|A glossary of art terms
This is a listing of definitions for terms that are frequently encountered when reading about or discussing the visual arts. The definitions offered are not to be construed as being definitive. These merely serve as examples of how explanations can be structured. Students of art need to engage in a great deal of deliberation about the possible meanings for art vocabulary. It is through the process of dissecting and examining alternative definitions for art terms that words evolve into functional concepts for thinking about, analyzing, criticizing, appreciating, and producing the varied forms of the visual arts.
abstraction - a device in art which alters or simplifies reality (nature) to facilitate the expressive purposes of the artist (e.g., the exaggerated antelope horns and ears of the masks used in the Chi Wara ritual of the Bamana people of Mali).
aesthetic analysis - a careful investigation of the qualities which belong to objects and events that evoke thoughts and feelings because of the character of these qualities and the particular ways they are organized.
aesthetic aspects of experience - those qualities of any experience that are inherent within the experience itself and to which we respond through our senses, whatever the primary nature of the experience.
aesthetic response - a felt sense of pleasure, joy or euphoria (and, under certain conditions, a sense of tension or apprehension) when responding to the surface and representational qualities inherent within a natural or manufactured object and/or event.
allegory - a pictorial device in which characters or events stand for abstract ideas or principles, enabling what is represented to suggest deeper symbolic meanings; e.g., employed in the masterpieces by Botticelli and Vermeer.
art - objects and events formulated primarily (consciously or unintentionally) to evoke aesthetic responses; or, put more simply, forms made by people which because of the way they are created arouse emotional reactions in others.
assemblage - three dimensional art works 'assembled' from a variety of existing objects and materials.
balance - a perceived equilibrium existing among visual, surface qualities.
Asymmetrical, dynamic or informal balance - controlling opposite forces by manipulating visual components to create a sense of equilibrium (e.g., a large gray area balanced by a small red shape).
Symmetrical, static or formal balance - an equal distribution of similar visual components on either side of an implied or actual central axis.
baroque - a major art style characterized by a dramatic unification of complex elements and undulating spatial forces. The baroque style achieved its greatest heights in the 17th and 18th centuries; its tenets are still practiced by artists and architects today.
classicism - an emphasis upon idealized subjects and themes initiated in Ancient Greece and given renewed impetus in the 'perfection of form' achieved by such Renaissance masters as Botticelli. (Artists continue to seek ideal relationships even in the nonobjective works of the 20th century; e.g., the classical linear compositions of Piet Mondrian.)
cubism - a 20th century style which focuses upon the structural character of objects; analytical cubism presents several views of an object simultaneously; synthetic cubism is more decorative in character because it stresses the two-dimensional nature of the canvas and does not attempt to create spatial illusions.
cultural context - aspects of objects and events that exemplify the values, beliefs, traditions, economy and/or other characteristics that can be associated with a particular individual, group or society.