Understanding Art History Terms

Not all art is a simple painting done with basic brush strokes. Some art is done by splashing paint against canvas, pasting it on in thick strokes, or even letting a water color stain the canvas. It is the variety of styles that make every piece of art so unique. As you study the terms outlined below, you will find how balance and symmetry play a role in a scene, as does contrast and disproportionate objects. Art is what you want it to be, and can look like the shape of an object or the feel of an emotion.

Abstract Art: When colors, shapes, designs, or brushstrokes are used to depict a picture that isn’t of the natural world. The picture won’t look like anything of this world but should still bring meaning and emotion.

Action Painting: Painting a picture that displays the action involved in creating it; flinging paint at the picture, dripping drops of paint on canvas, or smearing it on thickly.

Analytic Cubism: Using shapes to create people or objects. Analytic Cubism was invented by Picasso.

Appropriation: Gathering inspiration from earlier artwork and creating something new from the idea.

Bas Relief: The slightly raised parts of a sculpture.

Collage: The compilation of paper, clippings, objects, or photographs onto a flat surface using glue to create an overall picture.

Contrast: Using opposite colors, shades, textures, sizes, or shapes to heighten an art piece’s look.

Color: Red, yellow, and blue are the primary colors that the eye sees when light is reflected off an object. Orange, purple, and green can be created from the primary colors and are called secondary colors.

Distemper: The use of powdered colors mixed with some type of binding element.

Elements of Art: When looking at a piece of art you will see basic things that make up the picture such as lines, tones, tints, texture, color, hue, symmetry, scale, dimension, form, light, point, shades, shapes, direction, and space.

Golden Ratio: The perfect balance of shapes, colors, tints, and elements in an art piece.

Hue: Also called “pure color”, the hue is a color that does not have white or black pigment added to it.

Impasto: A painting technique that uses thick amounts of paint to give the picture texture and dimension.

Impressionists: A type of painting that came along in the 19th century as a way to capture short moments with color and shades.

Line: Is the path drawn from point A to point B. In art, various lines can add dimension and meaning to a picture by adding curves, thickness, length, and direction.

Medium: This is the materials used to create art. It can be paint, chalk, clay, or pencils.

Nonobjective Art: This word can be broken down into two words, no object. This is a painting that uses shapes, colors, lines, and forms to create a picture that has no recognizable subject. There is no direct object in the art.

Proportion: The shapes in a picture are even and balanced with backgrounds and other objects.

Shade: Adding black to any color to make it darker.

Shape: A shape is a square, circle, triangle, rectangle, or any other form.

Stain Painting: Taking oil paints that have been thinned down and letting them soak into materials such as glass, wood, or canvas. It then leaves color on the material that is thinner and almost transparent.

Symmetry: When two sides of an object, shape, or picture that are balanced and equal to each other.

Tension: The placement of contracting or opposite elements, shapes, brush strokes, or lines used in art next to each other that don’t fit naturally but add character to a piece.

Texture: The surface of art that has a different feel to it when touched. Texture can be added to any artwork to give it more character and personality.

Tint: This is the opposite of shade. Instead of adding black to a color to darken it, white is added to a color to lighten it.

Unity: A piece of art that runs smoothly together without any specific distraction from colors, textures, tones, or shapes. This is usually paintings that are calming and relaxing like the painting of a mild river.

Value: The tints, shades, and contrasts of light and dark are all values.

Watercolor: This is a type of paint that is water-based and has translucent character.

About the Author:

Chloe is a freelance writer that focuses on luxury asset trends for Borro Private Finance.