|Art Glossary of Terms
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Art Glossary of Terms - Art Lexicon MA to MZ
m or m. - Abbreviation for meter.
machicolation - In the architecture of castles, an opening in the floor of an overhanging gallery through which defenders dropped stones and boiling liquids on attackers.
macramé - Long cords knotted to form a pattern. This is an old craft revived to great popularity in the 1960s and 1970s. (pr. mack"rah-may')
maculate - Spotted; stained; blotched. Or, defiled; impure. The opposite of immaculate. Also see ablaq, brindled, cleaning art, clean up, dot, maculate, pattern, piebald, punctate, and variegated.
madder lake - A particular red pigment produced with the synthetic coal-tar dye, alizarin.
madrasa - In Islamic tradition, a combined school and mosque. (pr. mah-drah'sah)
magazine - A periodical, a publication typically printed on paper, containing a collection of articles, pictures, or other features. In architecture, a room or building designed for storage. Also see mass media and tear sheet.
magenta - A color also known as fuchsia and hot pink; a moderate to vivid purplish red or pink, named after the town of spheres of cyan, magenta, yellow, and blackMagenta, in northwest Italy. Magenta is one of the four colors in the four color process for reproduction color in print called CMYK. The CMYK process creates the color spectrum using cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. (pr. mah-jen'tah)
magic lantern - A precursor to the modern slide projector, an optical instrument having either a way to use sunlight or a candle (and later an oil lamp, "oxy-hydrogen limelight," or "arclight") and a lens through which an image painted or printed on a glass plate was projected and enlarged. Early in the 15th century an Italian named Giovanni de Fontana described a lantern to which a picture was attached in such a way that it would project the picture onto a wall. The first magic lanterns to employ lenses were developed in the mid-17th century. Historians disagree about who was the first to invent the device. It appears to have been the product of a number of small improvements. By the early 19th century numerous itinerant projectionists traveled around Europe with magic lanterns and collections of slides, putting on shows wherever they could draw a paying audience. Multiple projectors allowed for the dissolving of one image into another. Some slides boasted special effects. Some had extra layers that could be moved across each other. One of these, very popular with children, was see thumbnail to leftThe Rat-Swallower. One rat after another could be made to appear to jump into the open mouth of a sleeping man! A narrative sequence could be presented, such as the one created in England about 1812 to tell the story a battle between a British warship and a French one. A narrator told the audience how it happened while the pictures were projected, ending on an image of the French ship in flames. (Remind you of the 2003 movie Master and Commander?) In the middle of the 19th century, with the invention of photography and the availability of magic lanterns for use in one's home, the number of magic lantern slides produced increased tremendously. Commercially available sets of slides often featured photographs of famous places and celebrities, or actors performing allegories. The popularity of magic lanterns ended with the invention of cinematography at the end of the 19th century.
Magna - A line of painting products made by Bocour Artists Colors, 552 West 52nd Street, New York, NY 10019. Magna Plastic Colors are permanent pigments ground in an acrylic resin with solvents and plasticizer. They are miscible with turpentine as well as mineral spirits. They dry rapidly, leaving a mat finish. Magna Varnish is a transparent isolating varnish for use with Magna Plastic Colors and also useful as an isolating varnish in oil painting and some complex techniques. Without its use the Magna colors are too readily picked up by additional coats.
magnitude - Greatness in size or significance. Also see colossus, colossal, depth, diameter, direction, height, length, measure, and width.
magnum opus - Latin for a great work. Although a masterpiece is a work that demonstrates mastery, a magnum opus is the greatest work in the entire life of an artist, architect, filmmaker, or a writer. Many regard Mona Lisa (La Joconde) as Leonardo's magnum opus. Also see aesthetics, assessment, craftsmanship, goal, motivation, nuance, posterity, quality, standards, success, and virtuosity.
mahlstick - Also called a bridge, a long wooden stick used by painters as a tool to support and steady the hand that holds the brush, conserving the arm's strength, and protecting the painting's surface. Traditionally the end of the mahlstick that is placed on or near the work is wrapped in leather. (pr. mahl'stick) Also spelled maulstick.
main case - Mother mold.
majolica or maiolica - A type of earthenware which originated during the Renaissance. It is coated with a tin glaze which produces the effect of a rich, enameled surface. Majolica is often lustered. Although the name majolica is derived from Majorca (an island east of Spain from which Italy imported early specimens from Islamic Spain), the name is often reserved for Italian examples. (pr. my-ah'le-kuh)
majuscule - A capital letter; literally a large letter. "Majuscule" looks like the complement to "minuscule," and the resemblance is no coincidence. "Minuscule" appeared in the early 18th century as a word for certain ancient and medieval writing styles which had "small forms." Eventually, "miniscule" came to be used for any lowercase letter, and gradually acquired a more general adjectival use for anything very small. "Majuscule" is the counterpart to "minuscule" when it comes to letters, but it never developed a broader sense (despite the fact that its Latin ancestor "majusculus" has the broad meaning "rather large"). The adjective "majuscule" also exists (as does "majuscular"). Not surprisingly, the adjective shares the noun's specificity, referring only to large letters or to a style using such letters. (pr. maj'us-kyool or muh-juss'kyool)
makimono - A Japanese horizontal scroll. (pr. mah'kee-moh'noh) Also see Japanese art and kakemono.
malachite - A green mineral used in jewelry, intarsia, and as a pigment. Illustrated are some polished pieces, mared by malachite's typical multigreen patterning, and about half of their actual size. Chemically it is green copper carbonate, CuCO3 Cu(OH)2.
malanggan - Intricately carved Melanesian ceremonial sculptures — some call them masks — were made for elaborate rituals, some to memorialize the dead, some for a boy's initiation / circumcision rituals, and some, on a smaller scale, for other events. Different clans have owned different designs, and any artist commissioned to make a malanggan could work only designs owned by the patron's clan. Chicago's Field Museum says "Malanggan carvings took months to make, but after guests had viewed them, the carvings were burned or left to rot, breaking the connection with dangerous supernatural forces called into them when they were made." Also see primitive.
malleable - Capable of being shaped or formed, whether by hand or with tools; plastic, pliable, pliant, ductile. Materials especially considered malleable are moist clay, modeling clay, polymer clay, warm wax, and molten glass and metals.
mallet - A wooden hammer used to apply WEAR SAFETY GLASSES!force to chisels in wood carving. Also see ballpein hammer, bush hammer, and claw hammer.
