Chapter 3 - The Vocabulary of Art
Knowledge of the language of art is essential for a collector. It is part of becoming conversant and establishing credibility. As you learn the terminology, a quick sketch of the history of art and a primer on graphics will emerge— both effective tools in building your understanding and appreciation.
Styles and Movements in Art
The history of art does not represent a neat and orderly evolution of movements and styles. In traditional art there is an orderly sequence of one generation of painters to the next or a steady sequence of change within boundaries. Since the modern period however, the course of painting meanders with revolutions and counter-revolutions—often developing so rapidly that one is shoved aside by the next.
In one sense, modern art doesn't begin in the mid-19th century as generally accepted because it begins everywhere, from 30,000 year old cave paintings to the latest museum exhibition. Through these movements in the history of art colliding, repelling, fusing and morphing, they have inspired generations of artists with their diverse and unexpected combinations.
Abstract - Beginning in Russia in the early 20th century, non-figurative painting and sculpture; emphasizes a derived essential character as felt by the artist with little visual reference to objects in nature.
Abstract Expressionism - Philosophical and social as well as artistic movement which began in 1940's America. Emotion was paramount and the artist followed his feelings of the moment, rejecting all influences outside his head.
Art Nouveau - A style of art that flourished during the last decade of the 19th century and early years of the 20th which used curvilinear forms, sometimes derived from organic life, in figurative and decorative arts as well as architecture.
Baroque - A style of artistic expression prevalent in the 17th century characterized by elaborate, exuberant, dynamic forms; generally the antithesis of the restraint of classical and Renaissance styles.
Classic - Refers to quality rather than period style (as distinguished from classical).
Classicism - Art and architecture based on the study and emulation of classical art; characterized by repose, reserve and calm, and guided by reason and intellect.
Classical - The art of Greece and Rome from approximately 530 B.C. to 330 A.D.; also later art, especially the Renaissance, influenced by Greece and Rome. Characterized by order, symmetry, and refinement of proportion.
Cubism - An early 20th century school of painting and sculpture in which the subject matter is portrayed by geometric forms without realistic detail, stressing abstract form at the expense of other pictorial elements; often making use of intersecting, often transparent, cubes and cones. The real subjects drawn from the natural world are still recognizable and not completely abandoned.
Dada -A strongly political movement at the end of World War I that revolted against pretentious aesthetic theories and over-intellectualizing in art, literature and politics. Attempted to depict the objective observation of sordidness and despair; characterized by grotesque and horrid imagery and the rejection of every moral, social and aesthetic code. It mocked conventional styles to the point of absurdity; a precursor to surrealism.
Expressionism - Originating in Germany around 1905, the movement emphasized the expression of inner experience rather than solely realistic portrayal, seeking to depict not objective reality but the subjective emotions and responses that the subject aroused in the artist. Used strong colors and powerful, sometimes distorted, shapes.
Fauvism - Part of the post-Impressionist school in which color was extolled for itself rather than used as a descriptive or decorative accessory to other elements in the picture. Characterized by an arbitrary departure from the colors in nature.
Figurative Art - Art in which recognizable figures or objects are portrayed.
Folk Art -Traditional representations usually bound by conventions in both form and content, of a folkloric character and usually made by persons without institutionalized training.
Gothic - A style of artistic expression which flourished during the late Middle Ages, from about 1200 to 1500 characterized by flying buttresses and pointed arches in architecture and romanticized religious subject matter in painting.
Impressionism - The impressionist style of painting is chiefly characterized by concentration on the general impression produced by a scene or object and the use of unmixed primary colors and small strokes to simulate actual reflected light.
Mannerism - An artistic style which prevailed in Europe from about 1525 to 1600 as a reaction to the standards of the Renaissance. Characterized by exaggerated and unnatural proportions, colors and lighting and an increased expression of emotion.
Naturalism - Aesthetic satisfaction is found in the way the painting was done while the subject is secondary. Unlike realism, naturalism is amoral; the artist paints what he sees without incorporating moral values and deals with the moment only. Naturalism marks the birth of the idea of "art for art's sake" (c. 1863).
Neo-classicism - The revival or adaptation of classical taste and style; usually refers to the revival during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
Pointillism - A technique employed by post-impressionists in which color is applied in dots of uniform size. When seen from a distance the dots become invisible, appearing to form a single color and the painting looks as though it was painted with large, sweeping brush strokes.
