Glossary of Art Terms

Welcome to the Glossary of Art Terms, a quick-guide to What Does That Art Word Mean?? Here are some common words you might hear in an art gallery.


  • artist proof – first run prints an artist uses to test papers / inks / plates, very limited quantities often kept by the artist; these are unique pieces of art as each proof will have variation and they may be numbered and signed with designation “AP”
  • assemblage – sculpture made from mixed-media, often recycled or found objects


Cloisonne vessel
  • cloisonne – an ancient technique of artwork made from glass, gems, or enamel with silver or gold flattened wire along edges and borders
  • collage – artwork made with printed materials as the medium, whether artist printed or found (often cut from magazines, fabrics, and other printed materials)


  • en plein air – artwork made out in the open air, literally “outside”
  • embellished – an artist proof or other print that has been further manipulated with sketches, paints, or otherwise to make it slightly different from the original
  • encaustic – artwork made with pigmented wax as the medium
  • etching – a print produced by using etched plates or other objects (sometimes engraving)


  • gallery wrap – a painting on canvas stretched around wood bars, presented without needing a frame as the painted portion of the canvas “wraps” around the sides
  • giclée – a reproduction of an original painting, printed on fine art papers or canvas with archival inks; may be printed in limited editions or in quantity


  • limited edition – a general term for a reproduction that is printed in low quantity (100 or less in a unique size or medium), includes photography
  • Limoges – generally in reference to Limoges porcelain produced in France in the late 18th century
  • lithograph – a reproduction of an original painting usually in very limited quantities and with variation in the prints making them more unique; often created directly by the artist


  • mat (matboard) – a fabric-based structural material that sits between the frame and the artwork; adds colour options, depth, and protection for the work
  • medium – the physical base of the artwork either oil, acrylic, pastels, watercolors, charcoal, clay, glass, wax, photography, scratchboard, etc.
  • mixed-media – artwork made with multiple media, such as an oil painting with sculptural embellishments or collage
  • mosaic – artwork made with pieces of tile / glass / etc. fitted together as the medium; may be figurative or abstract in nature
  • mural – generally large-format artwork painted onto a wall
  • museum glass – anti-reflective glass or plexi on a framed piece of art which minimizes glare and reflection of light


prismatics example, John R. Jurisich
  • pastel – artwork using solid pigment in a stick, similar to a stick of chalk; incredible detail can be achieved rendering the pastel “photographic” in nature
  • photography – artwork taken by a camera (the art medium is photography)
  • prismatics – invented by artist John R. Jurisich, this medium uses multiple layers of oil or acrylic paint that are then scraped away until the chosen colour (or mix of colours) is revealed


  • raku – originally Japanese earthenware bowls and pots used for tea ceremonies; hand-sculpted and formed by the artist; contemporary raku may include heat-formed patterns and designs caused by placing combustible material around the fired clay such as newspapers or straw
  • red dot – a small red sticker placed on a gallery art tag once the piece is sold
  • reproduction – generic term for a copy of an original work of art


  • sculpture – generic term describing any three-dimensional art object such as a vase, mask, sphere, assemblage, or other figurative work made of glass / clay / other materials
  • scratchboard – a painting style using a panel covered in white clay which is then covered in black ink; the ink is scratched away to reveal the desired image
  • shadow box – a method of framing a piece of art in a deep box frame so that it appears to be floating inside the box
  • subject matter – what the painting features or is about such as still life, landscape, figures, abstracts


Escaping Criticism, Pere Borrell del Caso (trompe l’oeil example)
  • trompe l’oeil – an art technique that creates an optical illusion that the real object presented exists in three dimensional space (forced perspective)


  • watercolour – a painting style using pigments mixed with water, either wet or dry-brush style; dry-brush gives the artist more detail while wet watercolour gives a more abstract and luminescent texture