology which may be helpful
for art students and instructors to understand.
I've written some definitions from scratch and adapted others from various
sources (Nevertheless, I'm an _AMATEUR_ lexicographer!) and I'd be delighted
to read your suggestions for changes.
Below are the first few pages-- from "abrasive" to "cool colors." I have tried
to keep the language of definitions as simple as possible, while at the same
time using vocabulary that is appropriate.
Each of you who'll give me feedback on this art semantics project will receive
more! But I'll let you ALL know when the entire glossary is on the Web at

Any additions, corrections, deletions you'd suggest?! Please!

GLOSSARY OF ART TERMS (for K-12 education)

abrasive - A substance which wears down a surface by the friction of rubbing
against it. Sandpaper has an abrasive surface used to smooth rough surfaces.

abstract art - Artworks which stress the importance of the elements and
principles of design rather than subject matter. Abstract artists select and
then exaggerate or simplify the forms suggested by the world around them. The
paintings of Picasso and Braque as well as the sculptures of Moore, Hepworth,
and Lipchitz are examples of abstract art. See also "non-objective art."

Abstract Expressionism - A mid-twentieth-century painting style in which
artists applied paint freely to their huge canvases in an effort to show
feelings and emotions. It is characterized by a strong dependence on accident
and chance, and there is no effort to represent subject matter. Some artists
who painted in this style were deKooning, Pollock, and Rothko.

academic - A term used to describe works of art that were done according to
established, traditional ways and so were not original.

acropolis - This is the Greek word meaning "high city." Ancient Greek
builders chose to erect their towns around fortified hills upon which their
main temples were placed. The most famous acropolis is in Athens. It was
here that the Parthenon was built.

accuracy - Correctness or exactness.

action painting - A style of abstract painting that uses techniques such as
the dribbling or splashing of paint to achieve a spontaneous effect. Most
associated with several of the Abstract Expressionist artists, including
Pollack and deKooning.

adhesives - Are substances, like glue, paste or cement, which cause
adhesion, or stickiness. Various types include mucilage, rubber cement,
hot-glue, epoxy, cyanoacrylic and silicone.

aerial perspective - Aerial, or atmospheric, perspective is a method of
showing the effect of distance on a flat surface. It is achieved by using
bluer, lighter, and duller hues for distant objects in a picture. The change
in hue suggests the effects of light, air, and distance. One of the first
artists to use this technique was Masaccio.

aesthetic - The branch of philosophy that deals with the nature and value of
art objects and experiences. Any activity connected with art and beauty.

aesthetic experience - Experience of intrinsic features of things or events
traditionally recognized as worthy of attention and reflection, such as
literal, visual, and expressive qualities, which are studied during the art
criticism process. See also "literal qualities," "visual qualities," and
"expressive qualities."

aesthetic value - The value a thing or event has due to its capacity to
evoke pleasure that is recognized as arising from features in the object
traditionally considered worthy of attention.

aisle - A long, narrow space on either side of the nave of a church, usually
between a row of columns and the outer wall. It is often referred to as a side

allegory - When the literal content of a work stands for abstract ideas,
suggesting a parallel, deeper, symbolic sense.

ambulatory - A semi-circular aisle curving around the apse of a church
behind the main altar. Developed during the Romanesque period, it made it
easier for large religious processions to move about inside the church. The
addition of the ambulatory led to the construction of radiating chapels, each
with its small altar for worship.

analogous colors - Colors that are next to each other on the color wheel
and are closely related. For example, blue, blue-green, and green all have the
color blue in common. Families of analogous colors include the warm colors
(red, orange and yellow) and the cool colors (green, blue and violet).

animation - Giving motion to a thing. Also, making animated cartoons. Such a
film can be called an animation.

applique - A design made by stitching pieces of colored fabric onto a larger
piece of cloth. Applique is used for wall hangings and as decoration on
clothing, quilts and pillows.

apse - The semicircular area at the end of the church opposite the main
entry. It was here that the altar was placed.

aqueduct - A channel built to carry water to towns and cities. In some
places these channels were supported by a series of arches. The Romans built
many aqueducts, including those found in Spain at Tarragona and Segovia.

arabesque - A complicated, intertwined, flowing design of stylized floral
and plant motifs loosely based on Arabian decorations.

archaic - This name is given to the early stage in the development of an art
style. It is at this stage that the characteristics of the fully developed
style are found, although in simpler forms. The term is often used to describe
the art of ancient Greek artists whose early sculptures were a step in the
direction of more natural figures.

architect - A person who designs and draws plans for buildings.

architecture - The art of designing and constructing buildings.

