Art Glossary

Learning the vocabulary of a subject is one of the core goals of the grammar layer of learning. So, in an effort to make teaching art as easy as possible, I keep this glossary of art terms available to you, free of charge. Anytime you’re using an art term in class, provide a concise, easy to understand definition, like the ones listed here. Soon your students will be fluent in art-speak.

Bookmark this page and refer back to this art glossary anytime you’re teaching an art lesson.


  • Abstract Art: Art that does not try to represent reality
  • Abstraction: an art movement where artists rejected realism and instead created art apart from reality, experimenting with form and color
  • Abstractionist: an artist who is not trying to accurately reflect reality with his/her art
  • Architects:  a person who designs buildings
  • Architecture: the art of designing buildings
  • Art colony: a place where artists live and work
  • Art Movement: a collection of artists and their works of art with a common philosophy or goal, technique, style, or time period. (Artists and their works of art are usually grouped into an art movement by art historians after the movement has come and gone.)
  • Authentic: real to life


  • Balance: the equal arrangement of visual weight on each side of the work of art (one of the Principles of Design)
  • Baptistery: a place where people are baptized
  • Bauhaus: German art/architect school
  • Ben-Day Dots: a technique used in the printing industry that gives the illusion of a wide variety of colors by adjusting the spacing and overlap of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black dots. (Lichtenstein used exaggerated Ben-Day dots in his art)
  • Botanical Illustration: scientifically accurate art, depicting the form, color, and details of plant species
  • Botanical: of or relating to plants
  • Bust: A sculpture representing the head, neck, and shoulders of a person (sometimes includes the chest)


  • Candid: not posed
  • Caricatures: a recognizable drawing of a real (not imaginary) person where certain features are exaggerated
  • Cartoon: a simplified humorous drawing or animation without much precision or detail- Cartoons can include simple humor, satire, or caricature.
  • Coil: a cylinder or long snake-like piece of clay
  • Color: Light rays at various wavelengths (one of the 7 Elements of Art)
  • Color Harmony: The pleasing arrangement of color leading to a visual balance. At one extreme, bland colors tend to look boring. At the other extreme, too much color complexity will feel chaotic. Harmony is the balance between the two extremes.
  • Color Wheel: a color circle based on red, yellow, and blue, but also including secondary and sometimes tertiary colors
  • Comic strip: a series of cartoons, usually drawn in boxes, meant to tell a story
  • Commission: (n) payment for the creation of a work. (v) to request an artist to create a specific work of art, often with payment made in advance (Commissions can be made by individuals or organizations.)
  • Context of Color: how multiple colors appear relative to each other. (Red appears vibrant next to black but dull next to orange.)
  • Contrapposto: a pose of a person standing with their weight mostly on one foot, allowing their body to curve slightly so the shoulder line and hip line are not parallel with each other
  • Contrast: Light vs. dark, rough vs. smooth, small vs. large (one of the Principles of Design)
  • Corinthian Order: the style of architecture most frequently used in Roman times- It included curves, circles, rounded arches, and vaults.
  • Cubism: a modern abstract art movement that views the subject from multiple angles and portrays it using geometric shapes.
  • Cultural icons: something that a group of people recognizes as symbolic of an idea that is important to that group (For example, a logo, symbol, picture, image…)


  • Distort: to alter a shape away from its natural proportions
  • Doric Order: the style of architecture used in mainland Greece- It is the simplest of the Greek orders with mostly straight lines.


