Art Glossary of Terms
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Art Glossary of Terms - Art Lexicon VA to VZ

  • vacuum forming - A method of shaping a flat plastic sheet over a solid relief pattern (also called a male or positive mold). The plastic is heated until it is soft, and when a vacuum is created under the mold, the plastic is drawn down onto it, as if forming a new skin. The plastic sheet cools quickly, retaining the shape of the pattern. Vacuum forming is desirable when needing a "shell" type plastic form with a uniform thickness. A form can be made over molds made of wood, plaster, and many other materials. Also see cast and impression.

  • value key - The relative level of a color's value, whether referencing an individual color, or a color scheme seen either in an artwork's entirety or in a passage within one. The lighter the value, the higher and more cheerful the value key; the darker the value, the lower and more somber the value key. Also see chroma key, contrast key, cool colors, tonal key, warm colors, and temperature key.

  • value scale - A gray scale, a series of spaces filled with the tints and shades of one color, starting with white or the lightest tint on one end, and gradually changing into the darkest shade or black on the other.

  • vandal, Vandals, vandalism, and vandalize - A vandal is a person who willfully or maliciously defaces or destroys public or private property.

  • vanishing point - In linear perspective, the place on the horizon where parallel lines seem to meet.

  • variation, various, vary - To vary is to cause change, or to give variety or make diverse. Variation is the act, process, or result of varying; or it is the extent to which something varies: or the thing that varies. Various is the adjectival form describing several things as varying being different. Also see nuance and variegated.

  • variegated - Marked with patches, spots, or streaks of different colors. In contrast to a surface having either one color or a regular pattern or texture, a variegated surface has a varied design of several colors and / or textures. Often used in describing materials as as textiles, and parts of plants and animals. (pr. vay"ree-eh-gay'tid) Also see brindled, piebald, variation, various, variegated, variety, and vary.

  • variety - A principle of design that refers to a way of combining elements of art in involved ways to achieve intricate and complex relationships. Variety is often obtained through the use of diversity and change by artists who wish to increase the visual interest of their work. An artwork which makes use of many different hues, values, lines, textures, and shapes would reflect the artist's desire for variety. Unity is the principle which is its variety's opposite; but when there is too little variety, the result is monotony.

  • varnish - A protective transparent finish applied in a liquid state to a surface. One example is glair a varnish for tempera paint. Many are available with a matte, semi-gloss, or glossy finish.

  • vault - In architecture, an arched roof or covering of masonry construction made of brick, stone, or concrete. A barrel (or tunnel) vault is semi-cylindrical in cross-section, made up of a continuous row of arches joined to one another. A groin or cross vault consists of two barrel vaults intersecting each other at right angles. In a cross-barrel vault, the main barrel (tunnel) vault is intersected at right angles with other barrel (tunnel) vaults at regular intervals. A dome is a hemispherical vault. A quadrant vault is a half-barrel (tunnel) vault. In a ribbed vault, there is a framework of ribs or arches under the intersections of the vaulting sections.

  • VE - Abbreviation for the print term, variable edition.

  • vector graphic - A digital image encoded as formulas that represent lines and curves. The alternative and older means of encoding images is bitmapping. Vector graphics use mathematical functions to create all shapes. File sizes are a lot smaller with vector graphics than with bitmap images because less information has to be stored. Vector graphics can be reduced and enlarged (zoomed in and out) with no loss of resolution.

  • vehicle - In the visual arts, that which carries a paint's pigments, and is also called a medium or a base. The vehicle is what determines what kind of paint is produced. A painter can mix a vehicle with its solvents, pigments and other substances in order to make paint (or dye or ink) and control its consistency. A variety of vehicles are available that provide a matte, semi-gloss, or glossy finish. Just as motorized vehicles move us around on our planet, think of these substances as moving pigments around on various supports.

  • Velcro - An adhesive of sorts, a trademark for a fastener consisting of two pieces of fabric, one with a dense layer of hooks and the other with loops, often used on outerwear, shoes, and luggage. The name comes from the combination of two French words "velour" and "crochet". Velcro works best when it is used on objects that have two sides to join not very strongly, and need occasionally to be re-opened.

  • vellum - Fine parchment, originally calf-skin, used traditionally for manuscripts.

