Art Vocabulary

Art Vocabulary Related To . . . .

General Terms Commonly Used In Art


The materials and tools used by the artist to create a work of art.


The manner and skill in which the artist uses tools and materials to achieve an expressive effect..


Aptitude, skill, or manual dexterity in the use of tools and materials.


The approach to art in which the forms used by the artist are essentially descriptive of things that the artist sees.


A term given to forms created by the artist but usually derived from objects actually observed or experienced. Usually forms are simplified or rearranged to suit the needs of artistic expression. Often there is little resemblance to the original object.


A term used in regard to the quality or sensation of pleasure, enjoyment, disturbance, or meaning people can experience in viewing works of art. It is a study of these emotions involving the psychology, sociology, and philosophy of art.


A term given to a work of art that has no recognizable subject matter.

Subject matter

This term, in a descriptive style of art, refers to the persons or things represented in a work. In abstract and nonobjective forms of art, it refers to the basic character of all the visual signs employed by the artist. In this case, it has little to do with anything as experienced in the natural environment.


The specific artistic character and dominant form trends noted in art movements. It may also mean artist’s expressive use of media to give an individual character to his work.


The arbitrary organization or inventive arrangement of all of the visual elements in an attempt to develop a unity in the total work of art.


The totality of the work of art. Form is the organization (design) of all elements that make up the work of art. The elements of form are: lines, shapes, values (varied lights and darks), textures, and colors


The essential meaning, significance, or aesthetic value of an art form. It refers to the sensory, psychological or emotional properties that one tends to “feel” in a work of art as opposed to the perception of mere descriptive aspects.


A form of expression which retains the basic impression of visual reality but, in addition, attempts to relate and interpret the universal meanings which lie underneath the surface appearance of natural forms.

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A feeling of equality in weight, attention, or attraction of the various visual elements within the pictorial field as a means of accomplishing organic unity.


A form of balance achieved by the use of identical balance compositional units on either side of a vertical axis within the picture plane.


A form of balance attained when the visual units on balance either side of a vertical axis are not identical but are placed in positions within the picture plane so as to create a “felt” equilibrium of the total form concept.

Elements of art structure

The combination of the basic elements of line, shape, value, texture, space, and color represent the visual language of the artist.

Picture frame

The outer-most limits or boundary of the picture plane.

Picture plane

The actual flat surface on which the artist executes his pictorial image.

Positive shapes

The enclosed areas that represent the initial selection of shapes planned by the artist. They may suggest recognizable objects or merely be planned non-representational shapes.

Negative shapes

These are unoccupied or empty space left after the positive shapes have been laid down by the artist; however, because these areas have boundaries, they also function as shapes in the total pictorial structure.


The principle of visual organization that suggests that certain elements should assume more importance than others in the same composition. It contributes to organic unity by emphasizing the fact that there is one main feature and that other elements are subordinate to it.


The use of the same visual element a number of times in the same composition.


A continuance, a flow, or a feeling of movement achieved by the repetition of regulated visual information.


The whole or total effect of a work of art that results from the combination of all of its component parts.


A visual element or a combination of visual elements that is repeated often enough in a composition to make it the dominating feature of the artist’s expression. It is similar to theme or melody in a musical composition.


A repetitive configuration of elements that is distributed in a regular or irregular systematic organization.

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Related to the “Elements of Art” :: LINE


A line is the path of a moving point-that is, a mark made by a tool or instrument as it is drawn across a surface. Its length is distinctly greater than its width.


A line that creates a boundary separating an area of space from its surrounding background.


The line that defines a surface’s of a form between the outermost edges of the form.


The use of flowing rhythmical lines similar to the individual qualities found in handwriting. It means “beautiful writing.”


The quality that emphasizes the two-dimensional nature of any of the visual elements. Decoration enriches a surface without denying the essential flatness of its nature.

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Related to the “Elements of Art” :: SHAPE


An area that stands out from the space next to or around it because of a defined boundary or because of a difference of value, color, or texture.


Design in which shapes having a two-dimensional quality appear to lie flat on the surface of the picture plane.


A shape which is essentially two-dimensional in nature but whose relationships with other shapes may give an illusion of a third dimension.


A shape that is three-dimensional in nature and exists in space. On a flat surface the artist can only create the illusion of a volume.


Those shapes created by exact mathematical laws. They are usually simple in character such as the triangle, the rectangle, and the circle, but can be other types of polygons.


Shapes whose boundaries usually consist entirely of straight lines.

Biomorphic shapes

Usually more or less irregular shapes which resemble the freely developed curves found in live organisms.