Manchu - A Chinese dynasty (also called Ching and Qing) which lasted 1644-1911. Also see Chinese art.
mandala - Any of various radial geometric designs symbolic of the universe, traditionally used in Hinduism and Buddhism as an aid to meditation. (pr. man'duh-luh, mun'duh-luh)
mandapa - In Hindu architecture, an assembly hall, which is part of a temple. (pr. man-dop'uh)
mandated art curriculum - The curriculum or guidelines an art educator is required to follow by a school district or state government. Some school districts have their own curriculum or guidelines, while others follow state guidelines.
mandorla - A gloriole or glory when it surrounds the entire figure of God, Christ, the Virgin Mary, or a saint with a large oval of radiant light . Mandorla is the Italian word for almond. When it surrounds the head only, it is called a halo or nimbus. It indicates divinity or holiness.
maniera greca - A formal Byzantine style that dominated Italian painting in the tweflth and thirteenth centuries. It's characterized by shallow space and linear flatness. (pr. man-yayr'uh greck'uh)
manifesto - A public declaration of principles, policies, or intentions. Although usually of a political nature, there is a history in art, especially in modernism during the first half of the twentieth century, of the spokesmen of various avant-garde movements publishing manifestos which declare their theories, motivations and direction, stimulating support for them or reactions against them. These movements have included Futurism, Rayonism, and Surrealism. To see an important example, read The First Surrealist Manifesto, 1924. (There is also a PDF version that's better for printing.)
maniplate, manipulation - To manipulate is to change or model by careful use of the hands; to manage shapes and forms in a space, less by additive or subtractive techniques than by moving things around.
mannequin - A life-size full or see thumbnail to leftpartial representation of the human figure. Mannequins are often used for the fitting or exhibiting of clothes. May also refer to see thumbnail to righta jointed model of a human figure used by artists, especially for use with drapery. This term is derived from an old Dutch word for little person, mannekijn. It was absorbed into English usage at about the same time that English speakers took from the Dutch words the words "easel" and "landscape."
mantel or mantelpiece - The outer wall and casing of a fireplace or furnace. Sometimes simply called a mantel. Also called a chimneypiece or a fireplace surround. Easily confused with mantle.
mantle - A sleeveless protective outer garment or cloak. Easily confused with mantel or mantelpiece. Also see chiton, costume, fibula, and himation.
manual skill - Dexterity. Educators refer to manual skill as well developed fine motor or small muscle control. Also see craftsmanship, manipulate, and talent.
manufacture - To fabricate or process from raw materials, especially by means of a large scale industrial operation. And, either the act of manufacturing or the manufactured product itself. Also see Art & Creative Materials Institute (ACMI), ASTM International (American Society for Testing and Materials), collectible, commercial art, commodity, interdisciplinary, paint-by-number, and Velcro ®
manuscript - See book, bookbinding, duodecimo, folio, illumination, incunabulum, lettering, octavo, quarto, rotulus, sextodecimo, signature, text, tricesimo-segundo, typography, and vicesimo-quarto.
maquette - A small sculpture made as a preparatory study or model for a full-scale work. (pr. ma-kett')
margin - An edge and the area immediately beside it, as of a page. A border. Also see marginalia and remarque.
marginalia - Notes in the margin or margins of a page in a book, sketchbook, or sheets of paper. Drawing in the margins or borders of prints is called remarque. Also see palimpsest.
marionette - In puppetry, a small-scale, complete figure, usually of a person or animal and made of wood, that is moved from above by strings or wires that are attached to its jointed arms, legs, and body.
mark - A visible trace or impression on a surface, such as a line, a dot, spot, stain, scratch, blemish, mar, bruise, crack, dent, boss, kerf, or pleat. Also see abrade, align and alignment, carve, change, distress, draw, etch, paint, palimpsest, patina / patinate, register, rugosity, signature, and transform.
market value or market worth - The monetary equivalent of an art object, writing, intellectual property, etc. (Market value should not to be confused with the term value.) This can be needed in order to better know what price to ask or pay for it, to appropriately insure it, or out of simple curiosity. Market value can be determined with varying degrees of reliability either through an appraisal, by offering it for sale either via auction or gallery (traditional or online), or by an advertisement placed in a newspaper or magazine. [A much more in-depth article on this subject is coming soon.]
marouflage - A painting done on canvas and then cemented to a wall or panel. (pr. may"re-flahzh') Also see bricolage, collage, découpage, femmage, frottage, fumage, montage, parsemage, photomontage, and mural.
marquetry - Inlay or veneers of wood form a pictorial image; as related to parquetry which forms geometric designs. At the height of its use in late 17th century France, fine furniture was embellished with marquetry produced with such rare and extremely expensive materials including ebony, tortoiseshell, and brass, often inspired by Japanese lacquer. In the 18th century marquetry began to be created in exotic woods — Brazilian rosewood, violet wood, mahogany, sandalwood, etc. — in colors including reds, yellows and greens. Marquetry furniture reflected the taste for all things floral, and paralleled the 17th-century "tulipmania" and the work of Dutch painters such as Van Huysum. Frisage is a marquetry technique in which small flakes of precious woods are cut diagonally and arranged so the direction of the grain of the wood produces optical effects akin to iridescence. "Diamond" and "butterfly wing" designs of c. 1720 were achieved in this way.
mars pigments - Artificial iron oxide pigments, yielding strong tints from yellow through brown to violet.
