A Pocket Glossary of Art Terms

I don’t know about you guys, but we are in full-on school mode around here. This year I have a high-schooler, middle-schooler, and elementary kid and they all have tests. Every single day it seems somebody has a test or quiz. In the spirit of learning, I thought it would be fun to put together a little (very, very little) glossary of art terms. You probably know most of them and that’s because I picked my favorites. I did throw in a few I was unfamiliar with because I am trying to learn a thing or two about art, after all. You may notice a meaty thread running through the sample sentences. I’m not sure how that happened, but here we are. Sink your teeth in, friends!

Action Painting: Think Jackson Pollock. This is a method of painting involving more movement than standing at an easel. The artist specialized in action painting, which was even messier than when he made bacon and splattered grease all over the stovetop.

Avant-garde: Artists or works of art that are new, innovative, unusual. At one time sculpting with meat was considered avant-garde, but once Lady Gaga wore her meat dress, meats are all the rage in any form!

Curator: A person who researches and assembles an exhibition. The curator did not anticipate the slew of pyromaniacs who wanted to view her exhibit: “Flame Mignon.”

Diptych: Two pieces of art side by side (often two parts making a whole). Not to be confused with dipstick. The diptych featured the giraffe’s body on one canvas, his head on the NECKst one over.            

Ecole des Beaux-Arts: An art school specializing in classical arts, using Greek and Roman art as their foundation for learning. Little Otter Preschool is no Ecole des Beaux-Arts, but those kids can fingerpaint like nobody’s business.

Fin de siècle: Translates to “end of the century.” The ending of an era. Usually referring to the end of the 19th century. Impressionism became popular at the fin de siècle, around the same time Lizzie Borden was leaving her own impression on the world.

Gallerist: The owner of an art gallery. The gallerist liked to speak with a faux British accent, to which his patrons muttered, “the gall of that man!”

Gouache: An opaque watercolor. The artist used gouache to paint a still-life of goulash.

In situ: In its original position or place. I’d love to visit Van Gogh’s untouched room in Arles, where everything is still in situ. (Untrue! Sometimes a girl just needs a sentence.)

Montage: A collection of pictures put together to make a new work. (This is my most used art term that I didn’t even consider an art term until now.) Every Sunday night my family watches America’s Funniest Home Videos and laughs at the ridiculous video montages.

Motif: Recurring feature in a piece of art. The artist’s nude motif was very revealing.

Muse: An artist’s inspiration. (Sidebar: Don’t you just love that muses are a thing?!) When the artist told me her muse for the painting was her daughter, I was crying before I even saw the work.

Oeuvre: An artist’s body of work. To honor the artist’s life, her family displayed a personal collection, proving the common theme throughout her oeuvre was sausage.

Salon hang: A bunch of artwork hung on a wall, usually very close together. It was so awkward to see my in-laws still had wedding portraits of my husband with his ex-wife in their hallway in a Salon hang fashion.

Tempera: A painting medium, usually made by mixing colored pigments with water and egg yolk. Paintings made with this medium are also called temperas. The angry, redheaded artist lost his tempera and had to find more eggs to mix up another batch.

Triptych: Three pieces of art side by side. The triptych featured one, two, three photographs of the family’s… well, trip.

Vernissage: A private viewing the opening night of an exhibition. Only the swankiest people and the artist’s pet lemming were invited to the vernissage.

Viscosity: The thickness of a liquid. The meat sculptor found the viscosity of bacon grease to be just right for his masterpiece.

No need to make flashcards! You all get an A in my book!

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