Want to sound like an art expert? Then commit a few of these terms to memory and have your arty pals running for the dictionary, (and no, impasto is not an Italian meal!) These are just some of the more useful terms which are used.


An non-figurative representation of real world objects which amounts to an interpretation of the world and may not be recognisable. Abstract art reinterprets the world in a visual way, and is typically shown as a relationship between shape, line, form and colour. Examples are common Think of Picasso, Klee, Chagall etc.


This term applies to a mix of materials which create three-dimensional layers from a fixed ground. The usage of different materials makes it similar to a collage only in a three-dimensional form. Assemblage was originally found in Cubism and in the work of artists such as Man Ray and Vladimir Tatlin, who often used detritus or junk in their works.


The French term avant-garde is used to describe artworks, movements, or artists that are experimental and forward-thinking. They are at the forefront - the advance guard so to speak.


Brushwork clearly refers to the way an artist applies paint to a surface with his brush or sometimes with other tools, even his fingers. It is usually characterised by the size, texture, and precision of the strokes. For example, brushstroke may be described as “tight” or “loose” depending on how noticeable they are.


Italian for light and dark, chiaroscuro is the use of contrasts between brightness and shadow to achieve a sense of volume and dimension. This unique method was developed during the Italian Renaissance by Leonard da Vinci, and in the Baroque period by Caravaggio, and in the Dutch Golden Age by Rembrandt. It was also adopted by Victorian artists and is still used today.


The composition of a work of art is the way it's put together, assembled or in which its visual elements are arranged, especially in regard to one another.


This was a 20th-century art form which developed in the 1960s, when artists started to emphasise ideas and concepts as the pre-eminent objective, even over the final artwork itself. Art that is conceptual is free from all the normal rules and can take any form from sculpture and painting to performances.


As the basic outline of something, a contour is one of the fundamental building blocks of a drawing. Using different contour lines can change the way an artwork appears and is most evident in simple line art. One example is 'The Dance' by Henri Matisse which is known for its distinct contours.


In sculpture, contrapposto, which translates as 'counterpose' in Italian is an asymmetrical posture , (one that isn't symmetrical), in which most of a figure's weight is distributed onto one foot. And example of this is famously shown in Michelangelo's David Statue.


A work of art is said to be figurative when its subject matter is representational, meaning that it aims to depict the physical appearance of things as they appear in actuality to the artist as opposed to an abstract depiction.


The foreground of a piece of art is the part of the composition that's closest to the observer. It is separate from the background, which appears to be further away.


Foreshortening is a method in which distorts perspective to portray an illusion of depth. Foreshortened subjects, such as the lower leg for example, appear to recede into the picture itself.


A genre refers to a type or category of art such as painting, sculpture etc. This can be further broken down into sub-categories like landscapes, nudes, abstracts, still lifes etc.


Iconography refers to the subject matter used to convey meaning or communicate a certain message in a work of art. Examples are typically well known images or symbols which are used as emblems, such as Lotus flowers in Indian art to denote spirituality, a dove to convey peace, poppies to suggest war etc.


This Italian word which means 'mixture' refers to paint thickly applied to a painting to create texture. While it was first used by Venetian painters during the Renaissance, it became really popular in the 19th century. The famous seascape painter J.M.W Turner used impasto to build up layers of colour and visual excitement his work. Painters would use palette knives for this method, which in a sense resembles a form of sculpturing only using paint.


A medium is the material, paints, canvas, clay etc used to create a work art. Other examples of mediums are oil paints, marble, pastel and watercolour.


As an art movement, the term 'modern' refers to art created between the arrival of Impressionism and Pop Art and the introduction of contemporary art. “Modern” can mean current or cutting-edge art.


In the visual arts, a motif is an element of iconography, see above. In paintings, a motif can be virtually any facet of the composition. In the decorative arts and architecture, it is usually a recognizable symbol which repeats itself, like a dove or a cross etc.


Narrative is the visual storytelling that occurs in a piece of art, usually a painting. While not every piece of art will have a story as such, narrative art requires painters and sculptors to show visual cues to lead observers through a series of events.


Pentimento or 'repentance' in Italian refers to evidence that an artist has painted over a another painting. In 'The Old Guitarist' by Picassso, the vague outline of a woman's face is quite apparent beneath the final brushstrokes of the new rendering.


Perspective is the representation of three dimensional depth and space on a flat plane. There are two main types: linear and atmospheric. Linear perspective uses intersecting lines and vanishing points to make objects appear further away. Leonardo da Vinci says in a 'Treatise on Painting' that atmospheric perspective illustrates the idea that “colours become weaker in proportion to their distance from the person who is looking at them” as a result of tonal changes.


Scale refers to the relative size of an object to another. Often, as in the case of large-scale paintings, this comparison is based on the painted object's actual size.


Normally associated with the paintings of Leonardo da Vinci, sfumato from fumo or 'smoke' in Italian is a method of shading and colour blending to evokes a soft, 'smoky' haze. This technique can be detected in the blurred background and softly-defined facial features of the Mona Lisa.


A style is a classification of a piece of art's visual appearance. Often, style is characterized according to the distinctive methodology of an individual artist, an art movement, period, or culture.


Tone refers to the lightness or darkness of a colour and is quite a well known term.


In French, trompe l'oeil actually means 'deceiving the eye.' It is a method which creates optical illusions of three dimensionality by utilising eye-catching lifelike imagery.

The above are just a few of the more commonly used terms in art but of course there are many others.