Masonite ® - A trademark used for a type of fiberboard employed as a surface for painting, but manufactured principally as wallboard for use in insulation, paneling, etc. It is dark brown, with one side that is very smooth, and the other bearing the texture of an impressed wire screen. Gesso is commonly applied to Masonite as a ground. Masonite can be quite permanent. It sometimes occurs in print in lowercase.
masonry - A construction made of brick, stone, or concrete, joined by mortar. Might also refer to incrustation — the earliest style of Roman fresco painting. Also see ablaq, architecture, nails, and the names of various architectural elements, such as arch, vault, etc.
mass - Refers to the effect and degree of bulk, density, and weight of matter in space; the area occupied by a form such as a building or sculpture. As opposed to plane and area, mass is three-dimensional.
mass media - Means of communication to a large population — a mass of people. These generally include newspapers, magazines, radio, or television. Also see ephemera, new media, and popular culture.
mastaba - A low rectangular ancient Egyptian tomb made of mud brick or stone masonry, with sloping sides and a flat top. It covered a burial chamber. (pr. ma-stah'ba)
master, old master, and master's degree - In the arts, a master is a person whose teachings or doctrines are accepted by followers. In the old apprenticeship system, a master was an artist of great and exemplary skill, whose followers might be called apprentices or disciples.
masterpiece or masterwork - A work done with extraordinary skill; especially a work of art, craft or intellect which is an exceptionally great achievement. To some, this means the best piece of work by a particular artist or craftsperson. Historically, a piece of work presented to a medieval guild as evidence of an apprentice's qualification to attain the rank of master. Also called masterwork. First known in English in the early 17th century, this word was derived from the Dutch meesterstuk or from the German Meisterstück. The French equivalent is chef-d'oeuvre. Synonymns might include: classic, jewel, magnum opus (Latin for "great work"), ne plus ultra (Latin for "nothing is higher"), nonpareil (French for "without equal"), tour de force (French for "feat of strength"), pièce de résistance (French for "piece with staying power"), summit, prize, treasure, masterstroke, and crowning achievement.
mastic - A gum or resin obtained from certain coniferous trees, used in varnish, employed as a medium, as an adhesive, or as a sealing agent.
mat, matt, or matte - A decorative border placed around a picture, often under glass, also called matboard. It serves as a frame or provides contrast between the picture and the frame. Or, to put a mat around a picture. Also, a thin, flat sheet of glass fiber material used to reinforce laminating resin, hollow cast ciment fondu, and modeled concrete sculpture. Surface mat is quite fine, chopped strand mat is coarse, loosely woven fabric. Also, having a dull, flat, non-reflective, sometimes roughly textured finish, perhaps of paint, metal, paper or glass; the opposite of glossy. Also see edge, matting tools, mount, polyurethane, preparator, semi-matt, semi-gloss, and water gilding.
matboard - A mat that is typically cut from a heavy cardboard. Matboard serves two very important functions in the overall framing of a picture. First and foremost it protects the artwork and second it showcases and enhances the subject being framed. It is important to protect works of art on paper, photographs, and other framed objects from direct contact with glass. Matboard provides a barrier from the airborne pollutants, moisture, acids and other damaging impurities that can impact the life of the framed piece. Matboard when used correctly also leads your eye into the artwork, enhancing the overall effect. Whenever a work's presentation or storage environment should be of archival quality, be sure to use acid-free matboard. It is more expensive, but is much less likely to discolor artworks over time.
matching - Making a harmonious pairing or grouping of materials or objects, usually based on formal qualities. Also see complementary colors.
material - The substance or substances out of which something is or can be made. Examples include: clays, fibers, glass, papers, plastics, metals, pigments, stones, woods, etc. In body art the material might be the artist's body. In conceptual art there might be no material at all.
material culture - All of the physical products of a culture: painting, sculpture, architecture, decorative arts, books, tools, arms and armor, costumes, musical instruments, advertisements, etc. Similarly inclusive is the term visual culture. Also see applied arts, art, commercial art, craft, ethnosphere, popular culture, and realia.
Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) - A Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) contains basic information intended to help you work safely with a hazardous material. Some such information is likely to be posted as a label on the product. It might also be posted on the manufacturer's Web site. An international organization whose members are hundreds of manufacturers of art materials, the Art & Creative Materials Institute (ACMI), authorizes the placement of its seals — AP and CL — on packaging, in order to inform consumers of the safety and hazards of those products. In the United States the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the federal agency that specifies what information must be given on the label and MSDS for every material that OSHA has classified as hazardous.
materialism - The point of view that physical well-being and worldly possessions matter most in life. Alternatively, an excessive regard for worldly concerns.
matting tools - Punches with patterned striking faces (often criss-crossed or granulated) used in chasing to texture metal surfaces after casting. Also see mat.
mature - To bring to or to be in a state of stable solidity or hardness. Said of plasters, clays, glazes, some plastics, and other substances. Sometimes the change occuring is a chemical one, as with gypsum plaster. With ceramic or glazed work, high enough temperatures must be reached that these materials vitrify. Also see maturing point.
maturing point - The temperature at which all gases are driven out of clay. And the temperature at which powdered glaze or enamel fuses. Also see mature.
maul - A wooden club used to strike a wood carving chisel. A maul is shaped from a single piece of wood taken from the base of a young tree.
mauve - Pale bluish to deep purple in color. It was the first of the aniline dyes developed by the English chemist William Henry Perkin in 1856, while he was trying to synthesize the drug quinine from coal tar. The word "mauve" is derived from what the French named it: mauveine. In its first decades, mauve was a huge commercial success. Also see alizarin and dye.
mbari - Ceremonial houses filled with clay sculptures and paintings, honoring community deities of the Ibo tribe in Africa. Also see African art.
meander - To follow a winding and turning, seemingly random or chaotic course. Curvatious windings or sinuosities, as of see thumbnail to righta stream or path. May refer, in Greek art and architecture, to a fret or key pattern.
