Glossary of Terms

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abstract art
Art which stresses elements of composition, rather than subject. The subject usually is unidentifiable or, if identifiable has been simplified or rearranged.
A distinctive feature that accentuates or complements the overall design of a work of art.
Paint composed of pigments bound by acrylic resin, a type of plastic. Acrylic paints are water soluble before they dry.
actual texture
A texture that can be perceived through the sense of touch.
additive sculpture
Process of creating a three-dimensional artwork by adding separate parts to create a whole. Materials could include paper, wood, clay, found objects, metal, etc.
The theory of the artistic or the beautiful; pertaining to work philosophically pleasing to the emotional nature of humans.
Without definite form.
analogous colors
Colors that are next to each other on the color wheel (for example, yellow, yellow-orange, and orange). Also called related colors; similar or alike.
Structural design professional who designs buildings and supervises their construction.
The art and science of designing building and other large-scale, aesthetically pleasing, functional structures.
A frame made of wire or other materials and used to hold up a sculpture.
art criticism
Process of thinking and learning (making discriminating judgments) about a work of art in order to be able to draw informed conclusions about its quality or meaning.
art history
Study of the historical and cultural contexts of art.
An object created by human beings. Most artifacts are originally produced to serve a function. They acquire aesthetic value over time.
artist's intention
An artist's purpose or reason for creating a particular artwork; often difficult to know.
artistic elements
Visual properties of color, line, shape, form, texture, and value. Sensory properties are immediately visible in a work of art.
artistic perception
Using awareness, sensitivity, and intuition to gain insight and knowledge regarding natural and human-made environments.
An object or image resulting from imaginative conception and creation that invokes a feeling of pleasure or another emotional response in the viewer and that may convey meaning.
Type of three-dimensional art built by combining and connecting a variety of objects and found materials to create a unified whole.
asymmetrical balance
Type of balance in which two sides of an artwork are not alike, but carry equal or nearly equal visual weight. Also known as informal balance.
The term "Athatbascan" refers to a large family that is represented in Alaska by eleven separate languages. Other Athabascan languages are spoken in western Canada, as well as the southwestern portion of the United States (Navaho and Apache are Athabascan languages)


Part of an artwork that appears to be farthest from the viewer, or in the distance of the scene.
The impression of equilibrium in a pictorial or sculptural composition. Balance can be symmetrical, asymmetrical, or radial. Balance is a principle of design.
bird's-eye view
View from above or from a high vantage point.
Unglazed fired ceramic clay.
block printing
Method of printing in which a raised design or image is created on a flat surface. The design is covered with ink or color and then paper is pressed onto it.
book designer
An artist who designs and creates the layout of a book's cover and its pages.
border design
Design that creates a framelike edge around a shape.
In printing, a hand-held rubber roller used to spread ink over a surface. A small hand roller used to spread printmaking ink thinly and evenly.


