Art Terms and Definitions — A

art terms and definitions

A dictionary of art terms and definitions starting with the letter “A” is presented below. This list includes more than 60 terms, ranging from ABC ART to AUTOMOTIVE ARTIST.

Quick links to more art terms and definitions are located at the end of the list.

Art Terms: “A” Words


(Visual arts: painting. Art movement: United States, 1960s. Also known as: minimal art, minimalism.)
An art style characterized by the use of simple, modular forms reduced to their elementary geometric structure.

Abstract Art

art terms and definitions

(Visual arts: painting and sculpture. Also known as: non-figurative art, non-objective art, non-representational art)
A genre of art that doesn’t resemble anything from “real life.” It’s an art style that is intentionally non-representational and seeks to achieve its point or subject using shapes, forms, colors, and textures. Every object on the canvas is represented by either colors or shapes. For example, colors can represent emotions, and shapes can symbolize objects. The purpose of an abstract is to let the audience interpret its meaning for themselves. At its worst, abstract art looks like an accidental mess of paint. At its best, it has an impact that strikes you from the moment you see it.

Abstract Expressionism

(Visual arts: painting. Art movement: Centered in New York City, 1946 to 1960.)
Art that rejects true visual representation. It has few recognizable images with great emphasis on color, line, shape, texture, and value, putting the expression of the feelings or emotions of the artist above all else.

Academic Art

(Visual arts. Art movement: Europe, 19th century.)
A style of painting and sculpture heavily influenced by nineteenth-century European academies of art, especially the French academy. The academies were very conservative, resisting avant-garde innovations and expressions of modern art.


To stress, single out as important. As applied to art, it is the emphasis given to some aspects of a painting that allows them to attract more attention. Details that define an object or piece of art.

Accented Analogous

An accented analogous scheme, also known as analogous complementary, is a color scheme that combines analogous and complementary colors. It involves colors adjacent to each other on the color wheel and the color opposite them. The direct complement becomes the accent color, creating a dynamic contrast against the dominant color grouping. This is a great way to add warmth to a cool analogous color pallet or a cool accent color to an otherwise warm color scheme.


A process of increasing an art collection by addition; something added to what you already have (“the art collection grew through accession”).


Colors having zero saturation (free from stain; lacking hue), such as neutral grays, from white to black, or colorless to black. (See illustration below.)

art terms and definitions

Acrylic Paint

A fast-drying synthetic medium derived from acrylic resin. Acrylic is a water-based “plastic” paint valued for its versatility and clean-up using soap and water. Although soluble in water, acrylics become resistant to water once dry. The appearance of an acrylic painting can mimic that of a watercolor or an oil painting, depending on the thickness of the application on the canvas.

Action Painting

A technique or style of abstract painting characterized by the spontaneous splashing, throwing, or pouring of paint onto the canvas, as opposed to precise application. It is associated with artists who employed vigorous, sweeping gestures involving significant body movement, diverging from conventional easel painting techniques. Jackson Pollock was a notable figure in this movement. The terms “action painting” and “abstract expressionism” are often used synonymously by some critics.

Advancing Colors

Warm colors like reds, oranges, and yellows tend to visibly come towards you. Advancing colors are opposite of “retreating colors.”

Aerial Perspective

Refers to creating a sense of depth in a painting by imitating how the atmosphere makes distant objects appear less distinct and more bluish than they would be if nearby. Artists attempt to mimic this effect to create depth or distance (three dimensions) on an otherwise two-dimensional (flat) surface. Also see “atmospheric perspective.”

Aerial View

Refers to viewing a subject from above, looking downward. Also called a “birds-eye view.”


See “airbrushing.”


A small, air-operated tool used by artists to apply color to surfaces. The hand-held device is connected to a canister of compressed air and sprays liquid paint, ink, dye, or foundation in a controlled manner. The airbrush works by breaking the liquid into tiny droplets through a process called atomization and distributes it across the painting surface. Airbrushes are known for their ability in making it possible for artists to create intricate details and beautiful color gradients in their art.

Airbrush Artist

A creative individual who uses airbrushes to create airbrushed art. Airbrush artists are versatile painters who create unique and intricate designs on a wide range of surfaces, including canvases, automobiles, clothing, helmets, handbags, skin and fingernails, and even cakes and pastries. With practice and dedication, airbrush artists can create incredible works of art that resemble actual photographs.