meaning - What is conveyed or signified by something; its sense or significance. An interpretation. However an artist may intend an artwork to impart meaning, and whatever an artist does to pack a work with meaning, in the end, it is the viewer who creates meaning in each and every image.
measure and measurement - See angstrom, Centigrade, centiliter, centimeter, circumference, cubic, diameter, dimension, direction, foot, gauge, gram, hardness, horology, iconometer, inch, kilogram, liter, meter, metric system, mil, milliliter, millimeter, paper, pi, pica, polygon, polyhedron, pound, quart, ream, scale, size, temperature, time, volume, weight, yard, and the names of the kinds of materials to be measured, such as color, light, nails, paper, sand, sheet metal, and wire.
mechanical drawing - Drawing of mechanical subjects, done by a draftsman with the help of mechanical tools or instruments, such as a compass and a T-square. More of this kind of drawing is being done with the use of computers than in the past, and is then referred to as computer graphics or computer assisted design (CAD). This is the opposite of freehand drawing.
medal - A flat piece of metal that is embossed or engraved with a design, and intended to honor or remember a person or event. Medals are usually coin-shaped. The front or primary side is known as the obverse, and the back or secondary side as the reverse.
medallion - A large medal worn around the neck on a heavy chain, ribbon, or rope. Or, a relief sculpture resembling a medal, usually of circular or oval design, used as a decoration.
media - The plural form of medium. Also, may refer to mass media, which includes such printed media as books, magazines, and newspapers; radio; cinema; and such electronic media as television, Web pages, CD-ROMs, DVDs, etc. The term new media has become widely used from the early 1990s to refer to the latest electronic media, as well as what effects are now possible with recently developed hardware devices and software. Also see feather, hypermedia, and mixed media.
medieval - Refers to the Middle Ages.
mediocre - Ordinary; average to inferior in quality, with a negative connotation.
medium - The material or technique used by an artist to produce a work of art.
megalith - Literally, "great stone"; a large, roughly hewn stone used in the construction of monumental, Stone Age structures such as dolmen. The adjectival form is megalithic.
megalography - A genre in which representations are intended to glorify or idealize excessively some event, person or thing.
megaron - A rectangular hall, fronted by an open, two-columned porch, traditional in Greece since Mycenaean times. Also see Greek art.
megilp - A mixture of linseed oil and mastic (or turpentine) used as a medium.
mehndi - The traditional art of hand and foot painting in India, and parts of Africa and the Middle East, especially for weddings, festivals, and other celebrations. (Literally, mehndi is an Indian word meaning myrtle, a plant important to many Indian people, especially those of Rajasthan.) Among the most common motifs in the design of mehndi in India are: kairi (meaning mango) or paisley — portraying a slice of the fruit, rupee (the currency of India), peacock (the national bird of India), singhada (water chestnut), rice, lotus creeper, mehndi (myrtle) plant, sakarpara (a sweet Indian pastry), chopra (a board game), kumbh kalash (sacred urn), tulsi plants, bajot (ceremonial table for serving special meals), and bijani (fan). Also see body art, Hindu art, and tattoo.
melamine - A synthetic resin or material manufactured from that resin. Melamine can be purchased in tough, non-porous sheets.
melting point - The temperature at which a solid substance becomes liquid.
memorabilia - Objects collected for their historical significance, for the memories they evoke — often sentimental. Examples include old posters and other advertisements, election campaign buttons, party invitations, packaging, theater tickets, and other realia and ephemera.a collection of printed memorabilia of the Beatles When history remembers these people and events, their memorabilia can become highly collectible.
menhir - A Stone Age monolith, uncut or roughly cut, standing singly or with others in rows or circles.
Meroitic art - Contemporary with early imperial Rome, the Meroitic civilization flourished along the fertile banks of the Nile River in the land of Kush in what is now the Sudan. This African dynasty traded not only with Egypt to the north but also with Greece, Rome, and peoples of the Near East. Consequently, official Meroitic art reflects the absorption of external influences adapted to serve local rulers.
mesh - The size of the holes in a screen or sieve; also, to strain through a sieve. Also see gauge and sand.
meta-cognition or metacognition - Thinking about what one is thinking, or, self-monitoring one's cognitive process. Some propose that meta-cognition represents the seventh and highest level of learning outcomes in the cognitive domain — the level of understanding just beyond synthesis and evaluation. Also see Bloom's Taxonomy and theory.
metal and metallurgy - Metal is a category of elements with supreme capacities for shape-shifting, physical strength, and weight. Metal's surfaces can show an array of colors and textures, capable of polishing to a high gloss. They can be melted, cast, or fused, hammered into thin sheets, or drawn into wire. Typical metals form basic oxides with oxygen, salts with nonmetals, and alloy with each other. Examples include aluminum, antimony, chrome, copper, gold, iron, lead, nichrome, nickel, palladium, platinum, silver, tin, titanium, and zinc.
metallic lamelia - Foil adhered to paper.
metalpoint - A metal stylus of lead, bismuth, silver, or gold, which, when drawn upon an abrasive surface, produces a faint gray line — a trail of extremely fine particles of metal rubbed from the stylus. Metalpoint lines become more visible as those particles oxidize. Artists of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries drew with metalpoint on papers coated with bone-dust or chalk (usually tinted). "Metalpoint" is the most common name for such styluses, even though they may be of any of several different metals, because it is difficult to identify the specific metal a draftsman used by simple observation. Contemporary scientific methods can reliably identify the metal in such work. Alphonse Legros (French, 1837-1911) was one of the several artists who revived the use of metalpoint in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
métamatic and métaméchanique - In the work of Jean Tinguely (Swiss, 1925-), machines programmed electronically to act with antimechanical unpredictability, jerking eratically, sometimes scribbling on rolls of paper. Tinguely was influenced by Klee, Miró and Duchamp. His most famous work was Homage to New York, 1960, an assemblage including an old piano, a pram, a meteorological balloon, and various machine parts; it self-destructed with pyrotechnics before a crowd; its remnants now at the Museum of Modern Art, NY. See automata, Dada and Surrealism.
