Art School

uCurate's Art School offers free resources- about art movements or styles, materials or media used to create art, and tips on collecting the right art for you. Our glossary is full of brief descriptions of many types of art. We have more articles coming soon.



Buying Art: A Guide for First Timers




abstract - The opposite of representational, abstract art is not intended to look like what we see. There are many types of abstract art- for example it can be geometric or gestural. See examples of abstract art. 

abstract expressionism - Going against what was taught in formal art academies, abstract expressionism was made famous by artist in America in the years following World War II. Often divided into two schools, abstract expressionism can be driven by an emotional (or primal) gestural approach called action painting (think Jackson Pollock), or guided by a spiritual or intellectual approach, creating large areas of a single color called color field painting (think Mark Rothko). See examples of abstract expressionism. 

abstraction - Abstraction refers to art that is not concerned with exact representation. It can be a matter of degree from a derivation of a likeness to pure abstraction that has no reference point in the visible world. See examples of abstraction. 

acrylic paint - A popular,  water-based, fast-drying versatile paint that can be easily modified by adding a variety of media. See art made from acrylic paint. 

action painting - A physical style of painting that typically uses bold brushstrokes and splattering paint and sometimes is dependent on an emotional state that spurs the artist. See an example of action painting.

aesthetic - Refers to the visual qualities of something, especially when it is pleasing to the eye. 

Africobra - The African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists was a Chicago-based group of African American artists who unified to create a style of art based off black identity. Founding artists included Barbara Jones-Hogu, Gerald Williams, Wadsworth Jarrell, and Jeff Donaldson. See examples of Africobra art.

allegory - Refers to when a work of art presents a deeper meaning, teaches a lesson or presents an extended metaphor. 

Art Deco - A style of art that gained popularity in the first half of the 20th century that embraced modern technology. It was an ornamental style that valued well-made objects and used new materials, such as chrome, plastics, and stainless steel. It fell out of popularity with the onset of World War II, when the times called for a focus on functional objects with less ornamentation. See an example of Art Deco art. 

Art Nouveau - A style of art that was most popular between 1890-1910 that was often inspired by natural forms such as the sinuous lines and flowing forms of plants or flowers. It championed asymmetry and the use of iron and glass. It fell out of favor with the onset of World War I and was later supplanted by Art Deco style. See an example of Art Nouveau art. 

Arts and Crafts movement - A decorative style that initially developed in Great Britain in the last 19th and early 20th centuries. It was a reaction against industrialism and valued hand-crafted objects that were often modeled after older styles. It gave rise to the Art Nouveau style and was later supplanted by Art Deco and Modernism in the 1920-1930s. See examples of art in the Arts and Crafts style. 

assemblage - A type of art that uses non-traditional materials (often found objects) pieced together to create three-dimensional sculptures. 

automatism - An artistic practice that allows the unconscious mind rather than intellect to guide the creator. It became popular among Surrealist and Dada artists in the first half of the 20th century. 

avant-garde - From the French for "advanced guard". It can be applied to art that is cutting edge and uses innovative techniques or concepts.


Baroque - A style popular in Europe from the early 17th century through the mid-18th century that is characterized by bold colors, dramatic subject matter and elaborate ornamentation. It followed the Renaissance and preceded the Rococo style. It was encourage by the Catholic Church to differentiate from more reserved Protestant art. Famous Baroque artists include Peter Paul Rubens and Caravaggio. See examples of Baroque art.

Bauhaus - A modernist German art school and movement beginning after World War I that sought to unify various art forms (architecture, visual arts, and graphic, industrial and interior design) into a comprehensive style. It featured simple geometry, consisting of circular and rectangular forms and minimal ornamentation. It ceased in the early 1930s under pressure from the Nazi regime. See examples of Bauhaus art. 