Airbrushing is a painting technique that uses an airbrush to create an even surface, allowing artists to achieve high levels of realism. It involves seamless color blending and softly defined edges between colors. Skilled airbrush artists can produce photographic realism or simulate various painting mediums, and it is commonly used in various fields like cars, motorcycles, models, textile design, printing, toys, glass, and ceramics. Also referred to as “Aerographics.”

Alla Prima

Aso known as ‘wet-on-wet’ oil painting, or direct painting. Alla prima is a technique of oil painting in which the desired effects of the final painting are achieved in the first application of paint as opposed to the technique of covering the canvas in layers with the final painting being achieved at the end. Alla prima is an Italian term that means “first attempt.”

Allover Painting

A composition with no focal point where all parts of the canvas are painted with equal care and significance, ensuring that each area of the composition is equally important.


A work of art, such as a painting, sculpture, or relief, depicting a religious subject (holy personages, saints, and biblical subjects) that decorates the space above and behind the altar in a Christian church.

American Abstract Artists (AAA)

An artists’ association that was established in New York City in 1936 to promote and raise public awareness and appreciation of abstract art throughout the country. The organization does this through lectures, publications, and exhibitions, making it an important forum for idea exchange and presenting abstract art to a larger audience. Go to the AAA website to learn more about the organization or to sign up as a member.

American Scene Painting

(Visual arts: painting. Art movement: United States, 1925-1945. Also known as: Regionalism.)
A significant art movement in the United States, emerged during the Great Depression as a reaction against European Modernism. It utilized American imagery to chronicle and exalt rural and small-town America. The movement consisted of two distinct styles: American Regionalism, which celebrated rural life, and Social Realism (Urban Realism), which depicted urban scenes with political undertones. Artists of American Scene Painting aimed to capture the spirit of different regions and social groups, raising awareness about the struggles of working-class people.

Analogous Colors

art terms and definitions

Any set of three or five colors that are closely related in hue(s). They are usually adjacent (next) to each other on the color wheel. One is the dominant color with two supporting colors. The effect of this color scheme can be pretty dramatic as these hues usually work very well together in creating a sense of unity or harmony within the composition. Using this color scheme, choose one as the dominant color (usually a primary or secondary color), a second color to support, and a third as an accent.


A sculptor or painter who specializes in the realistic portrayal of animals.

Applied Art

The application of design and decoration to everyday, practical objects to enhance their aesthetic appeal. Applied art includes a wide range of artistic fields, including industrial, graphic, and interior design as well as architectural and fashion design.

Approximate Symmetry

The use of forms that are similar on either side of a central axis. They may give a feeling of exactness or equal relationship, but they are sufficiently varied to prevent visual monotony.


cowboy western sunset art
Cowboy Sunset by Teresa Bernard

The completed work of an artist that expresses creativity, imagination, or both and usually takes the shape of a painting, drawing, or sculpture that conveys a mood, a sentiment, or a narrative. Art encompasses various mediums, genres, and techniques. Also, refers to works of art collectively.

Art Appreciation

An understanding of the qualities that identify all great art. It involves having a knowledge of art movements, art history, and art styles or techniques. For more information on this topic, see blog article “What is art appreciation?”

Art Brut

French for “raw art,” the art of children and outsiders (naïve artists and the mentally ill); actually, anyone not producing art for profit or recognition.

Art Buyer

A professional responsible for purchasing artwork on behalf of an organization, company, or individual. Art buyers must have a high degree of art knowledge and understanding to appraise the quality and value of the artwork.

Art Cards, Editions, and Originals (ACEO) Cards

ACEOs are tiny handmade original paintings measuring 2.5 in x 3.5 in, the size of a sports trading card. They are created to sell on eBay and other venues and are highly collectible. Also see, “artist trading cards” for additional information.

Art Collector

A person who buys original and rare works of fine art with an interest in the history or story behind those pieces. They often buy in one or more genres, such as artists, art movements, or subject matter. In addition to appreciating and enjoying great work, art collectors also contribute to the financial support of the artists who produce it.

Art Collection

An accumulation of artwork by a private individual or a public institution. Art collecting has its roots in history. Most of the world’s art museums originated from large private collections that affluent individuals, royalty, aristocrats, or monarchs acquired.