metamorphic rock - Rock formed from igneous or sedimentary rock which has been geologically changed in its crystalline structure by great heat and pressure. Examples include marble, schist, and slate. Also see stone.
metamorphosis - A transformation, as by magic. To metamorphose is to change in appearance, character, condition, or function. In biology, a change in the form and perhaps the habits of an animal during its normal life cycle, as, in insects, the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly and, in amphibians, the changing of a tadpole into a frog.
metaphor - A situation in which a word or thing that ordinarily designates one thing is used to designate another, thus making an implicit comparison. One thing conceived as representing another; a symbol. One of the basic tropes, along with simile, metonymy, synecdoche, irony, parody, etc., metaphor is most often confused with simile. But simile is specific, as in Robert Burns' "O my love's like a red, red rose," while metaphor is poetic, as in U.S. Grant's "I am a verb." Grant could have said "I am a man of action, like a verb," which would have been a simile; instead he let the reader take the metaphoric leap. A metaphor is like a fragrance that calls up a powerful memory (which is a simile), while a simile lets a metaphor be its umbrella. (So I strain for effect. A lexicographer's reach must exceed his grasp, or what's a metaphor?)
metaphysics - The branch of philosophy concerned with the ultimate nature of existence. Ontology (the study of the nature of being), cosmology, and philosophical theology are its main branches.
meter - A measure of distance, a little longer than a yard. To convert meters into centimeters, multiply them by 100; into feet, x 3.28084; into inches, x 39.3701; into yards, x 1.0936. To convert square meters into square feet, multiply them by 10.7639; into square yards, x 1.19599. To convert cubic meters into cubic feet, multiply them by 35.3147, into cubic yards, x 1.30795. Abbreviated m.
métier - An activity or a subject in which an artist specializes, or for which he is especially suited; his forté. (pr. may'tee-ay") Also see exemplar, exemplum, and master.
metonymy - A situation in which one word or thing is substituted for another with which it is closely associated. Not to be confused with metaphor or symbol. One of the basic tropes, along with metaphor, synecdoche, irony, parody, etc. (pr. muh-tah'nuh-mee) Also see analogy, content, simile, and taxis.
metope - The space between triglyphs in a Doric frieze, part of the entablature which is above columns. Or a comparable space on another object. (pr. met'uh-pee)
metric system - See centigrade, centimeter, circumference, cubic, diameter, dimension, foot, gauge, gram, horology, inch, kilogram, liter, meter, milliliter, millimeter, paper, pi, pica, polygon, polyhedron, pound, quart, ream, temperature, time, volume, yard, and the names of the kinds of materials to be measured.
mezzotint or mezzoprint - In printmaking, an engraving process that is tonal rather than linear, or prints produced by this process. Developed in the seventeenth century, mezzotint was used widely as a reproductive printing process, especially in England, until photographic processes overtook it in the mid-nineteenth century. Mezzotints were most commonly produced from 1780s-1870s. A copper or steel plate is first worked all over with a curved, serrated tool called a rocker, raising burrs over the surface to hold the ink and print as a soft dark tone. The design is then created in lighter tones by scraping out and burnishing areas of the roughened plate so that they hold less ink, or none in highlights. Details may be sharpened by engraving or etching in a "mixed mezzotint."
mica - Aluminum and other silicate minerals. It is found usually in granite, either in scales or crystals.
middle ground - The part of an artwork that lies between the foreground (nearest to the viewer) and the background.
mihrab - In Islamic architectural tradition, the most important element in any mosque, the niche that indicates the direction of Mecca (qiblah). Because it functions as the focal point in prayer ritual, its decoration was and continues to be executed with great skill and devotion.
mil - A unit of measurement of the thickness of sheet materials equal to one thousandth of an inch. Paper and plastic sheet materials are most commonly measured this way. Also see gauge, ream, sheet metal, and weight.
milagro - Milagro is the Spanish word for "miracle." Milagro is also a term for ex voto. In Mexico, Latin America, and the southwestern United States, milagros are small metal sculptures (usually made of silver) that believers present at shrines, typically attaching them to altars, and to statues or effigies of saints, etc., as votive offerings — promoting the healing of sickness, successful romance, and the granting of other requests. When the offering's objective is healing, a milagro is likely to a photo of several milagros, many are heart shapedbe in the shape of the afflicted part of the body. see thumbnail to leftThe Mexican milagros shown here include a number that are crosses or hearts, the largest of which is about 3 inches high (7.5 cm).
mild steel - Steel which contains only a small proportion of carbon. This is the kind of steel most commonly used for construction of large structures. Also see iron, metal, and weld.
millefiori - From the Italian, meaning "a thousand flowers," millefiori are glass rods, typically one foot in length, each with a diameter of about 3 millimeters. From the outside, they appear to be simple glass canes. But when seen in cross-section, each piece reveals a multicolored radial design, each looking much the same along the cane's length. Making millefiori requires great craftsmanship, because each color comes from a different mineral, and has its own melting point. Since every rod is a composition of several colors, it's important that the artisan controls the various components' temperatures in order to fuse the specific colors in each pattern. The most reknowned producers of millefiori are the glassmakers at Murano — an island near Venice. There, millefiori are made in order to use them in the production of "murrina" — objects such as beads and paperweights, as made at Murano for more than 700 years. Also see kaleidoscope.
millennium - A period of a thousand years. Because the first millennium CE began with the year 1 CE, 2000 was the final year of the second millennium, and December 31, 2000 was the last day of the second millennium. From the first day of 2001, we have been living in the third millennium CE. Also see time.
