Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Visual Arts Glossary

Visual Art Glossary


Weak image of the complementary colour created by the brain as a reaction to prolonged looking at a colour. (After looking at red, the after-image is green).

Alternating rhythm

Repeating motifs but changing the position, content or spaces between them.

Analogous colour

Colours that are beside each other on the colour wheel.

Art criticism

The process and result of critical thinking about art. It usually involves the description, analysis and interpretation of art, as well as some kind of judgement.


Sculpture consisting of many objects and materials that have been put together.

Asymmetrical balance

Informal balance in which unlike objects have equal visual weight.


Part of the picture plane that seems to be farthest from the viewer.


Principle of design that deals with arranging the visual elements in a work of art for harmony of design and proportion.


Sculpture in which part of the surface projects from a flat plane.


Using contrast of light and dark to create the illusion of three-dimensional form on a two-dimensional surface.


In design, creating a focal point by grouping different objects or shapes together.

Colour wheel

A tool for organizing colour.

Complementary colour

Colours that are directly opposite each other on the colour wheel (for example, blue and orange).


Arrangements of elements in a work of art.

Continuation (continuity)

In design, arranging shapes so that the line or edge of one shape leads into another (technique for creating unity).

Contour lines

Contour lines define edges, ridges or the outline of a shape or form.


A large difference between two things. It is a technique often used to create a focal point.


Arts works that are both decorative and functional. (Weaving, fabric design, jewellery-making and pottery).


Technique for shading using two or more crossed sets of parallel lines.


Behaviours, ideas, skills and customs of a group of people.


Changing an object's usual shape to communicate ideas and feelings.

Dominant element

Element in a work of art that is noticed first (elements noticed later are subordinate).


Principle of design that stresses one element or area to attract the viewer's attention first.


Increasing or enlarging an object or figure to communicate ideas or feelings.

Flowing rhythm

Visual rhythm that is created by repeating wavy lines.

Focal point

Area of an art work that attracts the viewer's attention first. Contrast, location, isolation, convergence and the unusual are used to create focal points.


Part of a picture which appears closest to the viewer and often is at the bottom of the picture.


A form of perspective where the nearest parts of an object or form are enlarged so that the rest of the form appears to go back in space.

Gesture drawing

A drawing done quickly to capture a movement.


Another word for colour (colour has three properties: hue, value and intensity).


Brightness or dullness of a colour. Intensity can be reduced by adding the colour's complement.

Linear perspective

Technique of creating the illusion of depth on a flat surface. The lines of buildings and other objects converge to a vanishing point on a horizon line (viewer's eye level).


A visual symbol that identifies a business, club, individual or group.


Any material and technique used to produce a work of art (paint, glass, clay, fibre, etc.). It may also refer to the liquid with which powdered pigments are mixed to make paint.


Area in a picture between the foreground and the background.

Mixed media

Any art work which uses more than one medium.

Monochromatic colour

Colour scheme which uses one hue and all its tints and shades for a unifying effect.


Repeated unit to create visual rhythm.

Negative space

Space around an object or form.

Neutral colours

Black, white and grey.


Quality of a material that does not let any light pass through.

Organic form

Shapes or forms that are free-flowing and non-geometric.

Path of movement

The path along which the viewer's eye moves from one part of an art work to another.


Lines, colours or shapes repeated in a planned way.


Method used to create the illusion of space on a two-dimensional surface. Can be created by overlapping, placement, detail, colour, converging lines and size variations.

Picture plane

The surface of a drawing or painting.

Point of view

Angle from which the viewer sees the object.

Positive space

Shapes or forms on a two-dimensional surface.

Principles of design

Guidelines that artists use in composing designs and controlling how viewers are likely to react to the image. Balance, contrast, proportion, movement, emphasis, variety, unity and repetition are examples of the principles of design.


Principle of design concerned with the relationship of one object to another with respect to size, amount, number and degree.

Radial balance

Kind of balance where the elements branch out from a central point.

Random rhythm

Visual rhythm in which a motif is repeated in no apparent order.

Regular rhythm

Visual rhythm created through repeating the same motif with the same distance between placements.


Technique for creating unity and rhythm in which a single element or motif is used over and over again.


Copy of a work of art.


Principle of design that repeats elements to create the illusion of movement. There are five kinds of rhythm: random, regular, alternating, progressive and flowing.


The proportion between two sets of dimensions.


Dark value of a colour made by adding black.


Space can be the area around, within or between images or elements. Space can be created on a two-dimensional surface by using such techniques as overlapping, object size, placement, colour intensity and value, detail and diagonal lines.

Split complementary

A colour scheme based on one hue and the hues on either side of its complement on the colour wheel.


Style is the artist's ways of presenting things. Use of materials, methods of working, design qualities, choice of subject matter, etc. reflect the style of the individual, culture or time period.


A topic or idea represented in an art work.

Subordinate element

Element in an art work noticed after the dominant element.

Subtractive method

Sculpture that is made by cutting, carving or otherwise removing material.


Visual image that represents something else.

Symmetrical balance

Formal balance where two sides of a design are identical.


Light value of a colour made by adding white.


Quality of material which allows diffused light to pass through it.


Quality of a material which allows light to pass through it.


Means "fool the eye". Style of painting where the artist creates the illusion of three-dimensional objects.


Principle of design that gives the feeling that all parts are working together.


The lightness or darkness of a colour.

Vanishing point

In perspective drawing, a point or points on the horizon where receding parallel lines seem to meet.


Principle of design concerned with difference or contrasts.

Visual weight

The interest or attraction that certain elements in an art work have upon the viewer.

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