Art Conservation

The maintenance and preservation of artworks and their protection from future damage and deterioration. Art conservation focuses on preventive measures and maintaining the original condition of artworks.

Art Critique

The analysis and evaluation of a work of art. It involves examining the elements and principles of art used in a piece, as well as considering the artist’s intentions and the overall impact of the artwork on the viewer. In essence, art criticism seeks to understand a particular work of art from a theoretical perspective and establish its significance in the history of art.

Art Deco

(Visual arts: decorative art, design and architecture. Art movement: Western Europe and the United Sates, 1920s-1930s. Related to the Precisionist art movement. Also known as: Moderne, style moderne.)
A style of design and decoration that originated in Paris, France just before World War I. It is characterized by precise and sharply outlined geometric shapes and used vivid colors to reflect the rise of commerce, industry, and mass production. Art deco influenced the design of buildings, furniture, jewelry, fashion, cars, movie theatres, trains, ocean liners, and everyday objects such as radios and vacuum cleaners.

Art History

The study of the evolution of visual arts, including painting, sculpture, drawing, and architecture, from the earliest cave drawings to present day. Its primary objectives are to identify the creators of a particular work, their time and stylistic approach, and to understand their creative process.

Art Media

The materials and tools used by an artist to create a work of art. Materials like paint and canvas, and tools like a brush or palette knife are examples of art media. Art media is the plural of art medium.

Art Medium

The substance the artist uses to create a piece of artwork. Some examples of mediums used in art include (but are not limited to) charcoal, graphite, pastels, oil paint, colored pencils, ink, and etc.

Art Movement

A distinct style of art defined by a group of artists who practice or adhere to the same creative concept, philosophy, goal, style, or method across a specific time period or place. Each art movement is subtly or distinctly different from another. Some movements share similarities with others, while others defy them.

Art Museum

A public or private place that collects and exhibits art from the museum’s own collection. They usually specialize in artworks like paintings, drawings, sculptures, and photographs. Art museums also offer educational programs to enhance appreciation and understanding of diverse works of art from different historical and cultural periods.

Art Nouveau

(Pronounced noo-VOH. Visual arts: decorative art, architecture, and graphic design. Art movement: Europe and the United States, 1890s to 1910s. A French word meaning ”New Art.” Also known as: Modernismo, Modernista, Sezessionstil, Stile Floreale, Stile Liberty.)
An international art movement that emerged in the late 19th to early 20th century characterized by intricate linear designs and flowing curves, often incorporating delicate natural objects like flower stalks and buds, vine tendrils, and insect wings. The goal of Art Nouveau was to blur the lines between the fine and applied arts, and was widely used in interior design, graphic arts, furniture, glass art, textiles, ceramics, jewelry, and metal work. The popularity of Art Nouveau began to wane around World War I, and it was eventually replaced by the Art Deco style.

Art Period

A distinct phase, stage, or juncture in the development of the creative work of an artist, groups of artists, or art movement.

Art Restoration

The repair of damaged or deteriorating artworks. Art restoration strives to restore items to a condition similar to their original appearance while preserving their artistic and historical value.

Arte Povera

(Pronounced: ahr-teh poh-veh-rah. Visual arts: sculpture. Art movement: Italy, 1967–1972. Italian for “poor art.”)
Arte Povera was a pioneering art movement of young Italian artists who sought to create a new sculptural style by incorporating unconventional and deliberately ‘poor’ materials such as paper, jute, wood, coal, rags, twigs, and other everyday materials into their artworks. They used such throwaway materials to attack and disturb the values of the marketed contemporary gallery system.


An individual who practices in the creation of visual arts, such as sculptures, paintings, or drawings, either as a profession or a hobby.

Artist Brush

The primary tool used by artists to apply paint to canvas. They come in various types, sizes, and shapes. Also see “Brush.”

Artist Portfolio

A collection of an artist’s best works that demonstrates their style, artistic skills, creativity, personality, abilities, and commitment. Artists need a portfolio because it shows potential clients or employers what they are capable of and what they have to offer.

Artist’s Bridge

See “Mahl Stick.”


Describes a person who possesses an innate creative talent for art or artistry.

Artistic License

Refers to the creative process where artists manipulate details to make their work more interesting or beautiful. It allows them some latitude in how they perceive a subject and is not strictly required to be accurate. Artistic license is sometimes used as a euphemism to describe the distortion or alterations made by an artist to improve a piece of art.