  • veneer - The thin slice of a material often of a rare and expensive material applied, generally with an adhesive, but also (and sometimes only) with pins, to a surface of a humbler material. Ebony, rosewood, tulipwood and other exotic woods are more often used as veneers in furniture-making than they are used in a solid form. Most wood veneer is sliced rather than sawn, and taken from a log in a continuously spiraling (voluting) cut, and then flattened. Because of concern that such veneer may be more likely to curl away from its placement, some feel that flatly sawn veneer is preferable. Sawn veneer however, because the saw destroys as much wood as the veneer it produces, is much more expensive. Brass, copper, ivory, mother-of-pearl, pewter, and tortoiseshell can also be used and are often combined with such woods. Semi-precious stones such as lapis lazuli and malachite (also used for inlay) are sometimes employed as a veneer, as are the more showy types of calcite alabaster. Veneering is more easily achieved on a flat surface, but thin slices of wood can be bent, for example into the hollow of a molding. Stone cannot be bent, so its veneering on curved or complex forms is particularly difficult. There are plastic sheet materials also called veneers, many simulating other materials, such as bricks, stone, lap siding, shingles, etc. Also see basket, cladding, intarsia, laminate, marquetry, mosaic, and parquetry.

  • Venice turpentine - Canada balsam, an oily resin or balsam obtained from conifers. Also see turpentine.

  • verdigris - A particular green pigment.

  • verisimilitude - Appearing to be true or real. See appearance, cinema, copy, counterfeit, fake, forgery, likeness, mirror, realism, reflection, reification, representation, simulacrum, simulation, theater, trompe l'oeil, virtual, and virtual reality.

  • vermicular - Shaped or moving like a vermicule, which is a worm; worm-like. (pr. vr-mi'kyoo-lr)

  • vermiculite - A product commonly used by gardeners, who mix it into soil in order to aerate the soil. Vermiculite is sometimes mixed into plaster as an aggregate to make plaster easier to carve, and to give it a pleasing texture. An alternative softening aggregate, also found in garden supply stores, is a white product called perlite. (pr. vr-mik"yoo-li:t')

  • vermilion - A particular red pigment.

  • vernacular - The standard native language of an area. May also refer to architecture, furniture, or some other art or craft of a region, culture, or period. Vernacular architecture and furniture is made in local rather than cosmopolitan traditions of design and construction, reflecting the needs of ordinary people's lives. Also see folk art.

  • vernissage - A private showing, preview, or opening of an art exhibition an event marking the start of an exhibition. This word was used with increasing frequency in the United States in the last decade of the 20th century. Vernissage has its roots in the old practice of setting aside a day before an exhibition's opening for artists to varnish and put finishing touches to their paintings a tradition that reportedly dates to at least 1809, when it was instituted by England's Royal Academy of Arts. One famous member of the Academy, Joseph Mallord William Turner (English, 1775-1851), was notorious for making major changes to his paintings on this day. English speakers originally referred to this day of finishing touches simply as "varnishing day," but sometime around 1912 we also began using the French term "vernissage" (literally, "varnishing"). Today, however, you are more likely to encounter vino than varnish at a vernissage, which is often a gala event marking the opening of an exhibition. (pr. vayr'ni-sahzh")

  • verso - The second or back side of any work on paper. May also be the left-hand page of a book. The opposite of recto. The front and rear sides of other two-sided objects, such as coins, medals, or panels which have a painting on each side are more often referred to as obverse and reverse.

  • vertex - The highest point; the apex or summit. The point at which the sides of an angle intersect. The point on a triangle or pyramid opposite to and farthest away from its base. A point on a polyhedron common to three or more sides. The plural form can be either vertexes or vertices. Also see polygon and protractor.

  • vertical - The direction going straight up and down; the opposite of (or perpendicular to) horizontal. Any orientation neither vertical nor horizontal is diagonal. A vertical sculpture is taller than it is wide. Portraits are conventionally vertical in their orientation, while landscapes are most often horizontal.

  • Very Special Arts - The former name of VSA arts.

  • vexillology - The study of flags.

  • vicesimo-quarto - A book or manuscript of the next size smaller than an sextodecimo. Sextodecimo is abbreviated 24mo, sometimes pronounced "twentyfour-mo." The next smaller size is tricesimo-segundo. Also see bookbinding, duodecimo, folio, octavo, quarto, and signature.

  • video digitizer - An image-capture device that employs a digital camera attached to a circuit board in a computer which converts the video signal into a digital file. Also called a frame-grabber.

  • videodisc - An optical disk storage medium for images, still or moving. It is sometimes called laser viseodisc, and can store 108,000 still images per disc. Also see CD-ROM and new media.