milliliter - A unit of liquid measurement equal to a cubic centimeter, or 1/1000 of a liter. To convert milliliters into ounces (US, fluid), multiply them by 0.0338. Abbreviated ml.
millimeter - A unit of distance measurement equal to 1/10 of a centimeter, or 1/1000 of a meter. To convert millimeters into inches, multiply them by 0.03937. Abbreviated mm.
minaret - In Islamic tradition, a tall, slender tower attached to or built near a mosque. Every minaret photo of a minarethas a balcony that a muezzin (Muslim crier) uses to call the faithful to prayer five times a day.
minbar - In Islamic tradition, the pulpit found near the qiblah wall in a mosque used by the Imam (prayer leader) for sermons and prayer. Minbars are made of wood, stone, marble and alabaster, and usually richly decorated. (pr. meen'bar)
mind - There are many theories about the human consciousness, leading some to conclude that the mind is one's soul, spirit, or brain. A psychologist might say that the mind is the portion of the brain in which it performs as the conscious and subconscious. Consciousness manifests as feelings, perceptions, thoughts, will, reasoning, memory, and imagination. The mind includes or relies on the parts of the brain in which we process the input of our senses. Here it is that we pay attention, apply knowledge and creativity, form opinions, make decisions, and direct behaviors. In it dwell and are processed concepts, meanings, ambiguities, fantasies, inspirations, mysteries, and motivations.
mineral spirits - A POISONOUS!petroleum distillate used as a paint thinner substituting for FLAMMABLE!turpentine. It is less expensive than turpentine, less sticky, and has a less enduring odor. There is a deodorized version which costs considerably more. Hazardous in several ways, it is quite flammable, necessitating special care in its use, storage and disposal. It is known in Britain as white spirits. Also see marbling, stain, and stain removal.
Ming - A Chinese dynasty that lasted 1368 - 1644.
minuscule - A small letter. "Minuscule" appeared in the early 18th century as a word for certain ancient and medieval writing styles that had "small forms." Eventually, it came to be used for any lowercase letter. "Minuscule" then acquired a more general adjectival use for anything very small. "Majuscule" is the counterpart to "minuscule" when it comes to letters, although it is not used as the opposite to miniscule in its last sense. (pr. min'us-kyool) See lowercase, miniature, size, and uppercase.
mischio - Italian word for a smoky pattern in marble. (pr. mee'she-oh) Also see fumage and funk art.
miscible - Refers to liquids that can be mixed in all proportions to each other, and they will be completely soluble in each other. Also see aqueous, caustic, clean up, detergent, hazardous, solvent, vehicle, viscosity, volatile, water-soluble, wax, and wetting agent.
misericords - Wooden relief carvings in Gothic churches that decorate the undersides of seating ledges provided for clergy during services. Misericords often portray biblical scenes, but many have secular subjects. A great many are grotesque, fantastic, and witty. In England, exemplars are often cited at the cathedrals of Ely, Exeter, Wells, and Lincoln. The word is derived from the Latin word misericordia, which means mercy or pity. A misericord, then, is an expression of God's mercy for the exhausted clergyman who would otherwise have to stand.
miter - To cut two pieces of wood (or another material) at 45° so that they align perfectly at right angle. This picture shows how two mitered pieces can then be glued and nailed together. This is often done to produce a painting stretcher, a frame, or some other structure. Also see adhesives.
mitsuda-e - In Japanese art tradition, a painting medium requiring oil and lead oxide.
mixed media or mixed-media - A technique involving the use of two or more artistic media, such as ink and pastel or painting and collage, that are combined in a single composition. The term intermedia is used synonymously. (Avoid using "multimedia" as a synonym, because that is likely to cause confusion.)
mizu-e - In Japanese art tradition, a type of print with faintly printed outlines. Also see nise-e.
ml or ml. - Abbreviation for milliliter.
mm or mm. - Abbreviation for millimeter.
mobile - A construction made of objects that are balanced and arranged on wire arms and suspended so as to move freely.
modeling or modelling - A sculpture technique in which a three-dimensional form is manipulated in a soft material such as clay — either modeling clay (Plasticine is a well-known brand) or ceramic clay — or wax. The term also refers to the effect of light on a three-dimensional form. The three-dimensional quality of such a form is emphasized by means of light, shadow, and color. Reproducing the effect of light, shadow, and color in a drawing of such a form makes it seem more realistic. For example, see thumbnail to rightMasaccio (Italian, 1401 - c. 1428) modeled the figures in his painting of The Holy Trinity to make them appear solid and round.
modeling clay - A nonhardening substance used for modeling sculptures — Roma Plastelinafor sketches, models for casting, and by students. It is plastic (in the sense of being workable). It cannot be used for permanent work (unlike ceramic water-based clays, it is never fired or glazed). colored modeling clayAlthough it becomes less useful as its oil either dries or is absorbed from it (making it brittle) or as it picks up impurities, but it can be reused for many years if kept relatively clean. Even new it can vary greatly in quality. Most common varieties are made of clay mixed with petroleum greases, oils (typically linseed oil), turpentine, sulfur dioxide, and pigments. It softens as it is modeled by the hands (because of their warmth), pieces joined to each other by pressing them together and blending with fingertips. Equipment that might be used with modeling clay include modeling tools and armatures. Molds can be made from modeling clay. There are numerous commercially produced types, including the brand named Plasticine. It is sometimes called model clay.clay menagerie
modeling tools - Tools for working with or modeling clay. The examples shown here are each six inches long, hand carved and polished in boxwood. Modeling tools can also be made in plastic and metal. They can also be improvised with such things as "popsicle" or "craft" sticks, dowels, table knives, spoons and forks. Lots of other workable things may well be found in kitchens drawers and among your hardware stuff. Also see ceramics, loop tool, plasticity, subtraction, and wood.
modern - Generally refers to recent times or the present, or the sense of something being contemporary or up-to-date, recently developed or advanced in style, technique, or technology. Sometimes this refers to something being innovative or experimental. Compare and contrast this with moderne, modernism, and postmodernism.
moderne - Striving to be modern in appearance or style but lacking taste or refinement; pretentious. A spelling more common in the 1930s to 1950s. (pr. moh'dern") Also see Art Deco.
