Art Glossary of Terms
The Art History Archive

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Art Glossary of Terms - Art Lexicon UA to UZ

  • ugly - Unsightly; displeasing to the eye; repulsive or offensive; hideous; objectionable. Bad. The opposite of beautiful. Mediocrity in any form can be ugly, but so can pornography, vandalism, and the results of other unappealing or criminal behaviors; just as poor qualitiy painting, sculpture, architecture, fashion and other products of art and design can be ugly. Ultimately, just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, ugliness is too. Aesthetic values (tastes) vary both within and between cultures. What affects the rise or fall of any peoples' assessments of various styles or individual works may come from many sorts of influences. Any people's distaste for imagery that offends ethical or moral standards may be less likely to change over time, but it too can change.

  • uki-e - In Japanese art, a perspective picture.

  • ukiyo-e - In Japanese art, genre painting and prints, especially those of the Edo period.

  • ultramarine - Blue pigment originally made from ground lapis lazuli. French ultramarine is an artificial substitute.

  • ultraviolet or UV - The light whose wavelength (about 380 nanometers) is just long enough not to be x-rays, but just enough shorter than violet light so that it is not visible to the human eye. Ultraviolet is also known by the short form of "UV." It is sometimes called black-light because ultraviolet lamps (usually a mercury-vapor lamp) appear quite dark even when lit, and because of the peculiar way it illuminates certain kinds of surfaces, such as day-glo colors.

  • unconscious - Not having awareness or sensory perception. Occurring in the absence of conscious awareness or thought. Without conscious control; involuntary or unintended. In psychoanalytic theory, the portion of the mind which holds such things as memories and repressed desires, that are not subject to conscious perception or control but that often affect conscious thoughts and behavior. The unconscious is an important issue to artists influenced by Surrealism. Compare "unconscious" to "subconscious." Also see attention, Metaphysical Painting, naive art, and Stendhal syndrome.

  • undecagon - A closed polygon bounded by eleven straight-line segments. The formula with which to find an equilateral undecagon's area is 9.3656 times the length of one side squared. Also see mathematics, radial, shape, and vertex.

  • undercut - Carving to create an overhang; a recess or awkward angle in the surface or form of a three-dimensional object which would prevent easy removal of a cast from a mold. Molds should be designed to eliminate this problem. Ways to cast objects with overhangs include using piece mold and waste mold.

  • underdrawing - Drawing preliminary to other work, and incorporated into it, thus deprived of independent artistic value. An example is the underdrawing in fresco and panel painting, such as sinopia and abbozzo.

  • underpainting - The layer or layers of color on a painting surface applied before the overpainting, or final coat. There are many types of underpainting. One type is an all-over tinting of a white ground. Another is a blocked out image in diluted oil paints that serves as a guide for the painter while developing the composition and color effects. Also see abbozzo, azurite, grisaille, pochade, and sinopia.

  • UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects - In 1984, the challenges addressed in the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property were further taken up by another international organization, the International Institute for the Unification of Private Law, known by the acronym UNIDROIT, which issued the final draft of its "Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects" in June 1995. The UNIDROIT Convention is a complement to the UNESCO Convention. Perhaps the most important clause in the Convention is the principle that anyone with a stolen item in his/her possession must in all cases restore it. This rule forces buyers to check that the goods have come onto the market legally, otherwise they will have to be returned. As of 2003, forty countries have agreed to the UNIDROIT Convention. The UNIDROIT Convention remains controversial even among those who are eager to regulate international trade in antiquities, preserve and study them. Among the countries not agreeing are Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Generally dealers and collectors prefer looser regulation than countries which are the sources of antiquities, and many have effectively lobbied their governments in opposition to the UNIDROIT Convention.

  • unique - One of a kind, an original.

  • USSEA, United States Society for Education Through Art (USSEA) - The USSEA was founded in 1977, as an affiliate of the International Society for Education Through Art (InSEA) and, along with the National Art Education Association (NAEA), is an American association representing persons working in curriculum development, teaching and research related to art education and cultural differences. USSEA is a society of art educators who share interests in multicultural and cross-cultural concerns in art education with others in the nation and in the world. This organization promotes greater understanding and respect for learners from all ethnic, minority, and socio-cultural backgrounds.

  • unity - The quality of wholeness or oneness that is achieved through the effective use of the elements and principles of design. A totality that combines all of its parts into one complete, cohesive whole. Often it is realized through a deliberate or intuitive balancing of harmony and variety. However, this balance does not have to be of equal proportions. Harmony might outweigh variety, or variety might outweigh harmony. Harmony aids efforts to blend picture parts together to form a whole. Variety adds visual interest to this unified whole. A composition is unified when the relationships between its parts interact to create a sense that no portion of the composition may be changed without altering the aesthetic integrity and meaning of the artwork. When unity is achieved with insufficient harmony and variety, the result is monotony. Unity is largely synonymous with coherence. Also see comparison, homogeneity, horror vacui, and interdisciplinary.

  • universal artwork - The notion that all the arts, including painting, music, architecture, poetry, and so on, be combined into one unified art. This originated in the German theory of Gesamtkunstwerk, translated variously as "universal artwork" or as "a synthesis of the arts" or as "a total work of art." Gesamt = entire, all, or complete. Kunst = art. Werk = work. This was most famously the goal of Richard Wagner (German, 1813-1883), a composer of music, especially of operas, and champion of Romanticism. Placing most emphasis on the arts of music and poetry, Wagner aimed to synthesize works in which symphonic music would convey the subtle and deep emotions that words and dramatic action alone could never achieve. Although numerous artists have sought to produce works that unify all the arts in the years since, this term seems rarely to have been used to refer to works other than Wagner's, even though other works might be said to have been more successful at attaining this goal. Some works of cinema and performance art might be cited as examples of universal artworks. Also see Gemütlichkeit, reification, syncretism, synergy, synesthesia, and virtual reality.

  • unpack - In art criticism, the act of revealing hidden layers of meaning, as if removing the contents of a suitcase. A synonym for analyze or deconstruct. See deconstruction.

  • upholster, upholsterer, and upholstery - In making furniture, to upholster is to attach stuffing, springs, cushions, and covering fabric — these materials often referred to as upholstery. A person who applies this craft or trade is an upholsterer.

  • uppercase - In typography, capital letters, which gained this alternative name from the standard location in which typesetters stored them. Though visually powerful, whole words set in uppercase letters should be used sparingly. They are difficult to read, and may even suggest shouting. Also see lowercase.

  • URL - Uniform Resource Locator. A standard addressing scheme used to locate or reference files on the Internet. Used in World Wide Web (WWW) documents to locate other files. A URL gives the type of resource (scheme) being accessed (e.g., gopher, ftp, etc.) and the path to the file. The syntax used is: scheme://host.domain[:port]/path/filename. The URL for ArtLex is

  • urushi-e - In Japanese art, a print with coloring thickened and made glossy with glue.

  • ushabtis - Ancient Egyptian funerary figurines or statuettes, sometimes made of wood, stone, ceramic, and metal. An important component of the burial assemblage from the Middle Kingdom to the Ptolemaic period (c 2000 - 200 BCE), ushabtis took over the role of the servant models, and acted as substitutes for the deceased himself. They range in form from miniature versions of the standard coffins of the Middle Kingdom and early New Kingdom (each containing a single shabti) to shrine-shaped boxes holding from two to several hundred specimens. Some ushabtis have been found in extra-sepulchral contexts: pieces buried as votive offerings or as a medium for deceased's presence at places of special sanctity (notably the holy city of Abydos). Ushabtis are also known as shabtis and shawabtis.