Linear perspective

A mechanical system for creating the illusion of a three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional surface.

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Related to the “Elements of Art” :: VALUE


The relative degree of lightness or darkness.


The area of an object represented in art that receives the greatest amount of direct light.

Shadow, shade, shading

The darker value on the portion of a form’s surface that is turned away from the light source.

Cast shadow

The dark area created on a surface when a form is placed so as to prevent light from falling on that surface.


A technique that emphasizes the blending of light and shade to create the illusion of objects in space or atmosphere.

Decorative value

Refers to areas of dark or light definitely confined within boundaries, rather than the gradual blending of tones.

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Related to the “Elements of Art” :: TEXTURE


The actual or the illusion of tactile value on the surface of an area as created by nature or by an artist through a manipulation of the visual elements.


A quality that refers to the sense of touch.

Papier colle

A technique of visual expression in which scraps of paper having various textures are actually pasted to the picture surface to enrich or embellish areas.


A similar technique to papier colle but using a great variety of materials having tactile quality, not just paper alone.

Natural Textures

Textures in actual objects that are created as the result of natural processes.

Trompe l’oeil

A technique involving the copying of real three-dimensional forms with such exactitude that the subject depicted can be mistaken for natural forms.

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Related to the “Elements of Art” :: COLOR


Pigment is the substance or powder that makes up the color of a paint. Pigments are either organic (derived from plant or animal sources, e.g. ivory black, indigo) or inorganic (derived from salts or metallic oxides e.g. ocher, cobalt blue). Pigments are used by the artist to create the effect of color on a surface. Pigment primary colors are derived from the “Subtractive Color Model” are are: cyan, magenta, yellow. On a traditional Artist’s Color Wheel, these primaries are substituted for close cousins: blue, red, and yellow (which produce slightly different mixing results). Printers, however, typically stick to the technical CMYK model, using the following inks: cyan, magenta, yellow (and pure black for richness).


This designates the common name of a color and indicates its position in the spectrum or the color circle. This is considered the purest form of the color, with no white, black, or grey added.


It refers to the lightness or darkness of a color. It indicates the quantity of light reflected. Darker values are produced by adding black (or “shades”), while lighter colors are produced by adding white (or “tints”).

Intensity / Saturation

The intensity/saturation or “chroma” of a color: A vivid color is of high intensity, a dull color of low intensity. Saturation/intensity is reduced by adding grey (back AND white) to a hue, which is then referred to as a “tone.”

Neutralized color

A color that has been “grayed” or reduced in intensity by mixture with a complementary color.

Objective color

The color of an object as seen by the eye. (green grass, blue sky, red fire, etc.)

Subjective color

Colors chosen by the artist without regard to the natural appearance of the object portrayed.

Analogous colors

Colors adjacent to each other on the color wheel.

Complementary colors

Two colors which are directly opposite each other on the color wheel.

Warm colors

Red, orange and yellow, usually associated with sun or fire.

Cool colors

Blue, green, violet or blue-green are associated with air, sky and water.

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Related to the “Elements of Art” :: SPACE

Two-dimensional space

Measurable distances on a surface which show length and width but lack any illusion of thickness or depth.

Three-dimensional space

A sensation of space that seems to have length, width, and height to create visual or real depth.

Four-dimensional space

A highly imaginative treatment of forms that gives a sense of intervals of time or motion.

Infinite space

A pictorial concept in which the illusion of space has the quality of endlessness found in the natural environment. The picture frame has the quality of a window through which one can see the endless recession of forms into space.

Atmospheric (aerial)

The illusion of deep space produced by aerial perspective, lightening values, softening contours, reducing value contrasts, and neutralizing colors in objects as they recede.


The visual illusion of apparent parallel lines meeting at a central point in infinite space.

Horizon Line

This is a line horizontally oriented at your eye level regardless of the viewer’s position. If the viewer looks up, the horizon line is lower in a picture plane; if s/he looks down, the line is higher on the picture plane, and if s/he looks straight ahead, the line is in the middle.

Vanishing Point

The point(s) on a horizon line at which apparent parallel lines will converge.


Being neither perpendicular nor parallel to a line.

Cone of Vision

This is all that you can see without moving your eyes, (anywhere from about 30° to 80°).

Fixed Point of View

The position from which one views a scene without moving his or her body or eyes in order to create a specific perspective. Linear perspective relies on this for accuracy, because once position is changed, the perspective, lines, and mathematical realities of the cone of vision will change.

Central Line of Vision

This imaginary line is centered in the cone of vision and is perpendicular (at a right angle) to the picture plane.

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Digital Art, Design, and Communication Education