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The Art History Glossary

Bewildering Words and Befuddling Phrases

Photo: David Singleton; Distributed under Creative Commons 2.0 Attribution License


What's in a word? When it comes to art and art history, quite a lot! Not only do you have basic technical and material terms that vary depending on discipline, there are minefields of wieldy academic words, jargon that "everybody knows," short versions of multi syllabic movements, and random acronyms and abbreviations. Additionally, there are many common words that have a completely different connotation in the context of art. And if all of that isn't complicated enough, art is also chock full of lingo from around the globe, accumulated throughout the course of human history. Adding these factors up can make understanding an arty conversation difficult, and reading about art history an exercise in frustration ...

... which is why we are both here. Neither one of us thinks life needs to be more complicated than it already is, so here are some answers to your burning art-historic questions. Every letter (above) leads to its own page of terms beginning with that same letter. Select any one to browse alphabetized explanations covering:

  • What is ____?
  • How do you say ____?
  • Which language does ____ come from?
  • Why is it called ____?
  • Who coined the phrase ____?
  • When and where did we decide ____ described art?
As you browse, please bear in mind that around 12,000 terms need to be added, give or take three thousand. Feel free to contact me with specific words or phrases that you'd like to see included sooner rather than later; your Guide to Art History generally reacts well to polite prodding. In the meantime, happy hunting to you!

Image Credit: "So many words." Taken on March 22, 2005. Photo: David Singleton; Distributed under Creative Commons 2.0 Attribution License.

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