Artistic Style

The specific style or technique of a particular artist, or art movement. It’s that thing that makes you recognize a specific painting as being by a particular artist before you’re close enough to see a signature or to read the image label.

For more information, see the Artist Blog article titled Developing an Artistic Style of Your Own.

Artist Trading Cards (ATCs)

artist trading card

ATCs are tiny-sized original paintings created by artists strictly for handing out, swapping, or trading with other artists and are not intended for selling. They may be in any medium (oils, acrylics, pencil, ink, etc.) using any technique, whether painting, drawing, or collage. There is only one rule and that is the cards must adhere to a specific size, 2.5 in. x 3.5 in. 

Arts and Crafts Movement (ACM)

(Visual arts: decorative arts. Art movement: Britain and international, late 19th and early 20th century. Also known as: English aesthetic movement.)
Originating in the British Isles, the ACM was an international decorative arts movement that aimed to reform design, promote handcraftsmanship, and assert individual crafts people’s creative independence. It spread across Europe and America, influencing various art forms such as furniture, textiles, ceramics, and architecture, and addressing perceived declines in design and craftsmanship due to industrialization.


Text-based visual art created from 95 printable characters that use computers for presentation. ASCII art is created using any text editor program and requires a fixed-width font, such as Courier, for presentation. For more info.

Ashcan School

(Visual arts: painting and etching. Art movement: New York City, 1908 to 1913. Also known as: Ash Can School.)
The Ashcan School was a realist art movement in the United States, known for depicting everyday life in poorer neighborhoods of New York City. This group of artists challenged artistic conventions and celebrated the everyday, leaving an indelible mark on American art history. They sought to document turn-of-the-century New York City life through realistic and unglamorized paintings and etchings of urban street scenes. The spirit of the Ashcan School was continued in American Scene Painting of the 1920s and 1930s.

Assemblage Art

A form of sculptured art, either three-dimensional or two-dimensional, composed of “found” objects and arranged in such a way as to create a work of art. These objects can be anything organic or man-made. The origin of this particular art form dates back to Pablo Picasso, a well-known cubist artist.

Astronomical Art

See “Space Art.”


Refers to two sides or halves that do not match in size or shape, indicating a lack of symmetry. The opposite of “symmetrical.”

Asymmetrical Balance

Asymmetrical Balance

A composition technique where non-identical forms are arranged on opposite sides of a balancing point (central axis). By varying their size, value, or distance from the center, both sides will appear to have the same visual weight. A skilled artist can create visually appealing compositions by balancing elements and weight, utilizing asymmetrical balance for greater creativity and unlimited arrangements, allowing for a wider range of artistic possibilities.

Atmospheric Perspective

A technique used by painters to represent three-dimensional space on a flat, two-dimensional surface by creating the illusion of depth or recession within a painting or drawing. Atmospheric perspective suggests that objects closer to the viewer are sharper in detail, color intensity, and value contrast than those farther away. As objects move closer to the horizon, they gradually fade to a bluish-gray, and details blur, imitating how distant objects appear to the human eye. Also see “aerial perspective.”

Automotive Artist

automotive art vintage V8 car painting
Forgotten Roads of Bygone Days by Teresa Bernard

A skilled artist who specializes in drawing cars, capturing the beauty and essence of automobiles in their artwork. Using their artistic talent, they create various forms of art, including paintings, drawings, and sculptures, showcasing classic (vintage) cars, muscle cars, and sports cars. Their passion for cars often leads them to create art for car manufacturers, advertising agencies, and other businesses in the automotive industry.

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This glossary of art terms is provided as a valuable resource for art enthusiasts. If you like the information here and find it helpful, please consider purchasing a painting. Your support helps to cover the cost of keeping this art terms and definitions lexicon online. Simply click or tap the thumbnail link of any Teresa Bernard oil painting to view additional details.

scenery realism art
Log Cabin in the Autumn Woods (2021)
9″ w x 12″ h
lighthouse paintings
Rubjerg Knude Lighthouse (2022)
6″ w x 8″ h

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Contributing to The Art Dictionary

The art terms and definitions dictionary is a work in progress. New terms and definitions are added on a regular basis. If you know of an art term and definition that isn’t already listed in it, but you believe it should be, send it to us and we’ll consider adding it. We’ll let you know if we do. Thanks!

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