Abstract — A term to describe anything that is not stereotypically true to nature or reality but instead uses shapes, colours and forms to achieve its effect.
Appraisal — The value given to a piece of artwork that an auction house believes it will reach at sale.
Archival Inks — Inks that are resistant to bleeding, and are permanent and acid free. Mostly used in photography and printmaking.
Artist Resale Right (or Droit de Suite) — By law, artists are entitled to royalties each time their artwork is sold by art market professionals, as is their estate after they die.
Artist-Curator- A practising artist who also curates shows or runs not-for-profit spaces from which they exhibit their art and that of other artists.
Atelier — A French word that translates literally as studio or workshop and is often used to denote a group of artists, designers or architects working collectively.
Biennale — (also spelled Biennial) An event that happens every two years. It is most commonly used within the art world to describe large-scale international contemporary art exhibitions. The most well-known Biennale is probably the Venice Bienniale but they are also becoming a popular way for less-well known and wealthy cities to showcase their emerging cultural talent.
- Lorenzo Quinn, Support, Venice Biennale 2017
Buyer’s Premium — If you are buying art at auction, the auction house will add an additional fee for their services.
C-print — Also known as a C-type print or Chromogenic print, this is a photographic print made from a colour negative or slide.
Conceptual art — Art for which the idea or concept behind the work is more important than the finished art object. Marcel Duchamp’s urinal is the classic example of conceptual art.
Certificate of Authenticity — This should accompany any piece of art as a means to prove its authenticity and value. Could also be known as a gallery certificate.
Condition Report — A written description of the condition of an art piece by the sellers.
Curator — This is the person that researches, arranges and organises an exhibition.
Daguerréotype — One of the earliest and most successful camera prototypes developed in the 1830s. A photograph taken by an early photographic process employing an iodine-sensitized silvered plate and mercury vapour.
Digital C-print — the same as a C-print, but instead of being made from a colour negative or slide, the image is digitally printed.
Diptych — A work of art that is composed of two separate panels placed together. And a triptych has three separate panels together.
- One of the most famous diptychs ever, Andy Warhol's Marilyn Diptych, 1962
Edition Size — The number of limited-editions of a given piece of art, usually used in photography, printmaking and sculpture.
Exposure — A photographic term for the level of light that a scene is exposed to during the capturing of an image. Not to be confused with contrast.Your digital camera uses two main controls to control exposure; the shutter speed and aperture.
Fair Market Value — This is the estimated value of a product in the current market to a buyer that is knowledgable, willing and unpressured.
Figurative art — Any form of art that retains strong references to the real world and particularly to the human figure.
Film Still — An image that is taken from a film to represent a moment from that film.
Gelatin Silver Print — A black and white photographic print, made with paper which has been made light-sensitive by a coating of gelatin silver halide emulsion. The paper is then exposed to either artificial or natural light, creating the print.
Guerrilla Girls — We love the Guerrilla Girls! They are a collective of American female artists, who wear gorilla masks to remain anonymous. Formed in 1985, their mission is to provoke comment on gender and racial inequality in the art-world and make it part of a wider public debate.
- The Guerrilla Girls. Photograph: George Lange, published in The Guardian
Hyper-realism — Also known as super-realism, this term was originally coined in the early 1970’s to describe painting and sculpture rendered to look like a high-resolution photograph. In contrast to photo-realism, which emulates analog photography (usually in a very literal fashion) 21st century hyper-realism uses digital imagery and then expands upon it to create a new sense of reality.
Iconography — This refers to a system created by an artist or groups of artists which attach meaning to specific symbols. It can take two forms. One form is highly codified and often passed down over centuries: such as the use of the dove in Christian religious painting to symbolise the Holy Spirit. Another form is highly personal and therefore open to interpretation by art-enthusiasts and scholars: an example being from Picasso who created his own iconographic system from aspects of his life.