The art of beautiful handwriting, often for decorative purposes.
The term has two well-defined meanings. Originally a cartoon was a full-scale and detailed preparatory rendering for a painting, tapestry, or fresco. Now a cartoon is a drawing that shows people or things in a humorous situation and that is often accompanied by a caption.
Creation of a three-dimensional artwork by cutting away unwanted parts of a block of hard material, such as wood or stone. This is the subtractive method.
center of interest
Part of an artwork the viewer notices first; most important part of an artwork.
ceramic clay
Type of clay that, after being formed, is fired at a high temperature in a kiln to harden and produce ceramic artworks.
An artwork showing a view of a city or skyline.
Term applied to artwork that exhibits the characteristics of ancient Greek and Roman art, such as proportion, balance, and idealized forms and themes.
Substance found in the earth that is pliable when moist and hardens when baked. Clay is used to create artworks such as sculpture and pottery.
Point of view in which objects in an artwork appear to be very near the viewer.
A two-dimensional artwork created by arranging and gluing pictures or photographs, or pieces of paper, fabric, or other materials onto a flat surface.
Also referred to as hue, color is the appearance of an object created by the quality of light it reflects or emits. Colors all come from the three primaries and black and white. Color has three properties - hue, value, and intensity. The term color can also refer to a paint, dye, pigment, or other substance that imparts color. Color is an element of art.
color family
A group of related colors, for example, warm colors and cool colors are color families.
color scheme
A plan for combining colors in a work of art.
color wheel
Circular chart that shows primary, secondary, and intermediate colors in an order that illustrates progression through the spectrum and relationships among colors.
complementary color scheme
Color scheme made from colors that are directly across from one another on the color wheel.
complementary colors
Colors that are directly across from one another on the color wheel. These colors contrast strongly with one another.
To plan or create an artwork so all parts are arranged to make a unified whole.
The arrangement of the elements of art. Composition may also refer to any work of art using the principals of art to create a unified artwork.
computer-assisted art
Artworks created with the help of computer software.
To build or make something by putting materials together; additive art.
The varied and interwoven circumstances in which a work of art is or was created. These can include factors that pertain to the artist, the intended function of the work of art, the historical period when the art work was produced and its reception and interpretation at that time.
Outline of a shape or the surface of a form. A line that represents such an outline.
contour line
Lines that represent the outer edge and undulating surfaces within a form, such as shapes or wrinkles and folds.
Difference between two unlike things, such as a dark color and a light color.
converging lines
Actual or implied lines that move toward one another and conjoin at a point in space.
cool colors
Greens, blues, purples, and related colors; cool colors suggest cold and seem to move away from the viewer. Cool colors suggest cool objects, places, and feelings.
Simply stated, the ability to create. However the word has connotations of originality, productivity, imagination and innovation.
credit line
Information that accompanies a reproduction of a piece of fine art. It usually includes the artist's name, title of the artwork, date the artwork was completed, medium used, and the artwork's current owner or location.
A close examination; a critical review.
cross-hatched lines
Parallel, crossed lines drawn in more than one direction gradually creating a denser and denser pattern; often used to create a darker value in drawings or printmaking.
Customs, beliefs, arts, and a way of life of a community or a population.
Administrative director of a museum. A person who conducts research for a museum. Curators select artworks among a museum's permanent collection for display and recommend additional artworks for purchase by a museum.


Perception of spatial distance between objects in a two-dimensional work of art.
The creative, organized, and methodical arrangement of lines, spaces, colors, shapes, textures, and other elements in an artwork. Also, the act of planning and arranging the parts of an artwork using the principals of design.
The small parts of a larger structure, object, or image.
A three-dimensional, often miniature scene. In a diorama, modeled figures are displayed against a realistic, painted background.
In art, the illusion of the third dimension (depth, or near to far) created in a two-dimensional artwork.
The twisting or exaggerating forms from their normal shape, often done to express strong emotion.
An artwork consisting of lines and shapes sketched on paper with materials, such as pencils, pens, chalk, or pastels. Also, the process of creating a line or shape on paper using a drawing implement.


earth art
Type of art in which the completed artwork is made from and becomes an important part of the environment in which it was created. Also called earthwork.
elements of art
Basic components of an artwork, including line, shape, form, color, value, texture, and space.
A designed surface in which parts are raised.
Refers to the created center of interest, the place in an artwork where your eye first lands. Emphasis is a principal of design.
To use a sharp tool to carve letters or pictures into hard materials, such as metal or wood. Also called etching.
Printmaking process in which a metal place is coated with wax or a like substance, a design is cut into the coating, and the metal place is submerged in acid. The acid burns the metal long the lines of the designs, creating grooves that hold the ink for printing.
Showing something in a way that enlarges or overemphasizes its importance.
To communicate one's thoughts or feelings through words, gestures, or art.


Art inspired by the creative imagination; unrestrained fancy.
Type of collage that includes fabric art traditionally made by women.
fiber arts
Artworks created out of yarn, thread, or cloth (for example, stitchery and weaving).
Hardened by great heat; usually refers to clay. For example, in ceramics clay objects are fired in a kiln.
Process of using extreme heat to harden objects made of clay.
A substance that is sprayed over charcoal, pastel, or pencil drawings to make those materials adhere permanently to the paper and to prevent smearing.
The central aspect of an image or that which draws the viewers attention.
The part of an artwork that appears to be nearest the viewer, or in the front of the scene.
Form has depth, length, and width, and resides in space. It is perceived as three-dimensional. Form is an element of art.
formal balance
Type of balance in which the visual properties or features on both sides of a center line (vertical, horizontal, ore diagonal) are similar or identical. Also known as symmetrical balance.
found object
Any item that an artist finds and uses in an artwork. Found objects can be manufactured items, such as clock parts or natural objects, such as tree bark.
Painting technique, often used for murals, in which water-based paint is applied to wet plaster. As it dries, the plaster absorbs the paint and the painting becomes part of the wall.
Something that is designed with a specific purpose in mind.


