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The CritiqueStudio ART TERM GLOSSARY

One of the best ways to critique your own work is to become familiar with art terminology. To better equip you for self-study, workshops, or reading, memorize and recognize how each of these definitions applies to a work of art. This alone will provide a better understanding your own work. This is a growing list, so check back often. You may also print it out as a reference...


An aesthetic, harmonious arrangement of parts to form a whole. There are two basic types of balance in art; see: formal and informal balance, below.


The reflecting of light in a narrow wavelength band within the visible spectrum on a given object as viewed by an observer. Hue.


The underlying and unifying organizational structure and design of a work of art. Also used to lead the viewer's eye in the direction the artist intended. The composition achieves balance and unity, but can convey restfulness, tension, etc. depending on the arrangement of the visual elements. An aesthetic, harmonious arrangement of parts to form a whole.


As relates to an artwork: whether or not the result of the art satisfied it's original intent or expectation. If an artist tried to convey concept of "pain" in a painting, was the artist successful in projecting that feeling? If the artist was trying to convey a bright, airy day, does the painting have that quality? If yes, than the painting is "effective."

focal point

The single main object or subject of a painting. It can be large or small, but is the central point attracting the eye, the other elements contributing and leading the eye to that point.


In art, creating an illusion of depth by creating near things larger and distant things appear smaller. The artist's ability to create three-dimensional depth on a two-dimensional surface in proper perspective.


The general structure, mass and volume of an object.

formal balance (symmetrical balance)

Things that are equal on both sides, a valentine, a glass, or two pillars flanking a door for example. In painting formal balance projects a feeling of restfulness, equality, calm, formality.

Golden Mean (The Golden Section)

Geometric formula whereby a harmonious composition is created. The proportions within any rectangle are geometrically divided with the focal point strategically positioned on the resulting intersection. Using this method assures good compositional structure and has been used by artists for hundreds of years.


A pleasing arrangement of elements that compliment each other and in balance visually.

informal balance (asymmetrical balance)

Characterized by arranging related or unrelated objects of different visual weight on either side of a painting/drawing which can contribute to interest, informality, tension or movement.

low-key painting

The use of a primarily dark range of colors throughout the painting. Low-key painting so referred to as being lower in value (see below.)


The brightest point where light hits an object .

high-key painting

The use of a primarily light range colors throughout the painting. High-key painting so referred to as being high in or raised in value (see below.)


Side by side; how one object or element next to each other relates.

muddy colors

Are considered to be too many colors combined to create a mud like color and therefore broken; colors greatly reduced in saturation; hue and intensity; low in value; tend to visually recede in a painting; undesirable in painting.


Lowering the value of a color (darkening) which assists in creating the illusion of three dimensions on a two dimensional surface.


A design created by the regular repeated arrangement of elements in a composition.


When drawing/painting shadows of trees along a pond for example, shadows always run across the water. (See "reflections")


The outline of the external surface or contour of an object.


Dimensions of height, width, and depth to describe an object which determines how much space it occupies. The relative smallness or largeness of an object in relation to other objects or space surrounding it.


Applying paint in small strokes or dots.


Raising the value of a color (lightening) which assists in creating the illusion of three dimensions on a two dimensional surface.


Lowering the value of a color (darkening) which assists in creating the illusion of three dimensions on a two dimensional surface.


The range and degree of lightness or darkness of a color, white being the highest or lightest value, black being the lowest or darkest value. (Also see tone & tint, and high-key and low-key above)


An image that does not completely fill the drawing or canvas -- the edges of the image feather or fade before reaching the side of the surface area. This can contribute to some very interesting treatments, particularly for illustrations. (See pencil sketch of door in the side bar of this page.) - Online Art SuppliesGo to Books for Artists