Pop Art - Emerging in the 1960's, a purely American art form that focused on the outrageous portrayal of American consumer society using advertising imagery and mass market graphics.
Post-Impressionism - Arriving two years after the zenith of Impressionism, expanded the focus from landscapes, the human figure and misty washes of light to exploring a strong, more forceful use of color and a concern with stronger delineation vs. hazy atmospherics.
Primitive; Naïve - The artist is self-taught and paints with an honesty and naïve directness.
Realism - In the arts, Realism is the accurate, detailed, unembellished depiction of nature or of contemporary life. Realism rejects imaginative idealization in favor of close observation of outward appearances, seeing the world for what it is and accepting its existence as unalterable fact.
Romanticism - An idealized art form which began as a revolt against the classical dogma of neo-classicism. Characterized by the triumph of emotion over reason, of the mysterious over the rational, of the individual against formula and born of the philosophy that emotion holds the answer that everyone seeks.
Rococo - A style prevalent in the 18th century which was an elaborate extension of the baroque; more decorative and possessing a gaiety and lightness, lacking a serious treatment of the subject matter.
Renaissance - The revival of culture and learning in the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries influenced by classical literature and art. Characterized by idealized naturalism and emotional restraint expressed in rational, harmonious and balanced terms; the antithesis of baroque which is undisciplined and overly emotional.
Representational Art - Art in which recognizable objects, figures, or elements in nature are depicted.
Social Realism - A predominantly American art movement beginning around the great depression in which the artist was moved to depict the harsh conditions in society and the alienation of the individual within it.
Super Realism - Emerging in the 1970's, subjects are portrayed with a precision more vivid than a photograph and devoid of human feelings creating a disturbing effect; a commentary on consumerism which places greater value on things than people.
Surrealism - A 20th-century literary and artistic movement that attempts to express the workings of the subconscious by fantastic imagery and incongruous juxtaposition of subject matter.
Visionary; Fantasy - Unreality; the portrayal of the world of enchantment or dreams that paradoxically combines fantasy and factualness.
Print Terminology or the Language of Graphics
If you are confused by such terms as graphic, print, original or reproduction, rest assured, you are not alone. These terms are commonly misunderstood. If a person says, "I want an original," what they mean is that they want an original oil painting, a one of a kind. Just because a piece of art is an oil painting doesn't guarantee it is original. It could be a copy. The source of "original" artwork lies in the imagination of the artist—the idea originates in the artist's own mind, whether it is executed as an oil, a drawing, a collage or a woodblock print.
Certainly all "original" work is influenced by something, perhaps the artist's knowledge of art history. Never before has the artist had so much access to the imagery that came before. It's to be expected that older imagery will be merged, consciously or unconsciously, with an artist's own vision to become something unique. Perhaps a better word to describe a "one of" is "unique."
An original graphic is not a copy of the artwork, but the original artwork itself. It is the print from a print-plate (lithostone/etching-plate), on which the artist produces the original artwork manually. For this the artist needs specific skills and knowledge. Multiplication of the original is inherent to this technique. Whether printing 10 or 100 originals from the print-plate, each print is an original, an original graphic, often referred to as a multiple original. The original characteristics remain unaltered, regardless of a very large or a very small edition (size) though the number of pieces in the edition will affect the price. As a general rule, the smaller the edition, the higher the price will be. The number and the signature are customary, indicating quantity (edition size) and authenticity, nothing else.
A reproduction is a different story and doesn't require the specific skills of the artist. He or she doesn't even have to be there. What is necessary, however, is an example, an original work of art from which photographic or mechanical copies are made. The artist has sold permission to a publisher or printmaker to copy his or her work. To add to the confusion, the artist often signs and numbers these reproductions, usually for money. In essence, with a reproduction or multiple copies, you are buying the artist's signature on a copy of an original work of art.
Artist proof (A.P.) - A print outside of the numbered series, usually 1/10 of the edition.
Aquatint - An intaglio method in which areas of color are made by dusting powdered resin on a metal plate and then letting acid eat the plate surface away from around it.
Bon-a-tirer (Fr. "good to pull"; pron. bone-ah-ti-RAY). The first impression of a print run acceptable to the artist and used as the standard with which each subsequent impression is compared.
Dry point - An intaglio technique like engraving in which the image is drawn on a metal plate with a needle, raising a ridge which prints a soft line.