Buildings or areas devoted to the exhibition of artworks for viewing or for sale.
Term used to describe shapes or forms that are mathematically defined or regular in appearance, such as circles, spheres, squares, or cubes (shapes that have names).
gesture drawing
A drawing done quickly to show main action lines or paths of movement.
Melted glass coating fired onto pottery; applied as liquid.
graphic art
Design and production of commercial artworks, such as signs, posters, advertisements, book jackets, and computer software.
Any clay form that has not been fired.


Working the clay with hands only; coiling, pinching, and slab building are three basic techniques.
History, culture, and traditions of a group of people.
System of writing, such as that of the ancient Egyptians, that uses pictures or symbols rather than words or letters.
horizon line
The line created in an artwork by the meeting of sky and ground, usually on the viewer's eye level.
Moving straight across rather than up and down. For example, the top edge of a piece of paper is horizontal.
Another word for color.


An image that tricks the eye or seems to be something it is not.
To create or design pictures for books, magazines, or other printed works.
An artist who creates pictures for books, magazines, or other printed works.
Of or having to do with the imagination; not realistic.
Something that is suggested or inferred, rather than directly apparent.
Indentation in a material. A single copy of a print done in a set.
informal balance
Type of balance in which two sides of an artwork are not alike but carry equal or nearly equal visual weight. Also known as asymmetrical balance.
Brightness or dullness of a color. A color's intensity is highest, or most pure, when it is not mixed with another color. Colors that contain traces of other colors or of black or white have lower intensity.
intermediate colors
Colors created when a primary color (red, yellow, or blue) is mixed with a secondary color (orange, green, or violet).
Term used to describe shapes and forms that are not geometric. Also known as organic or amorphous (shapes that do not have a name).


In art, an oven which reaches very high temperatures used to harden clay.


An artwork depicting an outdoor scene or scenery.
Line is the path of a point moving through space. Lines vary in width, length, direction, color, and degree of curve and can be two-dimensional or implied. Line is an element of art.
linear perspective
Technique that makes use of line to create the illusion of depth on a two-dimensional surface. If the lines in an artwork created with this technique are extended, they converge on an imaginary point on an imaginary line that represents the eye level of the viewer. This point is called the vanishing point.
Tool or device used to create fabric by weaving fibers together.


Material with which an artwork is created (for example, charcoal, pastels, oil paints, or clay). Medium also refers to the technique used to make an artwork, such as painting, sculpture, or etching. (plural - media or mediums)
middle ground
The part of an artwork that appears to lie between objects in the foreground and background.
mixed media
An artwork created by using more than one medium. For example, a collage mixing drawing and painting can be a mixed-media artwork.
Someone or something that serves as a subject for an artist. Small replica of another larger object, usually built to scale. Also, to create an artwork by shaping a malleable substance such as clay.
modeling clay
Plastic material used for making forms. It usually comes in a variety of colors and can be reused since it does not harden. It cannot be fired and should not be used for permanent artworks.
Color scheme limited to different values of one hue. Also, an artwork that is monochromatic.
A single printing made from a plate, after which the plate needs to be reworked in order to pull another monoprint.
The feeling or emotion created in a work of art.
An artwork created by setting tesserae (small pieces of glass, tile, stones, paper, or similar material) into mortar or onto another adhesive background to create a unified pattern or image.
An element that is repeated often enough to be an important feature of a design.
Refers to the suggestion of motion through use of various elements in an artwork.
A large artwork, usually a painting, applied directly to a wall or ceiling. Murals often appear on or in public buildings.
An institution designed for the acquisition, presentation, study, and exhibition of works of artistic, historical, and cultural value.


negative space
An enclosed empty space which helps define forms and makes an essential contribution to the composition.
Term used for black, white, tints, and shades of gray. Some designers also consider browns to be neutrals.
Style of art that does not represent actual objects, scenes, or figures; nonrepresentational.
Term used to describe art in which the artist expresses ideas, thoughts, or feelings without depicting a realistic object; nonobjective.


objective art
Representational; has recognizable subjects.
oil pastels
Oil-based drawing crayon.
Not allowing light to pass through; the opposite of transparent.
Term used to describe irregular shapes, particularly those resembling objects found in nature.
An artwork that is singular and distinctive from other artworks. Also, the actual, authenticated artwork, rather than a reproduction or copy of it.