Armory Show - This was the first large exhibition of modern art in America.
It was held in the 69th Regiment Armory building in New York City in 1913.
Although the show was soundly criticized by the public and the press, it had a
great impact on American artists who were influenced by the works of modern
European artists.

art nouveau - A style of decoration and architecture of the late 19th and
early 20th centuries, characterized particularly by the depiction of leaves
and flowers in flowing lines. Klimt, Mucha and Gaudi were some of the most
prominent artists associated with this style.

Ashcan School - A group of early twentieth-century American artists who
painted pictures of city life. Critics who did not appreciate their choice of
subject matter-- alleys, tenements, and slum dwellers-- called this group the
Ashcan School, a label that is now better known than the group's original
name, The Eight. Robert Henri and John Sloan are two of the best known artists
in this group.

assemblage sculpture - See Constructivism.

assessment - Determining the extent of students' aptitudes and progress.

asymmetry or asymmetrical balance - The parts of a design organized so
that one side differs from the other without destroying the overall harmony.
Also known as informal balance, it can be observed in Diebenkorn's painting
entitled Woman by a Large Window. Asymmetrical and symmetrical are two kinds
of balance, which is a principle of art.

attention - Concentration of thought upon a subject. A close or careful
observing or listening. Focusing one's ability or power to concentrate
mentally. Giving observant consideration. When used by a teacher, attention
means "Stop, Look and Listen." Stop working, talking, moving, and put things
down. Look toward the teacher or the student who's been called upon. Listen
means thinking about what's being said and speaking only when one has been
called upon. When a student needs to let a teacher know he needs attention,
one appropriate means is to raise a hand when the speaker has stopped. Raising
a hand does not guarantee that a student will be called upon, although
teachers should try to share time as much as possible.

avant-garde - Artists and their work which stand in the forefront of new
ideas, often in opposition to established ideas and traditions. The modern era
has always had a flourishing avante-garde, but many have said it is no longer
possible in a "post-modern" era.

axis line - An imaginary line which indicates movement and the direction of
movement. It can be observed in Lawrence's painting entitled War Series:
Another Patrol.

background - The part of a picture or scene that appears to be farthest away
from the viewer, usually nearest the horizon.

balance - A principle of art, it refers to the way the art elements are
arranged to create a feeling of stability in a work. Balance can be
symmetrical, or formal, or it can be asymmetrical, or informal. It can also be

baptistery - A building used for baptism in the Christian church. A famous
example is the baptistery of the cathedral in Florence, Italy.

Baroque - The art style of the Counter-Reformation in the seventeenth
century. Although some features appear in Dutch art, the Baroque style was
limited mainly to Catholic countries. It is a style in which painters,
sculptors, and architects sought movement, contrast, and variety in their
works. The dramatic flair in painting and sculpture can be seen in the works
of Rubens and Bernini. In architecture, Boromini used curved surfaces to
create a pattern of light and dark as well as a sense of movement on his
church facades.

barrel vault - A half-round stone ceiling made by placing a series of
arches from front to back. Also known as a tunnel vault, it was developed by
the Romans and adopted later by Romanesque church builders.

basilica - A type of public building erected in ancient Rome. Basilicas had
a rectangular plan with two or four rows of columns placed along the longer
axis to support the roof. This plan was later adopted by the early Christian
church builders.

bas-relief - A French term meaning "low-raised work." This art is also
called relief sculpture-- meant to be seen primarily from one direction-- as
opposed to sculpture which is "in the round." An example of low bas-relief
would be the sculpture on the side of any coin.

batik - A method of dyeing cloth which involves the use of removable wax to
repel the dye on parts of the design where dye is not desired.

