Can You Speak like an Artist?

A Dictionary for the Struggling Art Viewer

Have you ever been looking at an art exhibit when the label catches your eye? You see the title of the piece, author, medium and then a description of the piece. Often the description of the piece will read something like this: 

"Above the artist expresses the banality of the subject with regard to the issue of content; the reductive quality of the purity of line spatially undermines the exploration of montage elements. It should be added that the metaphorical resonance of the figurative-narrative line-space matrix brings within the realm of discourse the inherent overspecificity. It's difficult to enter into this work because of how the metaphorical resonance of the facture notates the larger carcass."

When did you stop reading that sentence? Its not always the case, but occasionally, the language associated with art can be quite daunting to the casual viewer. To assist you in the social awkwardness of not understanding a specific piece or being able to talk with other art viewers about a subject matter, here is a list of terms that can help you describe any art piece:

The Ultimate Guide of Art-Speak:

Abstract: Of or pertaining to the formal aspect of art, emphasizing lines, colors, generalized or geometrical forms especially with reference to their relationship to one another.

Abstract Expressionism: A movement in experimental, nonrepresentational painting originating in the U.S. in the 1940s, with sources in earlier movements and embracing many individual styles  marked in common by freedom of technique, a preference for dramatically large canvases, and a desire to give spontaneous expression to the unconscious. Think Jackson Pollock.

Chiaroscuro(chi-a-ro-scu-ro): The term for a contrast between light and dark. 

Derivative: Not original. Secondary.

Hyper-reality: exxagerated in comparison to reality; when the reproduced takes place of reality.

Grisaille: A style of monochromatic painting in shades of gray.

Impressionistic:Stylistically characterized by short brush strokes of bright colors in immediate juxtaposition to represent the effect of light on objects or a manner of painting in which forms, colors, or tones of an object are lightly and rapidly indicated with little attention to details.

Interesting: What you can always say when you really have nothing to say about a piece that doesn't strike your fancy or that you don't understand.

Kinetic art: Art relating to or involving motion.

Machine aesthtic: An optimistic belief in the role of abstraction in human life, and an emphasis on machine-like, undecorated flat surfaces.

Metonymy: Naming an attribute or adjunct of the thing itself: "Crown" for royalty or saying "count heads" for counting people.

Metanarrative: Any story told to justify another story or a story about oneself that provides a narrative of one's experiences.

Modern: Art that was produced in the late 1860s through the 1970s that rejected traditionally accepted forms and emphasized individual experimentation and sensibility. 

Nude: An idealized version of the naked human form. 

Realistic:A style where a treatment of forms, colors, space, etc. is in such a manner as to emphasize their correspondance to actuality or to ordinary visual experience.

Relational art: Often performative and interactive techniques that rely on the responses of others: pedestrians, shoppers, casual observers who become observers-turned-participants. 

Semiology: An omen, mark, sign, or trace.

Semulacrum: A vague representation, a semblance, or likeness to an object, person or place. 

Sublime: of such excellence, beauty, perfection as to inspire awe. Often accompanied with a sense of morality.

Synecdoche: A representation where the part is used for the whole or the whole for the part.

Now you too can walk the halls of museums and galleries without fear of not understanding what artists are saying to describe their art or exhibit. You can now say, "oh this piece is quite derivative" or "look darling, how sublime is this metanarrative?"And if all else fails, you forget these helpful terms, you can always just ask the question "What really is art?"




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  • Fact: Van Gogh used LUKAS 1862 Oils.
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A Jerry's Online Street Team Art Project with Vicki Gould

Professional Painter Vicki Gould uses SoHo Urban Artist Oil Colors to create a gorgeous, realistic tiger!

In her Artist Spotlight, we introduced Vicki Gould, an award-winning oil painter. From her experience, she finds that no other oil paints out SoHo Urban Artist Oil Colors for her style of painting. SoHo Oil colors provide a smooth color application and a soft, even consistency. They are a great paint to start learning with and perfect for painters on a budget. 


Vicki Gould didn't have the chance to try SoHo oil paints until recently. Vicki found them to be very smooth and needing very little medium. The color and saturation is better than most oils and at a much better value. Vicki likes to promote art in her community with the students and women in the area. When Vicki moved to the rural Kentucky countryside she wasn't sure she would find any arena for promoting art. However, what she found was that the community was abundant with artists, from folk to sculpture to fine art. Several of the community leaders have made great efforts in promoting all local artists and as a result the FEAT (Foothills Eco-Agri Tourism) organization was developed.

Laurel Gorge became an outlet for the sale of of art and has helped people recognize the talent located within our community. Vicki enters her paintings in local art shows and has sold several to local businesses. As a young child she had great interest in drawing and would add her own drawings to her school work. Vicki put aside her interest in drawing to raise a family and with much encouragement she decided to try moving forward from drawing to painting. She joined several other artists in the studio of Keith Klein where she honed her skills and shared techniques with the group. Vicki has donated works to auction for charity. She believes in community service and is an advocate for the art community. 

Materials needed for this project from SoHo Oil Colors:

  • Burnt Sienna
  • Red Orange
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Gamboge
  • Lamp Black
  • Zinc White
  •  Fredrix Canvas 16x20
  • Oil Brushes
  • Palette Knife

Step 1

Transfer onto canvas, I use several reference pictures to determine perspective and placement. I usually draw my image directly on the canvas. But you can use tracing paper or a graft. Once I have placed my image where I would like it I can start filling in the image.



Step 2


I started with the eyes and worked from there filling in the face and torso. I used SoHo Oil Paints Burnt Sienna, Red Orange and Gamboge mixed to make the body color and SoHo Lamp Black for the stripes and ears. 



Step 3

After you finish covering the torso, you can paint the background. I find a dark or black background can bring out the colors much better than a jungle theme. I used SoHo Lamp Black for the background and found it goes on very smooth and doesn't look dusty or dried out when it dries.


Step 4

Now I started to paint in the stripes and start to refine the eyes and around the mouth. Now I need to set the painting aside to dry so the black wont bleed into my other colors when doing the fur.





Step 5

In this step you will refine to color by using White, Burnt Sienna, Yellow, Red, and Yellow Ochre. I use a fan brush to help get the feathered look of fur. I also placed the whiskers and improved the eye structure. I also touched up the background. All that is left to do is let it dry and follow up with a retouch varnish of your choice. Then, all you need to do is find the perfect frame!



This painting came together extremely well! Try it yourself with SoHo Urban Artist Oil Colors and let us know how it comes out! 


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