  • Eccentric: strange and unusual patterns of behavior
  • Education: The purpose of education is “the cultivation of wisdom and virtue by nourishing the soul on truth, goodness, and beauty, so that, in Christ, the student is better able to know, glorify and enjoy God.” (The Mother of Divine Grace School)
  • Elements of Art: The tools used to make art (Line, Shape, Form, Color, Space, Texture, Value)
  • Embroidery: art created with needle and thread
  • Emphasis: Center of interest, focal point (one of the Principles of Design)
  • Etching: using strong acid to cut a design into a metal surface. Prints were often made from etchings.
  • Expressionism: a modern art movement where the artist distorts reality in order to express emotion


  • Folk Art:  a style of art that is cultural, utilitarian (meaning, it has a use in addition to its beauty), and usually created by an artist without formal art education. Folk Art is disconnected from the fine art movements
  • Foreshorten: to distort a subject in order to give the illusion of depth
  • Form: the three dimensions of an object that take up space (one of the 7 Elements of Art)


  • Genres (see Hierarchy of Genres)
  • Gold leaf: gold that has been beaten into a thin sheet so it can be fixed to a piece of art.
  • Gouache: an opaque watercolor thickened with a glue-like gum.
  • Gradient: a gradual transition from one color, texture, or value to another


  • Hierarchy of Genres: an Italian Renaissance idea that some types of painting were nobler than others- the genres, in order of most noble to least, were: Historical, Portrait, Genre/lifestyle, Landscape, Animal, and Still life.
  • Horizontal line: a line lying flat (like the horizon)
  • Horizontal: side-to-side
  • Hue: the purest form of a color


  • Idealistic: unrealistically aiming for perfection
  • Illuminated Manuscript: Handwritten book with designs, decorations, and illustrations (The most expensive ones were very colorful and included both gold and silver accents.)
  • Illustration: a picture that tells a story, often found in books and magazines.
  • Illustrator: an artist who creates pictures that tell a story, often found in books and magazines
  • Impressionism: a movement and style of painting that focuses on capturing the feeling or experience of the subject, uses bold colors to depict light, leaves visible brush strokes, and looks out-of-focus up close.
  • Insular Art: Art from the Medieval period from the British Isles, including Ireland (Also called Hiberno-Saxon art)


  • Kiln: a type of oven used for firing (hardening, drying, or chemically changing) clay, glass, metal, wood, crops/plants, etc.
  • Landscape: a single view of a large area of land.
  • Licensing art: When someone pays for the right to reproduce someone else’s art
  • Line: the path created when a dot moves from one point to another (one of the 7 Elements of Art)
  • Line of Symmetry: the imaginary line where you could fold the image and have both halves match exactly.
  • Linear Perspective: the geometric techniques that dictate the angle of lines used to make two-dimensional drawings look three-dimensional


  • Mannerism: a short art period between the Renaissance and the Baroque periods with art displaying dissonance and instability to represent the artists’ emotions and imagination- This art usually includes distorted and twisted figures and uses unnatural colors and light sources.
  • Methods of perspective: the ways to create the illusion of form in a work of art.
    • The methods of perspective are: overlap, size, horizontal placement, shadows, angle of Lines, degree of detail, and color
  • Modernism: a group of art movements including Post-impressionism, Cubism, Futurism, Expressionism, Constructivism…
  • Monastery: a religious building where monks live and work.
  • Movement: How the eye moves through the composition (one of the Principles of Design)


  • Narrative Art: art that tells a story
  • Negative space: the space surrounding the subject
  • Neutral Colors: a color made from mixing complementary colors together- Artists have many terms for these colors: mud colors, mouse colors, semi-neutrals, greys, browns, or earthen colors. A true neutral color will not show any of the primary or secondary colors in it, but look truly grey/brown. True neutrals are hard to create. A semi-neutral will show a hint of one of the primary or secondary colors.
  • Optical Illusion:  something that tricks the eye by appearing to be different than it is