Bengal School - A style of art that developed in India and Bangladesh in the early 20th century as a reaction to British imperialism. It rejected Western art practices and instead turned to other areas of Asia (Japanese and Chinese art in particular) to create a new style freed from the trappings of foreign occupation. See examples of Bengal School art.


capriccio - A painting that combines buildings, ruins and other architectural elements (whether actual or imagined) together in a fictional arrangement. 

casein - A type of quick-drying tempera paint that uses milk as a binder to combine with pigments. It has an old history going back to ancient Egypt. It's use declined in the mid-20th century as acrylic paint became more popular. 

chiaroscuro - The use of strong contrasts between light and dark to create a striking visual effect. See example of chiaroscuro in painting. 

Chromoluminarism - A painting technique employed by George Seurat where pure colors were placed next to each other rather than mixing them on the artist's palette. See Neo-Impressionism for more information. 

Classical Art - Also called classicism, refers to a style that is influenced by ancient Greek or Roman art and is based off of accurate (although sometimes idealized) representations of anatomy, nature, or architecture. See examples of classicism in contemporary art. 

collage - Derived from the French word "to glue", collage consists of attaching paper or other two-dimensional materials to a surface. 

color field painting - A style of painting which emerged in the United States in 1940s and  overlaps with abstract expressionism, featuring large areas of single colors. It places less emphasis on stylistic brushstrokes and makes color the primary subject of the artwork. See example of color field painting.

color theory - The guided practice of mixing color to create new colors and the combination of certain colors to create pleasing visual effects. 

color wheel - The circular arrangement of primary, secondary and tertiary colors which is central to the understanding of color theory.  

Conceptual Art - A type of art that gave rise in the 1960s and questioned what art could be. It values the idea or concept over the ability to materialize something in an aesthetically pleasing way. Language art, which using text as the primary subject matter, is one type of conceptual art. 

Constructivism - An art and design movement that centered in Russia in the first quarter of the 20th century; Constructivism sought to achieve a goal greater than aesthetic beauty, rather valuing the social or utilitarian purpose that art could offer. It typically featured simple geometric forms with no ornamentation. See example of Constructivism in painting. 

Contemporary Art - Refers to art of the present day. 

contour - An outline; contour drawing refers to only using lines (no shading) to represent something. 

Cubism - A style of art developed  jointly by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque in the early 20th century that began deconstructing form into geometric planes. Later Cubism featured greater abstraction, more intersecting lines and the confusion between the figure and ground (or background).  See example of Cubism. 

curate - To select, organize, and present a body of art. 


Dada - An art movement that sprouted in the mid-1910s in reaction to World War I and colonialist, nationalist and bourgeoisie ideologies. It sought to turn the conventional art world on its head and favored absurdity, spontaneity and irreverence in contrast to the formality of academic art. Dada art poses the question of what art can be, perhaps most famously with Marcel Duchamp's Fountain (a urinal he placed on a pedestal and signed with a fictitious name).

De Stijl - An art movement (meaning "The Style") that began in the Netherlands in 1917 based on abstraction with a limited palette (black, white and primary colors) and only utilized vertical and horizontal lines and rectangular shapes. It sought to restore order after the chaos of World War I. It was founded by Theo Van Doesburg and made famous by Piet Mondrian. See example of De Stijl art. 

digital art - Art made using digital technology. It may be art created completely on the computer or could be a hand-made drawing or painting that is then scanned onto a computer and uses software to alter the imagery.  See examples of digital art.

diptych - A work of art made of two separate sections joined together.

Divisionism - Also called chromoluminarism or pointillism, the practice of placing pure colors near each other so that they would blend in the viewer's eye from a distance. See Neo-Impressionism for more information.

Dot Painting - An Australian Aboriginal style of art also known at the Western Desert Art Movement that is the basis for contemporary Aboriginal art made famous by the Papunya Tula art cooperative. It drew from traditional style of dreamtime sand or body art that began to be executed with acrylic paints on canvases. The art was altered from traditional practices to protect sacred information and make it more acceptable for public viewing.  See example of Dot Painting. 

double exposure - A photographic technique of where film is exposed twice showing two overlaid images. 

drypoint - A printing technique where lines are incised into a metal plate with a diamond-tipped needle, creating ridges (called burr) along the edges. The incised lines are filled with ink and paper is placed on the plate before being run through a press. The resulting print characteristically has a line with fuzzy edges due to ink sticking to the burr. 


