We’ve all been there: stranded in front of an incomprehensible work of art, compelled to say something profound and intelligent. You hold your chin, tilt your head sideways and say, “It’s very…” Then you draw a blank.

Let’s be honest, it can be really hard to get art, let alone know what to say about it. But you can rest assured because, lucky for you, it doesn’t take an overpriced degree to say something impressive about art. Below are just a few terms you can use to talk about art on your next cultural outing to impress your family and friends. Here at Artsnapper, we not only want you to discover art in your world, but also understand it. While some of these terms do sound pretentious, they pop up all the time in art articles, lectures, and museum cards. Use the cheat sheet below to demystify some of these words. Feel free to use them in your next paper or, like me, when you get tired of holding your chin and tilting your head.

 

Terms to Talk About Art

 

1. Appropriation (uh-proh-pree-EY-shun)

Definition: The incorporation of an outside element into a work
In a Sentence: “Roy Lichtenstein references mass media by appropriating cartoon imagery into his paintings”

Cheat Sheet: 10 Useful Terms to Help You Talk About ArtArtist: Roy Lichtenstein
Title: Ohhh Alright
Movement: Pop Art
Location: Privately Owned

 

2. Assemblage (uh-SEM-blij)

Definition: Usually a sculpture made from a grouping of unconventional objects
In a Sentence: “I think I see a stuffed bald eagle in that Rauschenberg assemblage”

Cheat Sheet: 10 Useful Terms to Help You Talk About Art

Artist: Robert Rauschenberg
Title: Odalisk
Movement: Neo Dada
Location: Museum Ludwig, Köln

 

3. Chairoscuro (kee-ar-uh-SKYOOR-o)

Definition: This one is usually used for Italian Renaissance art. It refers to the use of extreme shadow to create the illusion of depth
In a Sentence: “See how the low light creates an intense chiaroscuro in that painting? It’s so dark!”

Cheat Sheet: 10 Useful Terms to Help You Talk About Art
Artist: Caravaggio
Title: Yong Sick Bacchus
Movement: Baroque
Location: Galleria Borghese, Rome

 

4. Contropposto (con-trap-POS-toe)

Definition: A traditional pose in which the figure rests their weight on one leg (ie: “natural stance”)
In a Sentence: “The David’s contropposto stance really shows off his abs”

Cheat Sheet: 10 Useful Terms to Help You Talk About ArtArtist: Michelangelo
Title: David
Movement: Italian Renaissance
Location: Academia Gallery, Florence

 

5. Diptych (DIP-tick)

Definition: A piece that uses two panels instead of one (three panels =  Triptych)
In a Sentence: “I thought the work was broken until I realized it was meant to be a diptych”

Cheat Sheet: 10 Useful Terms to Help You Talk About Art Artist: Raphael
Title: Portrait of Angelo Doni and Maddalena Strozzi Doni
Movement: Italian Renaissance
Location: Palazzo Pitti, Florence

 

6. Frottage (fro-TAJ)

Definition: The technique of rubbing a pattern from an uneven surface
In a Sentence: “I created this frottage in second grade by placing paper over a penny and rubbing it with a crayon”

Cheat Sheet: 10 Useful Terms to Help You Talk About ArtArtist: Max Ernst
Title: The Entire City
Movement: Surrealist
LocationThe Tate Modern, London

 

7. Juxtaposition (juhk-stuh-puh-ZISH-un)

Definition: A combination of two or more elements to highlight a difference or make a statement (*feel free to throw this one around wherever, whenever)
In a Sentence: Warhol’s Marilyn juxtaposes Hollywood glamour with trashy tabloids”

Cheat Sheet: 10 Useful Terms to Help You Talk About Art Artist: Andy Warhol
Title: Marilyn
Movement: Pop Art
Location: Unknown

 

8. Motif (mo-TIF)

Definition: A theme or subject
In a Sentence: Surrealist artworks are known for their dream motifs”

Cheat Sheet: 10 Useful Terms to Help You Talk About ArtArtist: Salvador Dali
Title: Lobster Telephone
Movement: Surrealist
Location: The Tate Museum, London

 

9. Readymade (you got this one)

Definition: A typically mass-produced, non-art object that is placed in an art context
In a Sentence: “Is that a urinal on a pedestal?” “No, it’s Duchamp’s readymade art piece”

Cheat Sheet: 10 Useful Terms to Help You Talk About ArtArtist: Marcel Duchamp
Title: Fountain
Movement: Dada
Location: D.Daskalopoulos Collection, Scotland

 

10. Trompe l’oeil (tromp-LOY)

Definition: A trick or illusion most often used to give the impression of depth
In a Sentence: “The roadrunner painted a trompe l’oeil tunnel on the wall for the coyote to run into”

Cheat Sheet: 10 Useful Terms to Help You Talk About Art

 

Are you ready to talk about art? Have other important art terms you want to add? Let me know in the comments below!

 

 

 

 

 

 
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