Bauhaus - A 1919-1933 German school of design, the aesthetic of which was
influenced by and derived from techniques and materials employed especially in
industrial fabrication and manufacture. Gropius, Klee, Kandinsky and many
other important artists were employed there.

beauty - A delighting quality generally associated with harmony of form or
color, excellence of craftsmanship, truthfulness, originality, or another

Benin - A people and former kingdom of western Africa. Benin artists of the
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries realized a high level of quality in their
bronze castings.

book of hours - A book for private devotions containing prayers for
different hours of the day. Often these books were richly illustrated. One of
the most famous was produced by the Limbourg brothers for the Duke of Berry.

brayer - A roller used to ink a surface by hand.

bubble diagram - A sketch made to propose an arrangement of spaces for the
design of an environment or structure.

Buddhism - A religious belief based on the teachings of an Indian prince,
Gautama Buddha, who held that suffering is a part of life but that mental and
moral self-purification can bring about a state of illumination, carrying the
believer beyond suffering and material existence.

bust - A sculpture representing a person's head, neck, shoulders and upper

buttress - A support or brace which counteracts the outward thrust of an
arch or vault. A flying buttress is an arch which reaches over a side aisle to
support the heavy stone root of a cathedral.

Byzantine art - The art of the Eastern Roman Empire. Byzantine paintings and
mosaics are characterized by a rich use of color and figures which seem flat
and stiff. Intended as religious lessons, they were presented clearly and
simply in order to be easily learned. Byzantine architects favored the central
plan covered by a huge dome. An example is Hagia Sophia in Constantinople.

calligraphy - The art of writing letters and words in an ornamental style
using brushes or pens.

campanile - A bell tower near, or attached to, a church.

capital - The top element of a pillar or column. There are three basic types
of capitals which originated with the ancient Greeks: Doric, Ionic, and

caricature - A representation in which the subject's distinctive features or
peculiarities are deliberately exaggerated to produce a comic or grotesque
effect. Also, the art of creating such representations.

cartoon - A kind of drawing done to make people laugh or to entertain them
with adventure. A cartoon usually has simple lines, uses basic colors, and
tells a story in one or a series of pictures called frames.

cartoonist - An artist who draws cartoons or comic strips for newspapers,
magazines, etc.

cast - To form (liquid metal, for example) into a particular shape by
pouring into a mold, or something formed by this means. Also, an impression
formed in a mold or matrix; a mold. Also see "lost wax casting."

catacombs - Underground tunnels in which the early Christians in Rome and
other communities buried their dead. Some catacombs also contained chapels and
meeting rooms. The painted decorations found in the catacombs are the earliest
known forms of Christian art.

cathedral - The principal church of a diocese, which contains the cathedra,
or bishop's chair. An excellent example is the Cathedral of Chartres in

ceramics - The art of pottery making. Objects are made of clay and fired at
high temperatures in a kiln or oven to make them stronger.

chalk - Pigments mixed with gum and pressed into a stick form for use as
crayons. Pastel is similar, but less tightly bound.

chapel - An area or compartment in a church containing an altar dedicated to
a particular saint.

charcoal - Compressed burned wood used for drawing.

chiaroscuro - A word borrowed from Italian ("light and shade" or "dark")
referring to the modelling of volumes by depicting light and shade. See also

circa - About. (From Latin.) Abbreviated c. and ca. Frequently used before
approximated dates.

circle - A round, two-dimensional shapein which every point on theoutside is
the same distance from the center.

classical - This term has come to have several meanings. Originally it was
used when referring to the art of ancient Greece produced during the fifth and
fourth centuries B.C. Later it included all works of art created from 600
B.C. until the fall of Rome. Still later it was used to describe any art form
thought to be inspired or influenced by ancient Greek or Roman examples.
Today, classical is used to describe perfection of form, with an emphasis on
harmony and unity and restraint of emotion. Usually, it is applied to works
that are representational but idealistic.

clean up - To make oneself and one's environment clean, orderly and
presentable. For instance, when one has dirtied or disordered a studio space
that others will need to use, one must clean it up before those others arrive.
Also, before it interferes with one's own work!

clerestory - This term describes a wall of a building which is raised above
an adjoining room. Thus the walls of a nave in a Christian church are higher
than the roof over the side aisles. The clerestory contains windows for light
and ventilation. Because of the heavy walls, the clerestory windows of a
Romanesque church were small and admitted little light. Development of the
pointed arch, piers, and flying buttresses in the Gothic cathedral made
possible the enlargement of this window area.

cloister - A covered walkway around an open court or garden. It was a
common feature of Medieval monasteries such as San Juan de la Pena in northern

closed shape - Space that is completely enclosed by a line. For example, a
triangle is a closed shape. See also "open shape" and "empty shape."

