…about art, that is. There are tons of art terms out there, many not fully understood by average gallery-goers, like you and me. Have you ever wondered what exactly a giclee is; when you see gouache, do you wonder if they really mean gauche; would you afraid to actually text “AP” not knowing what it really means? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, fear not, we’re here to help!

Abstract: Abstract art rejects the use of identifiable shapes and subjects to tell story or deliver the message. The composition can be stark or busy with masses of color and seemingly non-related shapes or lines. Work can easily disarm the viewer because it typically lacks informative details that we rely on as explanation of the piece. Think Jackson Pollock or Pablo Picasso.

Artist Proof: “Artist Proof” or “AP” refers to the first piece reproduced in an edition that has been inspected and OK’d for reproduction by the artist. There may be more than one artist proof in an edition. This first piece is the standard by which the rest of the edition will be judged and insures the rest of the edition will be exactly alike in quality and details. The artist proof is generally coveted in the edition because the artist has been directly involved in its production and “laid hands” on the process.

Contemporary vs. Modern Art: Modern art generally refers to art that was created from about 1880-1950/60s. Contemporary art refers to art created after that time period and includes any work being created now.

Contour drawing: Drawing or painting where the strokes create an outlined effect of the shape.

Digital enhancement: Most often a question that comes up in reference to photography. Digitally enhanced photographs have been modified from the original with the use of computerized programs. There are definite schools of thought that frown upon the use of computers to alter an original image. Purists would argue the expertise of the photographer at the moment of image capture is in great part what separates the professional artist from the amateur. 

Expressionism: Artwork that uses its medium in a subjective way to evoke, and often provoke, emotion. The artist’s objective is to use the work as a vehicle to express a feeling or emotional experience. Often distortion or exaggeration may be used to exemplify the intent. The work of Vincent Van Gogh and Henri Matisse are good examples.

Encaustic: Encaustic work has gained popularity over the past few years. Encaustic painters use a combination of papers, objects and textures layered between special wax that is melted and painted on to the surface (most often a board of some kind). Excaustic wax is available in a wide palette of colors. The wax is then “hit” with the flame from a blow torch, which serves to smooth out the surface of the wax, or soften the wax to allow for manipulation of its surface to add textures. Encaustic works can be many alternate layers of objects and wax, or just wax. We have many notable encaustic painters in Portland.

Figurative: Generally refers to artwork whose subject is people, but could also be animals. 

Giclee (zhee-clay): Giclees are actually prints of two-dimensional work, in any media. The image is copied and printed using a high-resolution ink jet printer. The image can be printed on almost any surface, but most often we see giclees printed on canvas. A good giclee reproduction will be very close in appearance to the original and often an artist will enhance the effect by painting details directly on to the giclee itself. Artists and collectors like this method of printing because it produces a very high quality print and is a more affordable option for collectors. Giclees may be printed in limited editions, and also increase in value over time. As with all art, giclees require care in where and how they are hung. Be sure to ask when you purchase.   

Gestural: Drawing or painting where the strokes are not defined and suggest looseness and movement.

Gouache (guash-like squash): Gouache is a water based paint that is opaque, as opposed to watercolors which are considered transparent.

Impasto: A method of painting that uses very thick layers of paint, creating a dimensional quality to a surface. Paint is applied thickly using a brush, palette knife or any other tool that would achieve this effect.

Impressionism: Artwork in which the artist paints in such a manner as to suggest the subject. By applying color in isolated strokes, rather than blending and mixing, the shapes and subjects take form when the eye is able to filling the blanks and “see” the object as a whole. Closer examination of an impressionist painting would reveal the lack of any lines to delineate a shape. Famous Impressionists are Claude Monet and Georges Seurat.

Limited Edition: Limited edition art is art that is produced in a limited quantity. The number of pieces produced varies from piece to piece, but is always more than one. Limited edition art is found in all mediums including painting, sculpture, artists’ books, glass, etc. You will sometimes see the word “unique” used in relation to edition size. This tells you only one piece exists, hence the expression “unique”. More often than not, limited editions are signed and numbered. Edition information looks like this: 2/15. This means it is the second one produced out of 15 total in the edition. The gallery might say something like “There are 15 in the edition, and this is number 2.”

Pop(ular) Art: Artwork that depicts popular social references i.e. Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s soup cans or Roy Lichtenstein’s comic prints.

Realistic or representational: Artwork that depicts its subject as it is perceived in real life.

Surrealism: Subjects are depicted in environments that might be reminiscent of dreams or even nightmares due to their unbelievable and sometimes grotesque imagery. Salvador Dali is a great example. Check this link for a fascinating film about the preservation of Dali’s work.

Wash: A thin, very liquid layer of color applied to the surface of a canvas or paper. A wash can be applied with oils thinned with distillate; with watercolors or inks diluted with water, or acrylics diluted with water.