An artwork created by using a brush or other tool to apply tempera, watercolor, oil, acrylic, or another kind of paint to a surface. Also, the process of creating an artwork with paint.
A flat board on which an artist mixes colors.
Process of creating forms by covering an armature or other base with strips of paper that have been soaked in watery paste, and then molding the strips. The form hardens as it dries.
Drawing tool, similar in shape to a crayon, made from a paste of finely ground pigment. Also refers to a tint of a color.
Refers to the repetition or recurrence of a design element, exact or varied, which establishes a visual beat. Pattern is a principle of design. Also, a plan or model to be followed when making something.
Techniques for showing three-dimensional objects or scenes on a flat or nearly flat surface.
An image recorded by a camera on film and then printed on photosensitive paper. An image recorded digitally, and read and printed by a computer.
An international movement in painting and sculpture arising in the late 1960s and early 1970s characterized by the precise, observation of subject matter, such as street scenes or portraits, often taken from actual photographs.
A highly simplified symbol of an object or action, i.e., Egyptian hieroglyphics.
picture plane
A term used to describe the surface of the picture that can be imagined like a plane of glass behind which the elements of the image are arranged. Through the use of various techniques such as perspective and overlapping of objects the artist creates an illusion of depth receding away from the picture plane.
Very fine, colored powder that is mixed with a liquid base such as oil or water to make paint.
pinch method
Method of shaping clay into pottery by pinching, pressing, and pulling it with the fingers and hands.
A flat surface.
In printmaking a piece of flat material, such as metal, stone, clay, or wood, with a design on its surface used to print an impression of the design.
Collection or sampling of an artist's artwork, arranged in a protective cover or folder for review or display.
An artwork that features a person, an animal, or a group of people, usually placing emphasis on the face.
positive space
The space that a form or shape occupies in an artwork.
Functional objects such as vases, bowls, pots, and dishes that are modeled from wet clay. Pottery is usually fired in a kiln.
primary colors
The three colors (blue, red, and yellow) from which other colors are made. The primary colors cannot be made from other colors.
principals of design
Set of guidelines for the arrangement of the elements of art. Principals of design include unity, emphasis, balance, proportion/scale, pattern, and rhythm/movement.
An artwork created by pressing a design onto paper or another flat surface using a block or other object coated with wet color. Multiple copies of a print can often be made by reinking the block and repeating the process. See printmaking.
printing block
In printing, a piece of material, such as clay or wood, into which a design has been carved. Ink or paint is applied to the surface of the block, paper is pressed onto the block, and an impression of the design is created. Also known as a plate.
Process of creating prints, or multiple copies of a single image, using one of several techniques or media, i.e., a woodcut, an engraving or etching, transfer paper, photograph, or a monoprint.
Relationship between the size of a part when compared to that of another part or of the whole. For example, an artist drawing a head will keep in mind the size relationship of the nose to the face, an architect the door to the building. Proportion is a principle of design.


In art, a bedcover made from two layers of cloth which have been arranged and stitched together in a colorful design. Also, the process of creating a quilt.
A square, usually of fabric, that is decorated in some way and combined with other quiltblocks to create a quilt.


radial balance
A sense of balance created when lines or shapes spread out from a center point in regular patterns.
radial design
Circular design radiating from a center.
A fast firing, spontaneous clay method derived from the Japanese Raku dynasties of potters (1500 to present).
Style of art that seeks to reproduce reality exactly, rather than to idealize or interpret them.
related colors
Colors that are next to each other on the color wheel (for example, yellow, yellow-orange, and orange). Also called analogous colors.
relief print
A print made by covering a printing block with ink and then pressing paper onto the block.
Term used to describe art that depicts a subject as it appears.
Copy or replica of an original artwork; photograph of print of an artwork.
resist medium
Material applied to a surface to protect it from liquids such as paint or dye.
Refers to the suggestion of motion or beat through the use of the elements in an artwork. Rhythm is a principle of design.
Copy of a textured or raised surface made by placing paper over the surface and rubbing the paper with chalk, pencil, or crayon.