Ecole des Beaux-Artes - From the French term "school of fine arts" and refers to schools that taught academic art based off Classical aesthetics. 

enamel - An oil based paint that creates a hard, glossy surface when dry. 

encaustic - A material for painting that consists of colored wax, often beeswax with dry pigment but may include oil paints or inks. It is applied hot before cooling and hardening on the surface. See examples of encaustic painting. 

etching - A printmaking technique where a metal plate is covered with wax and the artist draws in the wax with a sharp tool exposing the metal beneath. The waxed plate is placed in acid that etches the metal while the parts of the plate covered in wax remain protected. Ink is filled into etched lines before placing paper on the plate and running it through a press to create the finished image. 

expressionism - Art that values personal expression over accurate representation. It can either be purely abstract (abstract expressionism) or be a degree of abstraction such as exaggerated forms or distorted color choices. See examples of expressionism. 


Fauvism - A style of expressionistic art in the early 20th century that is characterized by bold brushwork and bright colors rather than accurate representation. Fauvism comes from the French word for "wild beasts"; the most popular artist of this movement is Henri Matisse. See example of Fauvism.

Feminist art - Art that addresses the inequality between the sexes. Feminist art may address the history of women's suppression or inadequate access to opportunity as well as expose societal constructs or redefine what it means to be feminine. See example of Feminist art. 

figurative art - Art that has a recognizable connection to objects in the real world, can include humans or animals but also inanimate objects (also called representational art).  See examples of figurative art.

formal - A term used to describe the shapes, lines or structure of a work of art (ex. the formal qualities of a painting). 

Futurism - An avant-garde art movement founded in Italy in 1909 that championed technology and the modern world. Its arts are often characterized by dynamism, the portrayal of speed and the glorification of war, as the proponents of this movement felt a violent and radical change from old traditions was needed to adjust to life in contemporary society. See example of Futurism in painting. 


gestural - Refers to applying paint with loose free-flowing brushstrokes. 

gouache - A water-based paint similar to watercolor but more opaque. It is typically made from natural pigment, a binding agent and water and has been in use in Africa, Europe and Asia for more than a thousand years.

graffiti - Images, writing or symbols applied to the sides of buildings, originally illicitly but in some contexts has become more acceptable as a component of Street Art. 


Harlem Renaissance - A time of cultural and intellectual growth of African American arts, literature, music, politics and philosophy in the 1920s and 1930s. It was stimulated by a large migration of African Americans from the South to New York City. The effects of this movement had a ripple effect on other cities in the US and the decades that followed. See example of art from the Harlem Renaissance. 


iconography - The study of the subject matter in art and the symbolic meanings behind it. 

impasto - A technique where paint is thickly applied resulting in a textured quality to the painted surface. 

Impressionism - A style that originated in the 1860s among a group of plein-air French artists (ex. Monet, Renoir, Cassat) who painted everyday life and landscapes rather than traditional subjects of Christianity and Classical mythology. Today it can refer to artwork created in this style, which features temporal qualities to indicate changing light or movement such as loose, unblended brush strokes. See examples of Impressionism. 

Ink Wash painting - A traditional Chinese painting technique (typically monochromatic) that dates back over 1500 years consisting only of tones of black ink, often executed on vertical scrolls. It was often taught to the educated elite along with poetry and calligraphy and evolved to capture the spirit of something or a place rather than be a literal representation. The practice also became popular in both Korea and Japan, where it became a common practice of Zen buddhist monks.  See example of ink wash painting. See example of Ink Wash painting. 

installation art - The creation of an immersive three-dimensional environment (typically indoors) that engages the viewer to react or participate in the experience. 

intaglio - Applies to various printmaking techniques that use a metal plate into which lines are incised to hold ink. Wet paper is laid on the carved inked plate before running it through a press to force the ink into the paper. Aquatint, drypoint, engraving, etching, and mezzotint are all types of intaglio. 


juxtaposition - An effect of placing two elements near each to create a contrast or comparison.


kinetic art - Artwork that involves motion and/or moving parts. 


lacquer - A material made from natural or synthetic substances that dries to create a hard and protective (and often glossy) surface. 