Embossed Print Uninked - A relief print in which dampened paper is pressed into recessed areas of a plate to produce a three-dimensional impression.
Engraving - An intaglio process in which lines are cut into a metal plate and then filled with ink to transfer the image onto paper.
Etching - An intaglio process in which an image is scratched through an acid-resistant coating on a metal plate. The plate is then dipped in acid which eats into the exposed surface.
Graphic - Any work printed directly on paper from a plate or block.
Hors de commerce (H.C.) (Fr. "Outside of sale"; pron. OR decom-AIRCE) - A designation for prints not in the numbered series pulled for the use of the publisher, normally limited to five or six.
Intaglio (Ital. "Incision"; pron. in TAHL-yo) - Any technique in which an image is incised below the surface of the plate, including dry point, etching, aquatint, engraving, and mezzotint.
Linocut - A process in which an image is cut in relief on a linoleum block.
Lithograph - A planographic process in which images are drawn with crayon or a greasy ink on stone or metal and then transferred to paper.
Mezzotint - An intaglio process in which the plate surface is roughened and then an image is created by smoothing the areas to be printed.
Monotype - A unique print made from an inked, painted glass or metal plate.
Photomechanical Offset Printing - A process in which an image is transferred to a printing plate photographically and then onto a roller which prints on paper. An offset print is not a graphic.
Planography - Any process of printing from a surface level with the plate, as lithography.
Relief - A technique in which the portions of a plate intended to print are raised above the surface, as woodcut, linocut, etc.
Roman Numbered Edition - A smaller edition numbered with Roman numerals, usually a deluxe edition on higher quality paper.
Serigraphy (screenprinting, silkscreen) - A stenciling method in which the image is transferred to paper by forcing ink through a fine mesh in which the background has been blocked.
Signed and Numbered - Authenticated with the artist's signature, the total number of impressions in the edition, and the order in which the impression is signed; i.e., 5/20 indicates that the print is the fifth signed of an edition of 20 impressions.
Woodcut - Oldest type of print; a process in which an image is cut in relief on a wood block.
Once an idea is born in the mind of the artist, he or she must then determine what form that vision will take; how to make what is seen in the mind's eye a reality. Listed below are the various mediums artists may use to express their creativity (aside from prints which are discussed in detail above).
Acrylic - A modern painting medium that can be used on canvas or paper; characterized by intensity of color and permanence.
Calligraphy - Elegant, decorative handwriting executed with pen and ink or brush and ink.
Collage - The technique of applying paper or other material to the surface of a painting or directly on to paper.
Gouache - Watercolor painting made opaque by the addition of white.
Mixed Media - The artist uses a combination of media on one work.
Mobile - Movable sculpture whose forms are linked by wires or rods; often moved by currents of air.
Oils - Painting medium where colors are ground up and mixed with oil; used on canvas, board and sometimes paper.
Pastels - Dry pigment which is rolled into a crayon-like form and used on special paper which has a gritty surface to hold the color.
Sculpture - A three-dimensional form in space (as opposed to paintings which are two-dimensional) which may be made of wood, bronze, stone or other material.
Tempera - A type of paint in which egg yolk and water are employed with pigment instead of oil.
Watercolor - A painting medium in which water is combined with pigment creating transparent color.
A few more words come to mind that don't fit into the above categories but will be useful additions to your repertoire.
Chiaroscuro - The use of strong contrasts of light and shade.
Diptych - A two paneled painting.
Genre - Unidealized treatment of subjects taken from ordinary daily life.
Hue - A particular gradation of color; tint or shade.
Iconography - A pictorial illustration of a given subject.
Impasto - A thick, paste-like application of paint to the surface of a painting.
Intensity - Degree of hue in a color, i.e., amount of redness.
Miniature - A tiny picture, most often a portrait.
Painterly - A technique where details and edges are not defined by lines but are blended into the surrounding areas.
Patina - A surface appearance that has grown beautiful with age or use. In contemporary sculpture, often the product of chemicals and heat.
Provenance - Verifiable history of a work's origin and ownership.
Santo - The painted image of a saint in the American Southwest.
Triptych - A three-paneled painting.
Ukiyo-e - Japanese art form in which the figures are archetypal and highly stylized; the subject matter traditional.
Value - The amount of light or dark added to hues to change their intensity. A component, with hue and intensity, of color.