  • viewer - A person who gazes; an onlooker or spectator. Sometimes used as a synonym for audience. Also, any of many possible optical devices used in viewing something, especially photographic transparencies such as slides, by illuminating and magnifying them. Also see interpretation, patron, theater, and voyeur.

  • viewfinder - A small window cut in a piece of paper or card, that shows what will be in a picture's composition. Or, a window seen through a camera which shows an approximation of a picture the camera would photograph Viewfinders assist in making compositions. This is a fundamental sort of optical device.

  • vignette - A decorative design placed at breaks in an article, at the beginning or end of a book or chapter of a book, or along the border of a page. Sometimes, an unbordered picture, often a portrait the edges of which fade off or blur into the color of its surrounding area. (pr. vin-yet')

  • viridian - A particular green pigment.

  • virtual - Existing not in actual fact or form, but in essence or effect in the mind, especially as a product of the imagination or of illusion. Also see mirror, new media, simulation, truth, universal artwork, virtual museum, virtual reality, and visualize.

  • virtual reality - An interactive computerized simulation or synthesis of an experience in several senses. Also see likeness, realism, reification, representation, simulacrum, theater, truth, universal artwork, and virtual.

  • virtuosity - The seemingly effortless skill or style employed by a virtuoso, or master. Also see craftsmanship, inspiration, masterpiece, talent, and technique.

  • virtuoso - Someone skilled in or having a taste for the fine arts, or someone who excels in the technique of an art (most commonly a highly skilled musician); a master. Also, a person who has great skill at some endeavor. English speakers borrowed "virtuoso" from Italian in the 17th century. In Italian, it can either be a noun or an adjective, the latter meaning both "virtuous" and "skilled." In English, the first virtuosos were men of substantial knowledge and learning. The word was then transferred to those skilled in the arts, and by the 18th century it had acquired its specific sense applied to musical performers. In the 20th century, English speakers broadened "virtuoso" again to apply to a person skilled in any pursuit. English speakers pluralize it as either "virtuosos" or "virtuosi." (pr. ver-choo-oh'-so or ver-choo-oh'-zoh) Also see craftsmanship, talent, and virtuosity.

  • viscosity - The relative resistance of a liquid to stirring or movement, and its stickiness. The thicker it is the greater is its viscosity; the thinner it is the lesser is its viscosity. Also see aqueous, caustic, clean up, consistency, hazardous, hot glue, solvent, vehicle, volatile, water-soluble, and wetting agent.

  • Vishnu - In Hindu belief, one of the principle deities, worshiped as the protector and preserver of worlds, who guards the equilibrium between good and evil. Vishnu descends to earth in the form or incarnation which is best suited to a situation. In the form of a human lion Vishnu saved a pious prince who was about to be murdered by his own father. Vishnu concealed himself in a column at the king's palace. And just when the king was about to strike to punish his son for his faith in Vishnu the god appeared out of the column and tore the king to shreds. Vishnu took on the incarnation of a boar to save the world which the water demon had inundated with the ocean. The boar lifted the earth generally personified as a woman from the bottom of the ocean. Vishnu is often conceived as a member of the triad including Brahma and Shiva. Also see Ganesha and Ramayana.

  • visual culture - A term which is used more and more, it refers to what we have otherwise called art, but it is more inclusive and less likely to rely upon value judgments. Visual culture includes imagery in all kinds of media, in electronic games, in sports, cosmetics (and other fashion-related settings), comic books, and politics. It involves the imagery associated with holidays and terrorism. Certain works that a Eurocentric audience might call art, but are not called art by the cultures that produced them can be included in discussions of visual culture, yet they may not have been included in discussions of art. Examples of such work might include kachina dolls, bonsai, and boomerangs. A related term (some would say a synonym) is material culture. The study of visual culture should promote visuality and reflexivity and empower students concerning social issues. Also see intertextuality.

  • visuality - The process of sighting or looking that is more purposeful and direction-oriented than seeing. Also see reflexivity and visual culture.

  • visualize - To see or form a mental picture of something. See brainstorming, choose, creativity, design, effort, motivation, plan, and projection principle.

  • visual qualities - The careful arrangement of the elements and principles of design in a work of art. This aesthetic quality is favored by formalism. Also see art, artist, composition, definition, gestalt, optical, optical mixing, perception, seeing, and weight.

  • visual scale - The size or proportion (scale) of elements or components of art or of architecture relative to the perceived sizes of other such works or objects of known or assumed size. Also see dimensions, full-scale, human scale, iconometer, and mechanical scale.