landscape - A work of art that features the land or outdoor nature scenes as the subject matter. See examples of landscape. 

linocut - Similar to a woodcut, a printmaking technique where a sheet of linoleum is carved into before rolling ink across the surface, followed by pressing paper against the linoleum to transfer the image. See example of linocut. 

lithography - A printmaking technique that consists of drawing made with a waxy or greasy substance on a stone, synthetic or metal plate. An acid and gum Arabic substance is then applied to the plate that affects the unprotected area of the plate, making those areas more likely to attract water. The stone is dampened and water coats the areas treated by acid, while resisting the oily drawing. An oil-based ink is then applied to the plate that adheres to the oily drawing while being repelled by the areas treated with water.  


manga - Graphic novels or comic books from Japan that are typically rendered in black and white. Manga has numerous categories and is targeted toward both children and adults.

medium - (plural: media) A material (or materials) used to create a work of art.

Mexican Muralist Movement - An effort initially begun in the 1920s by the Mexican government following the Mexican Revolution. It was nationalist movement designed to create pride in Mexican culture and history by painting large murals on buildings; Diego Rivera (Frida Kahlo's husband) was a central artist in this event. The momentum began in the 1920s has continued to reverberate for decades and influenced other movements and artists. See example of art from Mexican Muralist Movement.

Minimalism - An art movement that began in the United States in the 1960s as a reaction to expressionistic art forms. It favored an intellectual and non-representational to art, interested in capturing the essence of something. Visually, Minimalist art features simple geometric forms organized in a rational way, sometimes guided by mathematic principals. See examples of Minimalist art. 

mixed media - The use of multiple materials to create a single composition. See examples of mixed media art.

monochromatic - Referring to something that is made of a single color. 

monoprint - A single print in a series that differs from other prints through different applications of ink, color or other variations, which essentially creates a series with unique elements in each print.

monotype - An entirely unique work of art that is created by transferring an image painted on a plate by pressing it into paper or another material. 

montage - A related group of images pieced together within a single composition. 

motif - Either a recurring design (a pattern) or a dominant idea that is repeated throughout a work of art or series of art.  

mural - A large painting on a wall, often the exterior of a building. 


narrative art - A work of art that tells a story, whether universally known or subjective. 

naturalism - Also called realism or verism, a style of art that maintains a strict adherence to nature in the sense of creating a faithful or accurate representation of the subject (neither abstracted nor idealized). See examples of naturalism.  

Neo-Impressionism - A group of Post-Impressionist who relied upon the science of optics to create a style of art characterized by applying pure colors near each other, understanding that at a certain distance the colors would mix in the viewer's retina rather than needing to mix them on the painter's palette, This practice began in Paris with Georges Seurat in the 1880s; it has been also called chromoluminarism and divisionism but most popularly (and least accurately) pointillism. See example of Neo-Impressionism. 

Neoclassical Art - A style of art that became prominent in mid 18th century in Europe that was inspired by ancient Greek and Roman art. It began in opposition to the asymmetry and frivolity of Rococo (Late-Baroque) art, and presented a more serious mood that favored symmetry. Neoclassicism overlapped with the Age of Enlightenment and a renewed interests in Classical art, architecture, literature and philosophy. See example of Neoclassical art.

Neue Sachlichkeit - Translated as the New Objectivity or the New Matter-of-Factness, it was an art movement that began in Germany in the 1920s in reaction to Expressionism. It is characterized by a straightforward, all-business approach to painting that omitted emotion and more realistic approach missing the embellishment and dramatic elements of earlier styles. See example of Neue Sachlichkeit art.


oil paint - A type of paint made of pigment combined with oil, most commonly with linseed (flax) oil but can be made with a variety of other types (such as sunflower, soybean or hemp oils). See examples of paintings made from oil paint. 

