Below we provide the definitions of commonly used art terms that you will come across while reading American Artist and

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Alla Prima Also known as 'direct painting,' alla prima is a one-layer painting technique in which the painting (usually painted from life) is completed in one sitting or while the paint is still wet.

Binder A substance such as linseed oil or egg yolk that holds the particles of pigment together in a paint substance.

Burin A short steel rod cut to a diamond point that is used as a tool in engraving.

Casein A type of paint made from the protein of milk, which can be applied to any rigid, non-oily surface such as wood, plaster, heavy watercolor paper, canvas, or linen. It is thinned with water and dries to a matte finish.

Cast Shadow shadow of an object on an adjacent in which its outline is distorted.

Chroma The degree of vividness of a color.

Complementary Colors Two colors that reside directly opposite each other on the color wheel. When mixed, these colors produce a neutral gray.

Conté Crayon A drawing medium made of compressed graphite or charcoal mixed with a wax or clay base. They are waxier than soft pastels and come in degrees of hardness, making them easy to control.

Direct Light Light that shines directly on the subject from the light source, producing strong highlights and deep shadows.

Drybrush A painting technique in which dry or stiff paint is applied to the painting surface.

E - H

Egg Tempera A paint made with egg yolk as a binder.

Encaustic A painting technique that involves using heated wax to which colored pigments have been added. The liquid/paste is then applied to a surface — usually prepared wood, although canvas and other materials are often used.

Fixative A colorless surface coating that prevents media such as chalk and pastel from dusting and smudging.

Focal Point The area in a composition to which the viewer’s eye is naturally drawn.

Gesso A mixture of chalk, glue, and white pigment that serves as a ground for paintings.

Glaze A transparent layer of paint applied over a ground or another paint layer of a different color.

Gouache Opaque watercolor.

Grisaille A monochromatic painting in various tones of gray.

Highlight The lightest tone in a painting.

Horizon Line A horizontal line that runs across the paper or canvas to represent the viewer’s eye level or delineate where the sky meets the ground.

Hue Also called a spectral color, the traditional color name given to a specific wavelength of light in the light spectrum. For example, red, green, and blue are all hues.

I - L

Impasto The texture produced by the thickness of pigment in a painting.

Imprimatura A wash or glaze of thin color used to tone down a white surface before painting on it.

Lightfast Resisting fading on long exposure to light. A pigment’s lightfastness/resistance to change depends on the chemical nature of the pigment, its concentration, and the medium in which it is employed.

Linear Perspective TA method of representing a three-dimensional object or volume of space on a flat surface using real or suggested lines that converge at points at the horizon or eye level.

M - P

Mahlstick A long stick, one end of which the painter holds in one hand, to support and steady his/her brush-holding hand. The other end of the stick is padded and rests on the canvas.

Opaque Painting The creation of lighter tones by adding white, as opposed to thinning the paint.

Plein Air Painted outdoors, usually in one sitting.

Plumb Line An undeviating vertical line used as a reference when determining alignment. It is often used in drawing the human figure.

Primary Colors Blue, yellow, and red. The colors from which all others are derived and which cannot be resolved or decomposed into other colors.

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Reflected Color A change of hue caused when one color is reflected onto another.

Rembrandt lighting A lighting technique often used in portraiture. One side of the face is lit well from the main light source while the other side of the face uses the interaction of shadows and light to create this geometric form on the face.

Resin A hard, amorphous substance used in varnishes and binding mediums for paints such as acrylics. Resins can be found in the secretions of trees or synthetically.

Scumbling A painting technique in which semi-opaque or thin opaque colors are lightly brushed over an underpainted area so that patches of the previous color show through.

Secondary Colors Colors created by mixing two primary colors.

Shading Mixing a color with black to darken it.

Shadow Partial darkness or obscurity within an area of space.

Shellac A resin gathered from the lac insect that is useful as a sizing or an isolating varnish between paint layers. It is also a good fixative for charcoal and other drawings, and dries in less than an hour.

Silverpoint A drawing medium which utilizes a piece of silver or other type of metal wire held in a lead or handmade holder. The gauge of wire used is somewhat determined by an artist’s preference. The drawing surface, usually firm paper or a lightweight board must be smooth and coated with gesso or gouache.

Tertiary Colors Colors created by mixing a primary color with a secondary color.

