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The Ultimate Art Terms Glossary

The Ultimate Art Terms Glossary

Written by:
Lillie Therieau
Mar 27, 2023

Whether you’re a classroom teacher teaching art for the first time or an art teacher who could use a simple refresher, check out our helpful glossary of art terms! 

This list of terms could also be used to make a short quiz for your students or to play a good-spirited class-wide game of Kahoot! 

Glossary of Art Terms 


  • Abstract Expressionism – an art movement that uses movement, gesture, and human action to convey powerful emotions through abstract images. 
  • Appropriation – when an artist takes elements from different aspects of culture or the work of other artists and uses it in their own work to create a new effect. Appropriation can be a respectful way to pay homage to an artist or movement that inspired an artist, but can also be problematic if visual elements are removed from their proper context or treated disrespectfully. 
  • Composition – the way the elements of a piece of artwork are arranged so as to create a unified whole image. 

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  • Cubism – An art movement that leans towards abstraction, and portrays forms with repeating geometric angles and shapes. Popularized by Pablo Picasso, cubism largely originates in the early 20th century.

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  • Digital Art – art that is created either mostly or wholly using digital technology. Digital art technology is continually evolving. Today AI can even spontaneously generate art! 
  • Figure – the representation of a human or animal in art, or a form that suggests a human or animal.
  • Form – a shape or structure. 


  • Giclée – a print made with a high-quality inkjet printer. 
  • Hue – the pure color that any shade, tint, or tone is derived from.
  • Iconography – the subject matter in art, often adhering to a set of visual conventions and referencing symbolic meanings of certain motifs. 

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  • Impressionism – an art movement that uses texture, pointillism, and atmosphere to create impressions of scenes or settings, based not only on their appearance but also on the feeling of being there. Impressionism is a 19th century art movement, and often stresses the appearance of changing light over time, and of movement, both of the natural world and of human beings moving through it. Famous artists include Claude Monet, Mary Cassatt, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Berthe Morisot. 

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  • Line – a long mark or stroke, can also refer to the characteristics of the way a certain artist creates lines. (I.e. Are they heavy or light? Sketchy or solid? Organic or geometric?)
  • Medium – the material or technique used to create a work of art. Examples include oil painting, acrylic painting, digital art, sculpture, or performance art.

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  • Performance Art – art that occurs through a one-of-a-kind live performance, often having to do with interactions between the artist and the audience. Performance art often thematically incorporates spontaneous reactions, ephemeral feelings, and chance.
  • Perspective – how an artist creates physical space and spatial relationships in a work of art.
  • Print – a copy of a work of art, which an artist creates through one of several printmaking techniques.

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  • Public Art – art that is publicly accessible, often outdoors or in a space that is free to enter and available to all. Some examples include public sculptures, outdoor murals, and street art. 
  • Realism – an art movement that attempts to portray things as they really are, or as close to reality as possible. A 19th century art movement, realism was defined by a naturalistic style, and artists often portrayed gritty subjects, like farmers, laborers, and the way that the working class lived. 

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  • Screen Printing – an artmaking technique based on creating a stencil on some kind of light fabric and pressing ink through to create an infinite number of prints. 
  • Shade – any hue when some amount of black is added. 
  • Shape – the form in which an object appears.

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  • Surrealism – An art movement based on dreams, the imagination, and the subconscious. Surrealism began as an art movement in the 1920s, and formally ended in the 1960s, although elements of the surreal appear in contemporary art today! Famous surrealist artists include Salvador Dali, Frida Kahlo, Joan Miro, and Rene Magritte. 

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  • Symbolism – the use of forms, signs, or emblems, which are used to reference a particular social meaning shared by a group of people. Symbolism can also refer to an art movement in the late 19th century, where artists spurned the realistic depiction of objects or scenes in favor of the symbolic depiction of an idea. 
  • Texture – the tactile quality of a line of form, created by the artist through pattern, line quality, or the application of different mediums. 
  • Tint – any hue when some amount of white is added. 
  • Tone – any hue when some amount of gray is added.

These terms are helpful for use alongside your IPMM Annual Art Lesson Plan Book (K-12 | 2023 – 2024)! The lesson plans included in the ALPB explore various mediums, styles, and elements of art–taking students through the full cycle of Experience, Reflect, Make. Teaching art vocabulary through hands-on and immersive activities helps students cement their understanding of these terms long after the class is over. 

What are some of your favorite art terms to teach your students?

resources for art teachers

Written by:
Lillie Therieau
Mar 27, 2023