by Joelle Steele
Here is a short dictionary of terms relating primarily to two-dimensional or "flat" art. It is by no means complete, but it offers brief definitions for some of the more common words and expressions, and for most art movements.
Achromatic. Without color or hue.
Acrylic. Paint that relies on a plastic resin as a binder and is usually water-soluble.
Aesthetic. Refers to the sense of beauty and the heightening of senses that such beauty provokes in the viewer.
Analogous Color. Color or hues that are closely related, as positioned beside each other on the color wheel.
Applied Art. Art that is created for design or decoration of practical or utilitarian objects.
Asymmetrical. Lacking symmetry.
Atmospheric Perspective. See "Perspective."
Casein. A milk protein used in paint-making.
Chiaroscuro. An Italian word meaning "light dark," and referring to the use of gradations of light and shade to create three-dimensional forms in a two-dimensional format.
Complementary Colors. Two colors or hues that are directly opposite each other on the color wheel.
Content. The message or meaning — emotional, intellectual, symbolic, etc. — that the artist is communicating through his or her art.
Contrapposto. An Italian word meaning "counterpoise," and referring to the positioning of the human figure around a vertical axis in such a way that the hips and shoulders are in a graceful counter-balance to each other.
Cool Colors. Generally the green-blue-violet range of hues that evoke a visual sense of coolness. See also "Warm Colors."
Encaustic. Painting with pigment suspended in hot wax.
Fine Art. Art that is created for art itself, for its aesthetic appeal.
Foreshortening. The representation in two-dimensional format of a figure such that the axis projects or recedes from the viewer.
Form. The physical characteristics of an object in its totality.
Fresco. Wall murals created by suspending pigment in water and applying them to a damp lime-plaster surface into which the pigment settles and dries, becoming part of the wall itself.
Gesso. A mix of glue and plaster (or chalk) applied as a base to surfaces that will later receive paint. See also "Prime, Priming."
Gouache. A water-soluble paint that is opaque rather than transparent. Not to be confused with tempera.
High Art. See "Modernism."
High Key Colors. The exclusive use of pale or light values to create a soft, ambient feel to the background or a part of a painting.
Horizon. In linear perspective, the horizon is an implied or real line at eye-level used to represent the point where the sky meets the earth and where images disappear at "vanishing points" on the horizon.
Hue. The color property along a wavelength of light that has a name, such as red, yellow, etc.
Icon, Iconography. Images, usually with sacred significance, that are created to express the ideals and beliefs of a religion.
Impasto. Paint that is thick and is applied thickly or heavily, like a paste.
Intensity. See "Saturation."
Intermediate Color. A hue situated between a primary and secondary color on the color wheel.
Linear Perspective. See "Perspective."
Local Color. The real or true color as distinguished from the apparent color that exists due to shadows or reflections.
Low Key Colors. The use of dark values as a background or in an area of a painting.
Matte. A dull finish as opposed to a shiny or glossy one.
Media, Medium. A material or technique, such as paint applied to canvas with a brush.
Mixed Media. Art made using more than one medium.
Monochromatic. A color scheme limited to variations on a single hue.
Montage. A grouping together, similarly to collage, of previously created works, such as drawings, paintings, or photographs.
Mural. A painting that covers most or all of a wall, often a fresco.
Neutral. A color that can be made by mixing complementary hues together to form black, white, gray, or gray-brown.
Oils. Paint in which the pigment binder is oil, usually linseed oil. Also refers to the painting itself.
Opaque. Not transparent or translucent.
Optical Color. The appearance of color produced by placing brush strokes of different colors next to each other as opposed to mixing them together.
Painterly. A style of painting in which loose brushwork in color and contrast characterize the work.
Pastels. As a medium, pastels are pigment in powder form bound together with a gum binder in stick form. See also "Tint."
Perspective. A means of creating the illusion of depth or three-dimensionality on a two-dimensional surface, using linear perspective and reduced saturation to make objects appear smaller and farther away as they disappear into the horizon.
Pigment. A coloring agent used in paint and other materials.
Polychromatic. Having many colors, often seemingly at random.
Primary Colors. Hues that cannot be produced by mixing the other hues together, but can create all those other colors when mixed together.
Prime, Primer, Priming. The application of a layer of paint or sizing (a primer), such as gesso, to a surface before applying paint to it.
Saturation. The relative purity or intensity of a hue, from bright to dull.
Scale. The true or apparent size of an object in relation to other objects or people.
Secondary Colors. Hues that are produced by mixing together two primary colors.
Shade. A hue to which black has been added.
Simultaneous Contrast. An optical effect created when contrasting forms and/or colors emphasize their differences when used or viewed together.
Site-specific. Refers to any art that has been created only for or as part of a particular place and cannot be separated from that environment.
Size, Sizing. A substance (sizing) used to fill in porous surfaces so that they are protected from deterioration by the paints or other media that are later applied to them.
Still Life. A painting or drawing that consists of inanimate objects arranged decoratively to form a scene.
Style. Characteristics in the handling of the media and the treatment of the subject matter that identify a work of art as belonging to a particular artist, culture, genre, art movement, etc.
Stylized. A variation in form that either exaggerates or deemphasizes certain qualities in a work of art.
Support. The physical base onto which paint or other media are applied, such as canvas or paper.
Symmetry. A formal composition in which a drawing or painting is balanced along each side of a central axis.
Tempera. A water-based paint that uses egg, glue, or casein as a binder. Not to be confused with gouache.
Texture. The tactile quality of a piece of art, whether real or perceived.
Tint. A hue to which white is added. A pastel color.
Trompe l'Oeil. A painting that looks so real or natural that it "fools the eye."
Two-dimensional Art. Art that has only the dimensions of height and width, such as found in most paintings and drawings.
Value. The lightness or darkness of tones or colors, with white being the lightest and black being the darkest, and the middle values being grays.
Vanishing Point. The point on the horizon line at which all the lines of perspective converge.
Warm Colors. Colors that evoke a feeling of warmth, such as red, orange, and yellow. See also "Cool Colors."
Wash. A thin and transparent layer of ink or paint.
Watercolor. A paint that uses water-soluble gum as a binder and is characterized by the transparency that is created by diluting the paint with water. Also, the painting that is created with this media is called a watercolor.