Installation Art — This emerged in the late 1950s and it refers to a form of art which involves creating a sensory or aesthetic world through which the viewer has to walk through or completely around in order to engage fully with the work. The commissions in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall would all be considered installation art.
- Kara Walker, Fons Americanus, Tate Modern Turbine Hall Commission
Juxtaposition — This refers to the placement of certain objects or images side-by-side for comparison or contrast.
Kinetic Art — A type of art which includes movement as a central part of the work’s design and effect. Alexander Calder is probably the most famous kinetic artist.
Kitsch — The German word for trash, and used to describe something quite vulgar and garish, but that can be appreciated in an ironic or knowing fashion. Jeff Koons is a prominent exponent of kitsch art.
Lightbox — A box which has an internal light source and a translucent surface. At first it was used exclusively for examining transparencies and negatives but since the late twentieth century photographers in particular have used lightboxes to create large-scale art pieces.
Limited edition — Used in photography and printmaking, this refers to a specific — often small — number of prints created from an original artwork. Each print has a number which indicates which edition number it is (for example 1/10) and once the edition has sold out, it will not be printed again.
Maquette — A maquette is a small model created as preparation for a larger piece of sculpture. They can often be fascinating works of art in their own right.
- Hubert Dalwood, Maquette for Arbor, 1971
Monochrome — A work of art created using only one colour or varying tones of only one colour. Black and white photography is an obvious example of monochrome.
Narrative — A work of art which portrays a moment in a story or in time. It can also be used to describe a work which shows a series of connected events.
Negative Space — In art, it is the space around and between the subject(s) of an image.
Performance art — An art form in which the artist uses their body as the medium of performance. It can be spontaneous or choreographed. The ephemeral nature of the medium means that from the very start performances were recorded, either as stills, or later by video.
Photo-Collage — An artistic technique in which one pastes more than one photograph on top of a single surface — either physically or digitally — to ultimately create another image.
Photogram — Photographic prints made without using a camera — by placing objects on top of photographic paper and then exposing it to light. Man Ray is the most famous exponent of this technique, although he called his works "rayographs".
- Man Ray, Rayograph, 1922
Portrait — Representation of an individual, in any medium, which portrays only the face, head and shoulders of a person.
Representation — This has two meanings. It can either refer to the gallery’s business relationship with an artist or, in purely artistic terms, refer to the portrayal of someone or something.
Screen Printing — This printing technique involves areas of a silkscreen, comprised of woven mesh stretched on a frame, that are selectively blocked off with a non-permeable material (typically a photo-emulsion, paper, or plastic film) to form a stencil. Ink is forced through the mesh onto the printing surface.
Self Portrait — A representation of oneself made by oneself. It’s an interesting concept for any photographer to engage with the self-portrait. From pointing the camera continuously at others to then changing that dynamic and shooting yourself can be a journey of discovery.
Still Life — A representation of inanimate objects.
Subject Matter — The visual or narrative focus of a work of art. Also defined as the topic dealt with or the subject represented in a debate, exposition, or work of art
Tactile — Touchable, or sensed by the touch.
- A gloriously tactile sculpture by artist Dan Lam
Trompe L’Oeil — A French term meaning “deceive the eye”. It refers to a painting that is done with immaculate detail so as to deceive the viewer that what he/she is viewing is the object or the person, and not an illusion. It is used to particularly good effect in portraiture, where the subject can seem to literally ‘emerge’ from the painting — shown here in an example by an unknown Flemish painter from the mid-16th century.
Visual Ethnography — The study and interpretation of social organisations and cultures in everyday life conducted using photography, video or film.
Vitrine — A large, glass cabinet used for displaying art objects.
Wet-Collodion — A photographic process in which a glass plate, coated with light-sensitive collodion emulsion, is placed in a camera, exposed, developed, and varnished for protection before being used to create prints.
We hope this has been helpful! Any more art-world words you’d like us to define, just pop in the comments below.