  • Pantheon: Famous circular domed Roman temple with a rectangular portico.
  • Parchment: paper made from animal skin
  • Parthenon: famous rectangular Greek temple to Athena
  • Pastels:  similar to chalk crayons, but made from colored powder and gum.
  • Patron: a person who gives financially to support a cause or activity
  • Pattern: Repetition of line and/or shape
  • Personification: when anything that’s not human is given human-like characteristics
  • Perspective: the appearance of depth in a two-dimensional picture
  • Petroglyph: a prehistoric rock carving
  • Plein-air: French for “open Air” – Painting outside.
  • Point of view: the position from which something or someone is observed.
  • Pop Art: a modern art movement where iconic or everyday items were celebrated by making them the focal point
  • Portrait: a drawing or painting of a person
  • Pose: stand very still in a specific position, often for a photograph or painting.
  • Prehistoric: From a time before written history in that geographic region
  • Primary Colors: Red, Yellow, and Blue (The primary colors of light are different from the primary colors in art.)
  • Principles of Design: How to use the 7 Elements of Art to make art
    • The principles of design are Emphasis, Movement, Rhythm, Contrast, Variety, Balance, and Unity.
  • Printmaking: an image created when paint or ink is applied to a woodcut, stamp, or engraving and placed on paper. (The resulting prints are thought of as originals, not copies since they vary based on the ink or paint application process and how worn the woodcut, stamp, or engraving is.)
  • Proportion: the size of one part of the drawing in comparison to (relative to) the size of the whole drawing
  • Props: physical items, separate from the people, used to set the stage or add visual interest. (Short for Theatrical Property.)
  • Quatrefoil: a shape with four corners and four lobes


  • Realism: an art movement where artists tried to represent their subjects truthfully and accurately.
  • Realist: an artist who creates art accurately reflecting reality
  • Relief: a sculpture where the three-dimensional pieces are attached to a solid flat background of the same material
  • Rhythm: regular repetition that creates cohesiveness and interest (one of the Principles of Design)
  • Romanticism: an art movement where artists honored nature, individualism, intuition, and emotion. The movement was in reaction to the artists’ dislike of the Neo-Classical movement, the Industrial Revolution, and the Age of Enlightenment.
  • Rural: relating to the less populated areas outside the city (opposite of urban)


  • Satire: making fun of someone or something
  • Score: rough up wet clay in preparation for joining two pieces together
  • Scriptorium: a room or place dedicated to writing, usually within a monastery
  • Sculptures: three-dimensional art that has been carved or shaped.
  • Secondary colors: Orange, Green, and Purple- the colors that can be made by mixing two primary colors
  • Self-portrait: a drawing or painting made by the artist him/herself
  • Shape: the enclosed space that occurs when a line connects to itself or another line- A shape has both a positive and negative image. There are geometric and organic shapes. (one of the 7 Elements of Art)
  • Slab: a flat piece of clay– It can be formed by pounding a ball of clay flat, or rolling it flat with a rolling pin.
  • Slip: water with a bit of clay in it
  • Space: the area around and within the subject (one of the 7 Elements of Art)
  • Sphere: a ball- In clay, this is often our starting shape.
  • Still Life: Art with a subject matter of inanimate (not-alive) objects. (Not people, animals, or landscapes.)
  • Studio: a room or building where an artist works.
  • Stylized: Depicted in a simplified, generalized way (not an accurate representation of visual reality)
  • Symmetry: when one half of a shape becomes exactly like the other half if you flip or turn it. The simplest type of symmetry is Reflection symmetry, also known as Mirror symmetry or Line symmetry. (Rotational Symmetry and Point Symmetry are a little different.)


  • Taxonomy: classifying and naming species
  • Texture: The actual, or appearance of, three-dimensional raised areas (one of the 7 Elements of Art)
  • Tone (see Value)
  • Tribute: showing respect for someone or something
  • Triptych: Three painted panels with frames, hinged together so they can be folded shut or opened flat.


  • Unity (Harmony): the feeling that everything works together (one of the Principles of Design)
  • Urban: relating to the heavily populated areas, cities (opposite of rural)


  • Value (or Tone): the light to dark gradient of a color (one of the 7 Elements of Art)
  • Variety: a break in repetition to add interest (one of the Principles of Design)
  • Vertical line: a line standing up
  • Vertical: up and down


  • Woodcuts: wood with the negative space of a drawing scratched away, created to produce prints- Woodcuts were inexpensive and didn’t wear out quickly. (Durer made this art form famous in the Renaissance.)