Art Glossary

General Art Terms




The science of the ‘beautiful’ in a work of art. The aesthetic appeal of a work of art is defined by the visual, social, ethical, moral, and contemporary standards of society.




The material used to create an artwork, i.e. oil, acrylic, lithography, serigraphy, marble, bronze, etc.




A colour scheme that involves different values of a single colour.


Trompe l’oeil:



A French term translated as ‘fool the eye’ denotes a painting so actual that viewers feel they can touch the objects.






Abstract Art:


Not realistic, though the intention is often based on an actual subject, place, or feeling. Pure abstraction can be interpreted as any art in which the depiction of natural objects has been entirely discarded and whose aesthetic content is expressed in a formal pattern or structure of shapes, lines and colours. When the representation of natural objects is completely absent, such art may be called non-objective.


Abstract Expressionism:

A 1940s New York painting movement based on Abstract Art. This type of painting is often referred to as action painting.

American Genre Painting:

Usually, paintings of the rural Midwest and west during the 1920s and 30s.

Art Deco:


During the 1920s and 30s, artists used decorative motifs derived from French, African, Asian, Aztec, Chinese, and Egyptian cultures.


Art Nouveau:


A style that evolved during the 1890s used asymmetrical decorative elements derived from objects found in nature.




A design school founded by Walter Gropius in 1919 in Germany. The Bauhaus attempted to reconcile the aesthetics of design and the more commercial demands of industrial mass production. Artists include Klee, Kandinsky, and Feininger.




A school of fine arts located in Paris stressed the necessity of academic painting.


Contemporary Art:

They are generally defined as art produced during the second half of the twentieth century.


A revolutionary art movement between 1907 and 1914 in which natural forms were changed by geometrical reduction. Leading figures were Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso.


A concept of painting in which traditional adherence to Realism and proportion is overridden by the intensity of an artist’s emotional response to the subject.




A painting technique in which the artist concentrates on the changing effects of light and colour. Often this style can be characterised by its use of discontinuous brush strokes and heavy impasto.


Non-Objective Art:

Not representing any object, figure, or element in nature, in any way; non-representational

Pop Art:


A style derived from commercial art forms and characterised by larger-than-life replicas of items from mass culture. This style evolved in the late 1950s and was characterised in the 1960s by such artists as Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Claus Oldenberg, Roy Lichtenstein, Larry Rivers, Robert Rauschenberg, George Segal, and Robert Indiana.




Loosely synonymous with “figuration”, “representational art”, and “illusionistic painting”, Realism is the term applied to a contemporary style of art depicting recognisable objects or people. In contrast, Realism has specific philosophical, art, historical & literary roots in earlier centuries. In the 20th century, this art term broadened in usage. By the second half of the century, Realism (small r) was the accepted art term for differentiating representational works from abstract or conceptual ones. What are the sub-categories within Realism? The broad scope of contemporary Realism covers several genres: still life & interiors, landscapes & cityscapes, and portraiture & other works with people as subjects.






Acrylic Paint:


A pigment in a plastic binder medium that is water-based and adheres to most surfaces. Acrylic paint is used to mimic the look of oil paint. The advantages of acrylic over oil are that it is less toxic and dries more quickly.




The dramatic use of light and shadow creates a mood or a focal point in a painting.




A grouping of different textured materials or objects that are glued together.




The pigment is mixed with melted wax and resin and then applied to a hot surface.



Textural rubbing on paper done with crayon, oil or pencil.



An under-painting medium consists of glue, plaster of Paris, chalk, and water. Gesso is used to size the canvas and prepare the surface for painting.




A watercolour medium is mixed with finely ground white pigment to provide an opaque paint.




The thick textured build-up of a picture’s surface is created through the repeated applications of paint.



A continuous painting is designed to fill a wall or other architectural area.


Oil Paint:

A powdered pigment is held together with oil, usually linseed oil.




The pigment is mixed with water or egg yolk and is usually applied to the board or panel.




A pigment is mixed with a binder and applied with water to give a transparent effect.






Artist Proof:


Additional proofs from a print run that are not included in the regular edition. These prints are pulled for the artist’s approval and kept for personal use. These prints are also used to extend the edition beyond the original numbered run.

Artist Proof works are marked AP either with or without a number that denotes how many were run.


Block Print:

A relief-printing technique in which incisions made in a wood or linoleum block print white, and what is left in relief prints black.


Bon a Tirer:


This is a French term that translates as ‘Good Pull’. It denotes that the print that has just been pulled can be used as a guide to match up the remainder of the prints are pulled in the edition.




A contemporary intaglio process in which prints are pulled from a block on which the design has been built up like a collage. Various objects are adhered to the block to build up the areas that will print white. The block is inked and then wiped so that the paper receives the ink from the depressions.




A limited number of impressions of a print. When the edition is complete, the plate or block is often cancelled by defacing it.


Edition Number:


A fraction is found on the bottom left-hand corner of a print. The top number is the sequence in the edition; the bottom number is the total number of prints in the full edition. The number appears as a fraction, usually in the lower left of the print.

For instance, the edition number 20/50 means that it is print number 20 out of a total edition of 50.




A type of intaglio printing in which the plate is cut with a tool called a ‘graver’ or ‘burin,’ which cuts a V-shaped trough. Engraved lines are cut so they are sharp and clean and can be distinguished from etched lines, which are slightly irregular since they are bitten unevenly by the acid.




All-metal plate engraving and etching processes in which the printing areas are recessed, i.e., the lines that form the design are cut into the surface. The plate is inked and then wiped so that the paper receives the ink from the incised lines and not from the surface of the plate.




A process in which proofs are pulled on a special litho-press from a flat surface chemically sensitised to take ink only on the design areas and repel it on the blank areas.




A reverse-engraving procedure in which the entire surface of a copper or steel plate is heavily abraded with a tool called a ‘rocker’ or ‘cradle.’ The resulting surface, called the ‘burr,’ prints as a dark, velvety black. White areas are made by burnishing and scraping the burr to create smooth, depressed areas that will not take the ink. Half-tones are created by partially burnishing and scraping the burr.




A one-of-a-kind print is made by painting on a sheet of glass or metal and transferring the still-wet painting to a sheet of paper. Enough of the original paint remains on the plate after the transfer so that the same or different colours can be re-applied to make subsequent prints, but no two prints will be identical.


Original Print:

A print made from the original plate, block, stone, screen, etc., which the artist has created and printed himself.


Plate Signed:


Prints in which the artist’s signature is put onto the plate itself and then transferred to the print through the same process as the rest of the design.




A stencil and stencil-brush process are used to make multicolour prints, for tinting black and white prints, and for colouring reproductions and book illustrations, especially fine and limited editions. Pochoir, the French word for stencil, is sometimes called hand colouring or hand illustration.




A sketch made by the artist on the margin of an etched plate is often unrelated to the main composition.




Silkscreen print whose colour areas are paint films rather than printing ink stains. The direct technique is versatile enough to produce an unlimited range of colours and depths, which justifies to some extent the opinion that serigraphy is as much a painter’s as a printmaker’s medium.





Complete print documentation is given to the buyer upon purchase of a print. The ‘who, what, where, when, and how many of the print.







A low relief sculpture that projects only slightly from its 2-dimensional background.




An alloy of copper and tin was used for sculpture.




A subtractive method of sculpture consists of removing wood or stone from a single block.




They are reproduced in plaster, bronze, or plastic, an original piece of sculpture made of clay, wax, or similar material.




Any object made of Earth Clay mixture and fired.




A human figure’s twist or ‘S’ curve is caused by placing the weight on one foot and turning the shoulder.



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