A dictionary of art terms and definitions that begin with the letter “A”. In the list below, you’ll find over 50 words that will help you understand general concepts about art. Words ranging from ABC ART to AUTOMOTIVE ARTIST.
Quick links to more art terms and definitions are located at the end of the list.
A 1960s art movement and style that attempted to use a minimal number of textures, colors, shapes, and lines to create simple three-dimensional structures. Also known as minimalism.
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.
Art that rejects true visual representation. It has few recognizable images with great emphasis on line, color, shape, texture, and value, putting the expression of the feelings or emotions of the artist above all else.
A style of painting and sculpture heavily influenced by nineteenth-century European academies of art. 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.
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.)
A fast-drying synthetic paint made from acrylic resin. Acrylic is a water-based “plastic” paint valued for its versatility and clean-up with soap and water. Even though they are water-soluble, acrylics become water-resistant after they have dried. Depending on how thickly the paint is applied to the canvas, an acrylic painting can resemble a watercolor or an oil painting.
A technique or style of abstract painting where the paint is randomly splashed, thrown, or poured on the canvas rather than being carefully applied. The artwork of artists who utilized bold gestures that incorporated more body movement than traditional easel painting. Made famous by Jackson Pollock. Some critics use the terms “action painting” and “abstract expressionism” interchangeably.
Warm colors like reds, oranges, and yellows tend to visibly come towards you. Advancing colors are opposite of “retreating colors.”
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.”
Refers to viewing a subject from above, looking downward. Also called a “birds-eye view.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
The completed work of an artist that is the expression of creativity, imagination, or both that portrays a mood, feeling, or tells a story; works of art collectively.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A style of design and decoration popular in the 1920s and 1930s that was characterized by geometric designs and used highly intense colors to reflect the rise of commerce, industry, and mass production.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A decorative art movement that emerged in the late nineteenth century, art characterized by dense asymmetrical ornamentation in sinuous forms, is often symbolic and of an erotic nature.
A distinct phase, stage, or juncture in the development of the creative work of an artist, groups of artists, or art movement.
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.
An individual who practices in the creation of visual arts, such as sculptures, paintings, or drawings, either as a profession or a hobby.
The primary tool used by artists to apply paint to canvas. They come in various types, sizes, and shapes. Also see “Brush.”
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.
See “Mahl Stick.”
Describes a person who possesses an innate creative talent for art or artistry.
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.
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)
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
An international trend in the decorative and fine arts originated in the British Isles and subsequently spread across the British Empire and to the rest of Europe and America. It stressed the unity of the arts, individual craftsperson experiences, materials, and construction qualities, emphasizing simple, functional forms, local materials, and time-tested construction traditions.
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.
A realist art movement in early twentieth-century America that was best known for depicting everyday life in the poorer neighborhoods of New York City.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
Art Glossary Links
Contributing to The Art Dictionary
This art 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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