Art Glossary of Terms
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Art Glossary of Terms - Art Lexicon WXYZ

  • wabi-sabi - "Wabi-sabi is the quintessential Japanese aesthetic. It is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete," wrote Leonard Koren in his book Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers. It is a beauty of things modest and humble, and of "things unconventional." Peripherally associated with Zen Buddhism, wabi-sabi values characteristics that are rustic, earthy, and unpretentious, involving natural materials which are used neither representationally nor symbolically.

  • wall arcade - In architecture, an arcade having no actual openings, applied as decoration to a wall surface. Also called a blind arcade.

  • wallpaper - Paper often colored and printed with design and adhered to a wall as a decorative covering. The Chinese were making it by 1300, but in the West, wallpapers were probably first produced in the fifteenth century. The earliest ones, in England, Belgium, Poland, and Switzerland, were made up of small sheets, applied one by one to walls or ceilings, and imitated wood grain, woodcarving or intarsia. Others, like flock paper, were substitutes for textiles. Later, and today, most wallpapers are produced in long rolls.

  • ware - A collective term for pottery and ceramic objects.

  • warm colors - Colors are often described as having temperature — as warm (reds, oranges, and yellows), or cool (greens, blues, and violets). Purple (red-violet) and yellow-green are between warm and cool. (Don't call them "neutral," because neutral colors are grays and browns. Email ArtLex if you have a name for in-between-warm-and-cool colors.) Warm colors are often associated with fire and the sun. They appear on one side of the color wheel, and opposite the cool colors. Psychologically, warm colors are said to be stimulating and passionate. Optically, warm colors generally appear to advance, coming toward the viewer. Also see analogous colors, chroma, complementary colors, earth colors, hue, shade, and tint.

  • warp - In weaving, the vertical threads attached to the top and bottom of a loom, through which the weft is woven.

  • washer - A flat metal or rubber disk placed beneath a bolt head or nut which helps to secure the bolt and distribute its pressure, lessen friction, or prevent leakage.

  • waste mold - This term is used in two contradictory ways. In its most common use: a piece mold made from a model (usually of clay or wax) when the model must be broken apart (wasted) in removing it from the mold. The other use: a mold from which only one cast can be taken, because the mold must be broken apart and discarded in order to release the cast. This is how lost-wax casting casting is accomplished, for instance. The use of this term is highly problematic then, unless the user immediately explains the meaning intended. Also see release agent.

  • water feature - A category of environmental subjects (often in architecture and landscape architecture) which might include any natural or artificial body of water, whether still or moving. Fountains may be the most renowned artificial water features. People are attracted to water. it tends to absorb our attention. Also see feng shui.

  • water gilding - The application of gold leaf to a surface of gesso (or whiting) which may have been coated with bole, and this covered with a water and glue. The gold is then burnished. This is a better technique than oil gilding (also known as mordant gilding), when the surface is a gessoed one, although it is more difficult. Also see fire gilding, gilt, and glair.

  • watermark - In the making of paper, a translucent design impressed on it when still moist by a metal pattern, and visible when the paper is held before light (back-lit). In digital imaging, bits altered within an image to create a pattern which indicates proof of ownership; so that unauthorized use of a watermarked image can then be traced.

  • waterproof - Typically refers to colors or other materials which will not decay or distort with exposure to water. The most common waterproof materials are various waxes, rubbers, plastics, and sealing agents. Also see encaustic, feather, fugitive colors, permanent, permanent pigment, lightfast, and water-soluble.

  • waterscape - A painting of or including a body of water. It might otherwise be called a marine picture, a seascape, or a riverscape, etc.

  • water-soluble - Soluble in water; capable of being dissolved in water, especially if a wetting agent is added, like detergents and soaps. For all water-soluble media, water is the solvent.

  • wavelength - The distance between one peak or crest of a wave of light, heat, or other energy and the next corresponding peak or crest. In that light has qualities of waves, the various colors of the visible spectrum differ in the length of their waves, from violet at 400 nanometers to red at about 700 nanometers. Just shorter than violet's wavelength is that of ultraviolet light and then x-rays, both beyond the abilities of human eyes to see. Similarly, longer than red's, and invisible to the unassisted human eye is infrared. Wavelengths are usually measured in units of nanometers (nm) or of angstroms (Ε). 1 nanometer = 10 angstroms. Also see refraction, rhythm, and temperature.

  • wax - Any of various natural, oily or greasy heat-sensitive substances, including beeswax, ceresin, carnauba, tallow, paraffin, and micro-crystalline wax. Most waxes consist of hydrocarbons or esters of fatty acids that are insoluble in water but soluble in most organic solvents. Ozocerite or paraffin is a solid, plastic or liquid substance, a petroleum byproduct, used in coating paper, in crayons, and other products. Both natural and synthetic waxes are used in painting as binders, and as an important ingredient in candles and polishes. They are also important materials used for carving and modeling, generally over an armature, and in casting.

  • waxwork - Modeling in wax. Or a figure made of wax, especially a full-scale wax effigy of a famous person. Also, the plural form, used with either a singular or plural verb, refers to an exhibition of wax figures in a museum. Also see effigy.