Tinting Adding white pigment to a color to lighten it.

Tooth A slight roughness or coarseness in the surface of the painting ground that assists in the application and bonding of subsequent coats of paint.

Trompe- l’Oeil A type of painting, usually a still life, which by means of illusionist devices persuades the viewer that he/she is looking at actual objects represented.

U - Z

Underpainting An initial layer of paint applied to a ground, which serves as a base for subsequent layers of paint and helps to define color values for later painting.

Value A term used to describe the degree of lightness and darkness of a color.

Vanishing Point In perspective, the point at which a set of lines appear to converge.

Wash A hue or tint applied in a thin transparent layer.

Wet-in-Wet A painting technique in which wet color is applied into or on top of paint that is still wet.


We've listed the definitions of and popular artists associated with well-known art movements, schools, and styles.

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Abstract Art Art that does not depict objects as they appear in the natural world.

Abstract Expressionism A movement in the 1940s and 1950s that is marked by the use of large, visible brushstrokes, large canvases, and texture as a means of exalting the act of painting itself.
Jackson Pollock
Mark Rothko
Willem de Kooning

Art Deco A decorative style popular in the 1920s and 1930s that emphasized the use of luxurious materials and stressed simple, massive forms.
Émile–Jacques Ruhlmann
John Storrs

Aesthetic Movement A loosely defined movement that pervaded all facets of the arts in late 19th-century England. Largely a reaction to the Victorian era, artists in this movement rejected the notion that art should serve a moral purpose and sought instead to create art that was beautiful and enjoyed for that reason only.
Aubrey Vincent Beardsley
James Abbott MacNeill Whistler

Art Nouveau An international style of decoration and architecture that developed at the end of the 19th century. It was an attempt to create truly modern art, and practicing artists eagerly adopted new materials and technologies. Art Nouveau practitioners stressed the importance of form, line, and color, and sought to blur the line between applied and fine arts
Henry Van de Velde
Alphonse Mucha
Antonio Gaudi

Ashcan School An early 20th century school of realist painters who depicted urban life.
Robert Henri
Maurice Prendergast
George Luks

Baroque Art A prevailing style in Western European art from the 16th–18th centuries, characterized by exaggerated movement, clear detail, and an emphasis on emotion and grandeur. It influenced many facets of art, including sculpture, architecture, literature, and music.
Peter Paul Rubens
Annibale Caracci
Nicolas Poussin

Classicism This movement, developed in Rome in the 15th century, was popular among Renaissance painters, who adhered to aesthetic ideals and often took religious figures as subject matter.

Constructivism A style developed in Russia around 1915 that celebrated the use of technology and the new mechanized culture. Constructivist pieces tended to be abstract and geometric, and featured materials such as wood, glass, and metal.
Vladimir Tatlin
Antoine Pevsner
Naum Gabo

Cubism A famous avant-garde movement of the early 20th century that extolled fragmentation and abstraction. Cubists abandoned the idea of showing an object from a fixed viewpoint, and depicted their subjects from multiple viewpoints, for they believed this allowed viewers to truly see an object.
Pablo Picasso
Fernand Leger
Georges Braque

Dadaism An early 20th-century art movement that rejected traditional art forms in all disciplines. This movement was a reaction to the outcome of the First World War, and practitioners sought to shock viewers out of complacency. Dadaist works were cynical and pessimistic, yet humorous and ironic, often using deliberately outrageous methods to attack their subject matter.
Marcel Duchamp
Raoul Hausmann
Jean Arp

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Expressionism A European art movement in the early 20th century that emphasized a distortion of reality to express the artist'€™s own emotion. In a way a reaction to Impressionism, it dominated in Germany from 1905 through 1925, and pervaded all facets of the visual arts.
Edvard Munch
Paul Gaugin
Francisco de Goya y Lucientes

Flemish School Characterized by experimentation with perspective, Flemish artists often took portraits and religious symbols as their subject matter. While the movement thrived in the 15th century, the Renaissance influence in the 16th century can be seen in later work.
Jan van Eyck
Rogier van der Weyden
Hans Memling

Futurism An avant-garde movement that began in Italy in the early 1900s and lasted shortly after World War I. Futurists celebrated modern technology and dynamism, and were heavily influenced by Cubism and Dadaism.