Modernism or modernism - An art movement characterized by the deliberate departure from tradition and the use of innovative forms of expression that distinguish many styles in the arts and literature of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Modernism refers to this period's interest in:
module - A basic unit of which the dimensions of the major parts of a work are multiples. The principle is used in sculpture and other art forms, but it is often most employed in architecture, where the module may be the dimensions of an important part of a building, such as a column, or simply some commonly accepted unit of measurement (the meter or the foot, or, as with Le Corbusier, the average dimensions of the human figure).
Mohs Scale of Hardness or Mohs Scale - A scale for classifying stones based on relative hardness, determined by the ability of harder minerals to scratch softer ones. The scale includes the following minerals, in order from softest to hardest:
moiré or moire or moir - a white moire fabricFabric, especially silk, rayon, linen, or another material with a wavy or rippled pattern or texture impressed into its surface by engraved rollers. a red moire fabricOriginally moiré was a mohair fabric with this lustrous finish. ("Moiré" was first a French word that was probably a modification of the English word "mohair.") This kind of fabric is also called "watered," as in "watered silk." The water reference is to moiré's resemblance to gentle waves on water. The process of producing these products has nothing to do with water.
mold [American spelling] or mould [British spelling] - A hollow form for shaping (casting ) a fluid or plastic medium, such as clay, plaster, plastic or molten metal. In papermaking, the lower screen that holds the pulp (the upper frame is a deckle). Also see core, gelatin, hollow casting, investment, latex, lost-wax casting, mother mold, polyurethane, release agent, and silicone rubber.
molding [American spelling] or moulding [British spelling] - A strip that adds variety and interest to a surface by creating areas of light and shadow, as in a frame. In architecture, any of various long, narrow, ornamental bands having a distinctive profile (plain or ornamented) which project or recede from the surface of a structure. Its purpose may be to break up a surface, to organize it, to accent it, or to decorate it. Brunelleschi (Italian, 1377-1446) used dark moldings along with pilasters and columns to divide and organize the flat white walls inside the Pazzi Chapel.photo of moldings mitered, glued and nailed together
Momoyama - A period in Japanese art history from 1490-1573. It was preceded by the Sengoku Jidai period (1490-1573) and followed by the Edo/Tokugawa period (1615-1868).
monastery - A dwelling place of persons under religious vows. Also see illumination, manuscript, medieval, miniatures, monasticism, and scriptorium.
monasticism - Refers to a way of life in which individuals voluntarily join together in isolated communities called monasteries where they spend their days in prayer, manual labor and self-denial. Also see historiated, illumination, manuscript, medieval, miniatures, and scriptorium.
monetary value or monetary worth - The price (not to be confused with the art term value) that an art object, writing, intellectual property, etc., might bring in the market place. Buyers and sellers need good information in order to know what could be a high, low, or fair price to pay or ask for something, in order to appropriately insure it, or out of simple curiosity. Monetary value can be determined to varying degrees of reliability by an appraisal, or by offering it for sale either via auction or gallery (traditional or online), or by an advertisement placed in a newspaper or magazine. [A much more in-depth article on this subject is coming soon.]
monitor - In computer activities, a device that accepts video signals from a computer, and displaysanimation of snow on a video monitor images and text on a screen as they are generated by the computer. [Chances are good you're looking at one right now!] Or, a video screen used to check the signal being captured by a camera or being broadcast. Or, more generally, to monitor is to check, watch, or keep track of. Artists, for instance, might monitor the activities of collaborators, or the firing of a kiln, or the curing of a mold; art educators monitor their students' achievements. Also see aspect ratio, assessment, backlight, camcorder, digital image, DPI, full-screen image, graphic design, icon, pixel, terminal, and WYSIWYG.
monochromatic - Consisting of only a single color or hue; may include its tints and shades.
monogram - A design composed of one or more letters, typically the initials of a name, used as an identifying mark. Many artists have signed their work with a monogram rather than their entire name.
monograph - A nonfiction book on a specific, often limited subject; most likely about the work of one artist.
monolith - A stone, either decorated or not decorated, erected as a single slab or shaft. Also see cairn, colossus and colossal, commemorate, cromlech, dolmen, megalith, memorial, monument, obelisk, Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and Stone Age.
monoprint - One of a series of prints in which each has some differences of color, design, texture, etc. applied to an underlying common image. Not to be confused with a monotype.
monotony, monotonous - Monotony is the state or quality of unpleasantly lacking variety. Also see homogeneity, interesting, obsession, pattern, and unity.
monotype - A one-of-a-kind print made by painting on a smooth metal, glass or stone plate and then printing on paper. The pressure of printing creates a texture not possible when painting directly on paper. Not to be confused with a monoprint.
montage - A single pictorial composition made by juxtaposing or overlapping many pictures or designs. The art or process of making such a composition. Also, a rapid succession of different images or shots in a movie. (pr. mahn-tahzh')
monumental - In art criticism, any work of art of grandeur and simplicity, regardless of its size, although it often connotes great size. Also see colossus and colossal and Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
mood - An overall feeling or emotion, often equated with expression.
mordant - In etching, a bath of either an acid or a diluted acid in which a plate or a piece of glass to be etched is placed. Also see aqua fortis and nitric acid.
mordant gilding - Oil gilding.
moriage - In Japanese art, forming patterns in raised gesso.
mortar - An adhesive material used in construction, especially a mixture of cement or lime with sand and water.
mortise or mortice - A cavity in a material (usually wood, but sometimes stone or metal) into which a tenon is made to fit in order to create a joint. Mortises are usually rectangular or trapezoidal in shape. Also, to make such a cavity or to join pieces of material with them. "Mortice" is an alternative spelling. Also see dado and kerf.