Outsider art - (Also called art brut) Term applied to artists who are self-taught or are uninformed about the mainstream art world or the history of art. More recently is has also be applied to artists who may manipulate the style of their work to mimic an untaught or naive style. See examples of Outside Art. 


palette - The array of colors employed by a particular artist; may also refer to the thin board that an artist uses to hold and mix paints while painting.

palette knife - A tool with a handle and thin blade of metal or plastic used for mixing or applying paint. 

panel - A board made of wood or synthetic material used to paint upon. 

papier collé - (French for "pasted paper") A technique of collage that only involves paper, made famous by Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso during their Cubist period. 

passage - (French term pronounced pah-sahj) A technique involving intersecting facets of patch-like brushwork so that elements flow together and the distinction between different sections or foreground and background are blurred. See example of passage in painting by Paul Cezanne. 

perspective - An art technique to create the illusion of depth or three-dimensionality on a two-dimensional surface. 

pigment - The substance, typically powdered, that creates the color in paint. 

plate - A flat surface used in printmaking into which the design is either drawn, carved or etched.

pointillism - Term applied to a style of art practice by Paul Signac and Georges Seurat in which pure color was applied to the surface rather than mixing them on the palette, based of the optical principal that a viewer's retina would mix color at a certain distance. While the most popular, pointillism is not the most accurate term to describe Seurat's style since he often employed small patches of color rather than points or dots. Preferred terms are divisionism, chromoluminarism or Neo-Impressionism. See example of pointillism. 

Pop Art - A term used to art that appropriates imagery from popular culture- movies, tv, comic books, mainstream literature, fashion and advertising. It is often playful, irreverent or critical of traditional art or society. It may also refer to art that mimics the types of imagery from popular culture. See examples of Pop Art. 

Post-Impressionism - Name applied to painters from the late 19th and early 20th century who reacted against Impressionism adherence to a scientific studies of light and adopted more expressionistic styles. Artists included Paul Gaugin and Vincent Van Gogh. See example of Post-Impressionism. 

Postmodernism - A loose term that refers to a variety of styles that react against the strict tenants of modern design. It embraces personal expression and a return to decoration, embellishment, and even a playfulness that was absent from universal objectives of modern design. See example of Postmodern architecture. 

primary colors - The main colors (red, blue, yellow) that when combined create secondary colors. 

primer - A liquid applied to a surface prior to painting to seal it and allow better (and longer-lasting) adhesion of the paint.

printmaking - An art technique that involves transferring an image rather than painting directly on the surface. Typically the image is drawn, carved or incised on a surface called a plate before applying ink and placing paper on the plate and pressing it to transfer the inked design to the paper. All printmaking techniques (lithography, screenprint, etching, woodcut or linocut) create series of multiple images besides a monotype. See examples of printmaking. 


readymade - An object that is already made and recontextualized by an artist by placing it with a new setting and identifying it as art. Readymades were first used by Dada artists, particularly Marcel Duchamp, and presented a challenge to the existing definitions of what can be art. See example of a readymade sculpture.

Renaissance - A period of flourishing of art, architecture, science, literature and philosophy based upon a revival in the understanding of Classical culture. It was centered in Italy but spread across Europe with its peak in the 15th and 16th centuries.  

representational art - Art that depicts someone or something (i.e. not abstract art). 

Rococo - A style of art characterized by elaborate ornamentation, floral design, asymmetrical curves or scrolls and an overall ostentatious presentation. It was an extension of the Baroque period, beginning in France in the first half of the 18th century and was supplanted by Neoclassicism, which was a reaction to the frivolity of Rococo art and architecture. See example of Rococo painting. 

Romanticism - A cultural movement in Europe that applied to art, literature, music, and philosophy which appreciated emotional, individual and dramatic expression as well as an admiration for the natural world and pre-Renaissance (Medieval) culture. Beginning in the late 18th century and continuing through the mid-19th century, it was a reaction to the Industrial age, urbanization, science-forward attitudes of the Age of Enlightenment, and simplicity and rationality of Neoclassicism. See example of Romanticism in painting. 


satire - In visual arts, a method of commentary or critique of societal, political, religious or philosophical conventions that uses absurdity, ridicule, caricature, irony or humor. 

screenprinting - (Also known as silkscreening or serigraphy) A printmaking technique that involves stretching fabric over a frame and then uses stencils to block off sections of the screen. Ink is then forced through the unmasked areas of the screen onto paper, canvas or another material. 

secondary colors - Colors (orange, green and purple) created from mixing two primary colors.  

shade - For painters, a shade is when black paint is mixed with a color to make a darker version of the original color.