Hudson River School A movement started in America in the 19th century by a group of landscape painters who were heavily influenced by Romanticism. Their paintings often depict the American landscape as a pastoral setting, and are characterized by a realistic, detailed, and sometimes idealized portrayal of the natural world.
Albert Bierstadt
Frederic Edwin Church
Thomas Cole

I - L

Impressionism An art movement that began in Paris in the 19th century with an informal group of artists. Impressionist painters favored visible brushstrokes, a focus on light, and often used ordinary objects as subject matter.
Claude Monet
Edgar Degas
Paul Cézanne

M - P

Minimalism This art movement appeared in the 1950s and continued through the 1970s. Minimalist artists thrived on simplicity in both content and form, and sought to remove all signs of personal expression in their work so that the viewer could experience it free from the artist's opinions and emotions.
Frank Stella
Ellsworth Kelly

Naturalism A movement prevalent in Europe in the 19th century that sought to portray the trivia and minutiae of daily life. Naturalist painters realistically depicted everyday objects in their natural settings.
William Bliss Baker
John Constable

Op Art An abbreviation for the term €˜optical art, a type of abstract art that flourished in the 1960s. Op artists used optical illusions to affect viewers psychologically, relying on great precision to evoke a specific response.
Victor Vasarely
Bridget Riley
Carlos Cruz–Diez

Pre–Raphaelite Brotherhood A group of English painters and writers formed in 1848 based on their collective disdain for what they considered the current trend of frivolous art.€ They sought to return to the age of art pre-Raphael, and painted only serious subjects based on direct observation.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti
William Holman Hunt
John Everett Millais

Q - T

Realism A movement that began in 19th-century France in response to Romanticism. Realists aimed to reproduce subject matter in detail and with accuracy and rejected overt stylization and distortion.
Jean–Francois Millet
Gustave Courbet
James Abbott MacNeill Whistler

Renaissance A cultural movement that began in Italy the 14th century, and spread throughout Europe. In the art world, works included religious and figurative themes, and perspective was first used at this time, giving the works a more realistic appearance.
Leonardo da Vinci
Sandro Boticelli
Michelangelo Buonarroti

Rococo A decorative style prevalent in the early and mid-18th century that was characterized by levity in both form and subject matter; artists in this movement often depicted romance and the aristocratic life of leisure, rather than religious and historical figures.
Jean–Antoine Watteau
François Boucher

Romanticism A movement that began in the 19th century in response to Classicism and pervaded all facets of the arts. Romantics rejected reasoning in favor of a commitment to feeling and the individual’s right to self expression. Painters influenced by this movement painted subjectively and boldly, often using the natural world as a subject.
J.M.W Turner
Francisco Goya

Socialist Realism A style of art that began in the Soviet Union and was declared the nation'€™s official style in 1934. The purpose of such art was to spread social ideology and glorify the state. Work created in this style was heavily monitored by the state and artistic merit was based on its contribution to building socialism.
Isaak Brodsky
Alexander Deneika
Boris Vladimirsky

Surrealism An art movement of the 1920s and 1930s that was influenced by Dadaism and the developing theories of psychoanalysis. Surrealist artists used distortion and abstraction in an attempt to express the inner-workings of the unconscious mind.
Salvador Dali
Giorgio de Chirico
Rene Magritte

Tachism A French style of abstract painting popular in the 1940s and 1950s. It was a reaction to Cubism, and artists used spontaneous brushstrokes, scribbles that were reminiscent of calligraphy, and often applied gobs of paint directly from the tube.
Pierre Soulages
Georges Mathieu

U - Z

Vorticism A short-lived avant-garde British art movement that was related to Cubism and Futurism. Vorticists celebrated movement and the modern machine, and created works that attacked the sentimentality of British culture.
Wyndham Lewis
Edward Wadsworth




In Focus

John P. Smolko: 70th Anniversary Competition Grand Prize Winner

0712smol70oe1_600x598_20712logo70_525x515 John P. Smolko won the Grand Prize—a new MetroShed, furnished by Blick Art Materials, for use as a stand-alone studio—for his imaginative colored pencil piece, Homage to Klimt (The Virgin). Read more about the artist, and view five online exclusive drawings.

Read about the semifinalists in each category, and vote, by October 30, for the Readers' Choice competition winner on our message board, Artists' Forum.

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