Proportional relationship between an object represented in an artwork and the real object. Something drawn 1/3 scale means all parts are drawn 1/3 the size of the original.
To use an instrument to roughen or scratch joints of a clay sculpture prior to joining them. To scratch a line in order to easily bend a paper.
Inscribing or scratching with a tool in any medium.
An artist whose primary medium is three-dimensional art or sculpture.
An artwork made by modeling, carving, casting, or joining materials into a three-dimensional whole. Also, the process of making such an artwork. Clay, wood, stone, and metal are common materials used for sculpture.
An artwork that represents the sea, ocean, or shore.
secondary color
A color created by mixing two primary colors in equal proportions. The secondary colors are orange (made from red and yellow), green (made from blue and yellow), and violet (made from red and blue).
An artwork showing a likeness of the artist who created it.
The faculties of hearing, sight, smell, touch, and taste. An artwork may appeal to one or more of the senses.
A dark value of a color created by adding black to the color.
A way of showing gradual changes in lightness or darkness in an artwork. Shading helps make an artwork appear more three-dimensional.
Implies spatial form and is usually perceived as two-dimensional. It is distinguished from its surroundings by its outline. A shape encloses space and can be geometric (such as a circle or square) or organic (having an irregular outline). Shape is an element of art.
Images showing no interior detail set against a contrasting background.
A quick drawing that contains little detail but captures the main features of a subject. A sketch is often used to explore a theme or to plan another, more detailed work.
Creamlike mixture of clay and water that acts as glue to join scored pieces of clay.
Refers to the area in which art is organized. Shapes and forms are defined by the empty space surrounding them (negative space) and by the space they occupy (positive space). Space is an element of art.
Piece of paper, cardboard, plastic, or another material with a cutout design; an image is made when paint or ink is applied through the design to a surface underneath.
still life
An artwork showing an arrangement of inanimate objects.
story quilt
A quilt showing pictures that tell a story.
An artist's unique way of creating is referred to as his/her particular style. Style can also be characteristic of a group of artists, a culture, or a period in time. An artwork's style includes all the features that make it different from or similar to other works.
Person, object, or scene represented in an artwork; the recognizable topic of an artwork.
Removing material from the starting form to create a sculpture.
subtractive method
Process of creating a three-dimensional artwork by removing, or subtracting material, as in carving a form from a plaster block.
A form, image, icon, or subject that represents an idea or meaning other than its outward appearance.
symmetrical balance
Type of balance in which the visual properties or features on both sides of a center line (vertical, horizontal, or diagonal) are similar or identical and feels balanced. A human face, for example, is symmetrically balanced (although not identical) along a vertical line. Also known as formal balance.


Water-soluble paint, also known as poster paint.
Refers to the tactile qualities of a surface (actual) or to the visual representation of such surface qualities (implied). Texture is an element of art.
The artist's particular interpretation of a broad or abstract topic such as nature, love, or beauty.
A form in space which can be measured in three directions; having height, width, and depth; not flat. Also, the illusion of depth.
A light value of a color created by adding the color to white.
Knowledge, beliefs, or activities handed down from one generation to the next.
Allowing the passage of light but not the perception of distinct images.
Able to be seen through clearly; the opposite of opaque.
Flat, on one plane; can be measured in two directions.


Appearance of oneness; it is the design continuity that eliminates confusion. Unity is a principle of design.
utilitarian art
Art created primarily for a practical purpose. A quilt, for example, can be a utilitarian artwork.


Relative lightness or darkness of a color and is perceived in terms of contrast. For example, pink is a light value of red, while navy is a dark value of blue. Value is an element of art.
vanishing point
In an artwork using linear perspective, the point at which converging lines meet.
Use of different elements of art to add interest to an artwork. Variety is a principle of design.
Upright, at right angles to the horizon.
An angle or side from which an object can be seen or depicted in an artwork.
visual texture
Texture that is perceived by sight rather than by touch, as in an artwork (implied texture).


warm colors
Reds, oranges, and yellows; warm colors suggest warmth and seem to move toward the viewer. Warm colors suggest warm objects, places, and feelings.
In weaving, fibers stretched vertically on a loom and across which the weft is woven.
Paint composed of a water soluble pigment. A painting with watercolors plays with levels of transparency.
Process of interlacing strands of fiber, such as thread or yarn, on a loom to create a piece of fabric or an artwork.
In weaving, fibers woven from side to side and through the warp on a loom.
wet on dry
A watercolor technique in which a wet paintbrush on dry watercolor paper which causes sharper and dark edged brush strokes.
wet on wet
A watercolor technique in which the pigment is applied to wet paper resulting in undefined shapes and slightly blurred brush strokes.
A print made by inking a carved block of wood and pressing it onto paper or another flat surface. Piece of wood into which a design is cut and from which prints are made.