Shanghai School - A style of Chinese painting centered in Shanghai beginning in the late 19th century that marked a break from the monochromatic ink wash literati painting. Shanghai School art was more colorful and more concerned with accurate representations than the symbol-rich literati style. See example of Shanghai School painting. 

site specific - A designation for a work of art that is dependent upon or designed for a particular location. 

sketch - A quick rendering to illustrate basic components or a mood and is often the precursor to a more in-depth composition. 

solvent - A substance used to thin paint or reduce drying time of painting (most commonly turpentine).

stain - A paint or dye that is absorbed into canvas, wood or another painted surface rather than drying on the surface. 

stencil - A design, pattern or symbol cut into an impenetrable surface to control where paint or ink is placed.  

still life - A common type of art depicting inanimate objects- food or flowers are traditional examples. 

Street Art - A type of art created in public locations that has evolved out of the practice of graffiti. Today it can also describe art created in this style that has been painted on canvas or panels intended for personal consumers. Also called neo-graffiti or guerrilla art. See examples of Street Art. 

stylized - Nor naturalistic, an artwork or component of an artwork where something is presented in either an abstracted or expressionistic way. 

subject matter - The visual components or theme within a work of art- what it represents or is about. 

sublime art - A type of art that illustrates the greatness of the natural world. It is meant to be awe-inspiring and often features a small human subject set amidst a large nature scene. Sublime art is related to and typically included within the greater movement of Romanticism. See example of sublime art. 

Suprematism - A non-representational form of art from the early 20th century that rejects references to the external world. It is purely abstract and according to the originator (Russian artist Kasimir Malevich) of the term, it aims to demonstrate "the supremacy of pure artistic feeling". See example of Suprematism. 

Surrealism - An art movement that sought to break from the conventions of academic art constrained by rules and intellect. Instead surrealists attempted to tap into the subconscious components of our minds to portray scenes derived from dreams or create art without any planning in the form of automatic drawings made by unconscious or involuntary action derived from the inner workings of our psyche. See examples of Surrealism. 

Symbolism - A philosophical art movement from the last half of the 19th century that attempted to exhibit dreams and ideals, often with visual metaphors. Symbolist painters used symbols but typically personal or esoteric ones not known to the mainstream population. Some symbolist painters became a source of inspiration for later Surrealist artists.  See example of Symbolism.


tempera - A quick-drying and long-lasting paint that uses a water-soluble binder (traditionally egg yolk or milk) combined with pigment. Tempera paint has a long history going and was known to be used in ancient Egypt and throughout Europe until it began to be supplanted by oil paint beginning in the late 15th century. 

tint - For painters, a tint is when white paint is mixed with a color to make a lighter and/or brighter version of the original color. 

tone - In art analysis, it refers to the lightness or darkness of a particular color. For painters, a tone is when grey paint is mixed with a color to make a more muted version of the original color. 

triptych - A painting or other work of art made of three separate parts, sometimes attached, but not necessarily. It was a common format used for Christian icon paintings, typically featuring a central panel with a main figure (Jesus, Virgin Mary or a saint) flanked by panels with images of other saints or angels. 


Ukiyo-e - A type of Japanese art popular from the 17th to 19th centuries, which prominently featured scenes tied to leisure and entertainment (sumo wrestlers, kabuki theater, idealized women, travel scenes, and erotica were common). It coincided with the rise of the middle class, allowing more people to be able to afford to decorate their homes with woodblock prints and paintings. See example of Ukiyo-e art. 


vantage point - In photography, the position from which a photographer has shot a photo.  


watercolor - A type of translucent paint that is created from fine pigment combined with a binder (commonly gum Arabic) and thinned with water. Also refers to paintings created using watercolor. See examples of watercolor. 

woodcut - A printmaking technique where a flat piece of wood is carved into before the raised areas are inked and paper is pressed into the wood to transfer the image. 


The best artists at great prices

Free shipping

Curated selections

Pay by installment with ShopPay