mosque - An Islamic place of worship. "Mosque" is a French word, an adaptation of the Arabic word masjid, meaning a place of prostration. A mosques which is also partly a school might be called a madrasa. Mosques can also be meeting places for military, political, judicial, and purely social purposes in Islamic communities.
mother mold - In casting, a mold outside of another mold. It is a support shell that helps to hold the shape of a rubber or latex mold. A mother mold is generally composed of two pieces which surround the sections of a piece mold. It must be made of a rigid material such as fiberglass or plaster. Sometimes called main case. Also see foundry and lost-wax casting.
mother-of-pearl - The pearly, iridescent internal layer of certain mollusk shells, used as an inlay or veneer in jewelry, furniture, and other decorative objects. "Interference" caused by small surface grooves on the surface — minute striations on thin layers of chitin — results in an apparent bending of light. Thin film interference causes the coloration. The colors displayed are dependent on the thickness of the layer of chitin or its index of refraction. Also see intarsia, marquetry, and mosaic.
motif - A consistent or recurrent conceptual element, usually a figure or design. In an architectural or decorative pattern, a motif is employed as the central element in a work, or it is repeated either consistently or as a theme with variations. (pr. mo-teef') Also see tessellation.
mottling - The appearance of spots or blotches of color in paint or on paper.
mould [British spelling] or mold [American spelling] - A hollow form for shaping (casting) a fluid or plastic medium, such as clay, plaster, plastic, or molten metal. In papermaking, the lower screen that holds the pulp (the upper frame is a deckle). Also see investment, laid paper, lost-wax casting, molding, and wove paper.
mount - To attach securely to a support, as when an artwork on paper is affixed to a sheet of cardboard or another flat and rigid material. Or, to place one or more works in an appropriate site for display, as when a gallery mounts an exhibition. Or the object onto which something is affixed for display. It may be important to choose materials and techniques that are archival (acid-free) and either permanent or reversible.
movable type - In printing, type, such that each character is cast on a separate piece of metal. Johan (or Johannes) Gutenberg (German, c. 1400 - c. 1468) is generally credited with the invention of movable type. Also spelled moveable. see thumbnail to rightThis is a modern recreation of Gutenberg's type.
MP - Abbreviation of the print term monoprint.
MPEG - Motion Picture Experts Group. Used to refer to an image compression scheme for motion-picture video they developed. MPEG takes advantage of the fact that full-motion video is made up of many successive frames, often consisting of large areas that don't change, such as blue sky background. MPEG "differencing" notes differences, or lack of them, from one frame to the next. Also see digital imaging.
MT - Abbreviation of the print term monotype.
mucilage - Gum or any viscous substance derived from plants. May refer to a type of adhesive made with such ingredients. Also see gum arabic or gum acacia.
mudra - In Hinduism, a stylized gesture of mystical significance, usually in representations of Hindu deities.
mullion - A thin member that divides a window or that separates one window from another. Usually mullions are vertical, but they can also be horizontal, diagonal, and curved. Also see architecture, came, fenestration, frame, glass, lunette, and molding.
multiculturalism - A movement to broaden the range of cultures we study, in contrast to the prevailing (traditional ethnocentric and racist) opinion that the great accomplishments have been made almost exclusively by males of European descent (DWMs). Multiculturalism urges people of every culture to assess the qualities of other cultures through the lens of their own.
multimedia - In personal computing, software and applications that combine text, high quality sound, graphics, and animation or video.
multiple - More than one of the same object or subject. Sometimes meant as an equivalent to edition, the term traditionally preferred by makers of prints and cast sculptures.
multiple intelligence theory - A set of theories about how people learn in a variety of ways. Howard Gardner (American, 1943-), a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, developed and introduced the theory of multiple intelligences in his 1983 book Frames of Mind. Gardner proposes that there is not a single "intelligence" but rather that there are eight (some call these "learning styles"):
multisensory - Involving several or all senses. See interdisciplinary and motivation.
Muromachi / Ashikaga - A period in Japanese art history from 1392 - 1573. It was preceded by the Kamakura period (1185-1333) and followed by the Sengoku Jidai period (1490-1573) and the Momoyama period (1573-1615).
muse and muses - Generally, a guiding spirit or source of inspiration. In Greek mythology, the nine patron goddesses of the arts; daughters of Zeus (principal god of the Greek pantheon, ruler of the heavens) and Mnemosyne (a titan who personified memory.) They were: Calliope (muse of epic or heroic poetry and eloquence), Euterpe (muse of music and lyric poetry; her attribute the flute), Erato (muse of love poetry), Polyhymnia (muse of oratory or sacred poetry), Clio (muse of history), Melpomene (muse of tragedy), Thalia (or Talia, muse of comedy), Terpsichore (muse of choral song and dance), and Urania (muse of astronomy). They are led by Apollo as god of music and poetry, and Mt. Parnassus is their home. From the word "muse" the words music, museum, and mosaic were derived.
museology - The discipline of museum design, organization, and management. Also see art conservation, collection, curator, director, docent, exhibit and exhibition, patron, patronage, preparator, and registrar.
music - Among all the arts, this is the art of arranging sounds in time, resulting in a composition that elicits an aesthetic response in the listener.
mutable - Subject to change. Also see time.
mutule - The modillion (projecting bracket) placed in series under the corona of the cornice in the Corinthian, composite, and Roman Ionic order; a projection upon the soffit in the Ionic order.
mystery - Something not understood or beyond reasoning, and therefore exciting curiosity and wonder. Synonyms include: enigma, problem, riddle, puzzle, secret, and paradox.
myth - A traditional, typically ancient story dealing with supernatural beings, ancestors, or heroes that serves as a fundamental type in the world view of a people, as by explaining aspects of the natural world or delineating the psychology, customs, or ideals of society. (pr. mith) See attribute, Greek art, mythology, narrative art, and Roman art.