coils - Long, snake-like strips of clay that are used in making pottery.

collage - A picture or design created by adhering such elements as paper,
photographs, cloth, string, etc., to a flat surface, when the result becomes
three-dimensional. Introduced by the Cubist artists, it was widely used by
artists who followed, and is a familiar technique in contemporary art. Also
see "montage."

colonnade - A line of columns supporting lintels or arches. Colonnades have
been used along streets, courtyards, and around temples such as the Parthenon.

color - Produced when light strikes an object and then reflects back to your
eyes. An element of art with three properties: (1) hue, the color name, e.g.,
red, yellow, blue, etc.: (2) intensity, the purity and strength of a color,
e.g., blight red or dull red; and (3) value, the lightness or darkness of a

color separation - A process used by commercial artists which separates the
primary colors in a color picture. A printing plate is then made for each of
the colors-- one for yellow, one for blue (cyan), one for red (magenta), and
also one for black. When these colors are printed one on top of the other, the
full color original picture is reproduced.

color scheme - The colors an artist uses and the way they are combined in an

column - An upright pillar or post, often used to bear weight. Columns
usually consist of a base at the bottom, a round shaft, and a capital. A
half-column is attached to a wall and does not bear weight. Half-columns were
used for decorative purposes on the Temple of Fortuna Virilis in Rome.

compass - A mechanical tool that has two hinged, adjustable legs for drawing
different sixes of circles and arcs. One of the legs has a sharp steel point
that is placed on one spot on the paper. The other can hold either a pencil, a
pen or a blade that rotates around the pointed end.

complementary colors - Colors that are directly opposite each other on the
color wheel, such as red and green, blue and orange, and violet and yellow.
When complements are mixed together they form the neutral colors of brown or

complexity - Closely related to variety, a principle of art, this term
refers to a way of combining art elements in involved ways, to create
intricate and complicated relationships. A picture composed of many shapes of
different colors, sizes, and textures would be called complex. See also

compose - To create, put together, or arrange the elements of art in a work,
usually according to the principles of art.

composition - The plan, placement or arrangement of the elements of art in a
work, usually according to the principles of art. The design of a composition
should either be pleasing or otherwise expressive. The term also refers to any
work of art.

computer graphics - Pictures made with the assistance of computers.

conceptual art - Art that is intended to convey an idea or a concept to the
perceiver and need not involve the creation or appreciation of a traditional
art object such as a painting or a sculpture.

connoisseur - A person, amateur or profesional, who through experience, has
become highly sensitive to beauty in art.

conservation - Preservation from loss, damage, or neglect. Associated with

Constructivism - A twentieth century form of sculpture, in which, instead of
being carved or modeled, the works are assembled or constructed out of wood,
metal, paper, glass, or modern industrial materials such as steel, aluminum or

contemporary - Current, belonging to the same period of time. Usually
refering to our present time, but can refer to being current with any
specified time.

content - The subject matter in a work of art.

contour - The outline or edge of a figure or object.

contour drawing - Drawing in which contour lines alone are used to represent
subject matter.

contour line - A line or lines that surround and define the edges of an
object or figures. Dark, heavy contour lines can be found in
Toulouse-Lautrec's painting entitled A Corner of the Moulin de la Galette.

contrapposto - The position of a figure in painting or sculpture in which
the hips and legs are turned in a different direction from that of the
shoulders and head; the twisting of a figure on its own vertical axis.
Especially a way of sculpting a human figure in a natural pose with the weight
of one leg, the shoulder, and hips counterbalancing each other. It was a
technique developed late in the Greek period. An excellent example is the
Doryphoros (or Spear Bearer) by Polyclitus.

contrast - A large difference between two things; for example, hot and cold,
green and red, light and shadow. Closely related to emphasis, a principle of
art, this term refers to a way of combining art elements to stress the
differences between those elements. Thus, a painting might have bright colors
which contrast with dun colors, or angular shapes which contrast with rounded
shapes. Used in this way, contrast can excite, emphasize and direct attention
to points of interest. See also "emphasis."

cool colors - Colors often associated with water, sky, spring, and foliage
and suggest coolness. These are the colors which contain blue and green and
appear on one side of the color wheel opposite the warm colors. See also
"analogous colors."