  • vitreous humor - Physically essential to sight, a clear, jelly-like fluid found in the back of the eye that maintains the shape of the eye.

  • vitrify - To change materials into glass or a glass-like substance through heat fusion. This is the action of a kiln heating ceramic clay and glazes, for instance. A curious example: lightning striking a metal rod partly buried in sand will cause all the sand within a certain distance from the rod to vitrify. Also see firing.

  • vitrine - A largely transparent cabinet or case in which an exhibitor can place one or more objects so that viewers may see them. Much as frames both set off and protect two-dimensional works, vitrines are display furniture, designed to set apart and to protect their contents. Most are effectively boxes whose sides are panels of clear glass or plastic. Some are also fitted with lamps providing artificial light. Some have sensors that can trigger alarms. And some are outfitted to maintain a desirable atmosphere. There are very small vitrines, even for single objects, but some three-dimensional objects might be better displayed in a shadow box.

  • void - Containing no matter, empty, negative space.

  • volatile - Rapidly evaporating (as are many solvents). Or, tending to vary often or widely; inconstant. Or, capable of quickly becoming violent. (pr. vah"leh-tl') Also see ASTM International (American Society for Testing and Materials), caustic, clean up, hazardous, Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), miscible, viscosity, and water-soluble.

  • volume - Refers to the space within a form. Thus, in architecture, volume refers to the space within a building. Also see chiaroscuro and mass.

  • volunteers - Museums depend on lots of people to donate their time to perform many jobs in the museum docents for instance.

  • Vorticism - A short-lived modernist English art movement founded in 1914 by painter Wyndam Lewis (English, 1882-1957), along with poet Ezra Pound (American, 1885-1972), who devised the group's name. To him the vortex represented "the point of maximum energy," which he saw as the essential characteristic of modern life. Vorticism was related to Cubism and Futurism, and like those movements, its momentum was greatly depleted by World War I (1914-1919). While Futurism's imagery typically involved blurred movement, Vorticism's centered on hard edges and angles, as seen in Cubism, here applied to powerful machinery and massive structures.

  • votive, votary - A votive object or votary is an object which expresses or symbolizes a wish, prayer, or vow. Votive pictures and sculptures, for instance, are intended to inspire devotion to a saint or deity, or are used in an act of religious worship, reverence, or supplication. It may also refer, for example, to certain candles, prayer cards, or offerings.

  • voussoirs - The wedge-shaped stones which form the curved portions of an arch or a vaulted ceiling. (pr. voo-swahr')

  • voyeur, voyeurism - A voyeur is a person who is sexually excited by observing, especially secretly, people in sexual situations. By extension, a voyeur can also be a person who is obsessed with looking at sordid or sensational subjects. This word was borrowed from the French in the early 20th century. The French word voyeur literally means "one who sees," from voir "to see." Voyeurism is the practice of acting in this way. Voyeurism is considered a deviant sexual behavior in most cultures, is most frequently practiced by males, and is tolerated to some degree in certain societies depending upon the circumstances (e.g., adolescent "Peeping Toms"). Also see audience, Dada, erotica and erotic art, fig leaf, First Amendment rights, gaze, gender issues, nude, obscenity, pornography, sensuality, sight, sybaritic, theater, and viewer.

  • VSA arts - An international organization that creates learning opportunities through the arts for people with disabilities. Founded in 1974, it's associated with The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, DC, USA. This organization offers arts-based programs in creative writing, dance, theater, music and the visual arts. Many of these programs are implemented by an affiliate network that's active throughout the USA and the world. VSA arts' programs serve 2.2 million Americans and 1.3 million people in other parts of the world. Also see Individualized Education Program (IEP) and artists' organizations.

  • vulgar - Boorish; lacking in taste or refinement; lacking good breeding. Crudely indecent, as are off-color jokes (now potential grounds for claims of sexual harassment.) Standards of decency are notoriously subject to change, but the most common ones concern exposure of body parts (baring legs has been taboo at some times, genitals at others) or functions (usually the expelling of fluids, solids, and gases, but sometimes even eating or drinking). Also, ostentatious self-display or expenditure that is pretentious or offensively excessive. An older meaning is: common; having qualities of or coming from the great masses of people. Another older sense of vulgar which is still referred to is in reference to the vernacular rather than to the language of more sophisticated speakers of Latin, or of whatever a region's tradition holds as more a sophisticated language. Also see bad art, kitsch, obscene, politically correct (PC), pornography, and ugly.

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