Art SPEAK: How To Talk About Art

 Say This NOT That!

Every industry has its own language – the terms used by professionals and insiders that identify them as someone who knows what they are talking about.  When it comes to art I am sure you know what you like when you see it. I personally really appreciate people’s comments about my work but I think that sometimes people don’t offer their opinions because they feel they don’t really know anything about art. Knowing what you like is the first and most important thing that a person needs to know about art.

Nobody is born knowing how to talk about art – we all are taught.

 Today I thought I’d pass on some of the art speak terms and tips that I learned while I was in school.  Hopefully, armed with some insider knowledge you will feel much more comfortable asking questions and giving opinions.

Artist’s tend to use the word “Image” when talking about their paintings, prints, drawings, digital stills etc. I used to say “picture” alot in school and my teachers consistently responded with image. My best guess for this is that ‘picture’ suggests something that is done on paper where ‘image’ can refer to multiple media.

Composition” is what artists refer to when talking about the arrangement of shapes or figures in a painting. Photographers and artists often work with the “rule of thirds”.  Divide the photo or painting into thirds vertically and then into thirds horizontally. It looks something like this…


The places where the lines intersect (marked by the red dots) are particularly attractive to viewers and items placed in these positions will get the most attention.

If you want to know more about how the rule of thirds works check out Darren Rowse ‘s fantastic digital photography school.

There are a few other classic composition styles.

Triangle, Circular, And… “S” Shaped Compositions

Atlas Shrugged
Atlas Shrugged
I Recall
I Recall

Form, Line and Shape are also related to composition. If you can use these terms effectively they will go a long way towards making you look smart.


Form and Line generally refer to how the artist’s subject is represented in the piece. “Form” has to do with shading and texture and often the subject  will look fairly realistic. You will see the artist’s brush stroke when you look for form – for instance my brush stroke tends to be a vertical stroke you can see in on the canvas. Other artists prefer strokes that are more heavily textured or extremely smooth.


Line” can refer to the outline a subject has, that can make a figure or a painting look more cartoonish or like a page out of a colouring book. 


Think about whether the form and line express movement and or emotion.  


Marcel Duchamp’s painting Nude Descending A Staircase is a great example of a composition made out of shape… I’m not sure I can reproduce the image here but click the link and go see it!


There is a lot more to say – but let’s break it up, shall we?

More to come…


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