  • weaving - The interlacing of long, thin materials, such as yarn or thread to make cloth (fabric) or baskets. Also see costume, fiber, tapestry, tartan, textile, warp, weft, and wove paper.

  • webbed - In sculpture, the retention of a supporting membrane of material between fingers or other thin extremities, especially in stone sculpture. Also see marble and structure.

  • web press - In printing, a rotary press that prints on a long roll of paper.

  • wedge - A piece of material, such as wood or metal, tapered at one edge and thick at the opposite end, used for tightening, securing, levering, or splitting, as when driven into wood along its grain, or when driven into the interlocking corners of wooden stretchers to produce tension on canvas support. These last are also called keys. Also see arch, cuneiform, stave, and voussoirs.

  • wedging - A technique in which clay is thoroughly kneaded and cut before use in modeling or pottery, to make it plastic and remove air pockets.

  • weft - The threads or strands of yarn that are woven over and under the warp threads to make a weaving. A less commonly used equivalent term is woof.

  • weight - Either the actual (physical) or the apparent (visual or compositional) heaviness of an object. When referring to the actual weight of an object, weight is a measurement of the force with which that object is attracted to earth (or some other celestial body) in such units as grams, kilograms, pounds, ounces, and stones. When referring to the visual or compositional weight of a portion of an image, weight is the relative visual dominance, emphasis, pull or force of attraction of that portion (object, volume, etc.) of a composition (picture, sculpture, etc.) The weight of a portion of a composition can depend in part upon such factors as its location (arrangement) in a composition, the extent of its isolation from other parts (distance from or contrast with other parts), and the psychological pull of its meaning. Human faces and other parts of figures, for instance, typically attract the viewer's gaze more powerfully than most other subjects.

  • welding - The process WEAR SAFETY GLOVES!of joining metals by fusing them together under direct, intense heat. A commonly used source of heat for welding is an oxyacetylene torch. A metal rod may be applied to the joint which melts into any gaps and strengthens the bond.

  • Western Jin Dynasty - A Chinese dynasty from 265 - 316 CE. (Not to be confused with the Jin Dynasty period which lasted 1115 - 1234.)

  • wet-and-dry paper - Paper with a coating of silicon carbide, used as an abrasive; a type of sandpaper. Its common name derives from the fact that it can be used wet or dry, as suitable with the materials abraded and the surface finish required.

  • wetting agent - A substance that reduces the surface tension of a liquid, causing the liquid to spread across or penetrate more easily the surface of a solid, making anything that is water-soluble more quickly solved. Detergents and soaps generally accomplish this in order to penetrate surfaces to clean them. A wetting agent traditionally used in watercolor painting is oxgall. Modern synthetic wetting agents most recommended for art applications are often available from art supply dealers and from photographic and general chemical supply dealers in bottle, dropper-bottle, and aerosol forms. Also see aqueous, caustic, clean up, consistency, hazardous, miscible, solvent, vehicle, viscosity, and volatile.

  • whirligig - A toy that spins — a carousel (merry-go-round) for example, or a thing that continuously whirls in a breeze, often placed on a lawn or a roof. It is mechanical, with some type of propeller. It may be part of a weather vane.

  • white lead - White lead, a whitish corrosion product of lead, was formerly used to provide opacity in paints, especially in house paints. The white pigment in a colored paint is often called the hiding pigment. In addition to preventing the sun's damaging rays from affecting the surface beneath the paint, the white lead also POISONOUS!helped prevent the growth of mold and mildew. Not until early in the 20th century was a successful substitute, titanium dioxide (TiO2), patented, and even then, it did not come into prevalent use by itself until the middle of the 20th century. Earlier in the century, titanium oxide and white lead were often mixed. Also see zinc white.

  • whiting - Ground and dried chalk used in plate cleaning and in the preparation of gesso. Also see body color and gouache.

  • wide-angle, wide-angle lens, wide-angle shot - Wide-angle refers to a view that has or covers a field of vision (an angle of view) wider than the ordinary, to an angle of 50° or greater, as when seen through a lens of shorter than normal (50 mm) focal length. An effect of a wide-angle lens is to make subjects appear smaller or further away than they really are, and can be seen as distortion. Using a camera having a wide-angle lens is called taking a wide-angle shot. A panoramic photograph (150°-360° wide) is one kind of wide-angle image. Another extreme type can be produced with a fish-eye lens (about 180° in all directions). The opposite of a wide-angle is telephoto, the opposite of a wide-angle lens is a telephoto lens, the opposite of a wide-angle shot is a telephoto shot. In cinematography or video photography, the need for a wide-angle shot might be satisfied with either a panning or a tracking shot. Also see anamorphosis, anamorphic art, aspect ratio, landscape, and point of view.

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  • width - The second dimension, after height. Width is usually the measurement of the extent of a shape or a space from side to side. Alternatively, when considering such a two-dimensional material as a piece of fabric, width is the second greatest dimension — after length (as opposed to height), and before thickness (as opposed to depth). Also see aspect ratio, horizontal, kerf, wide-angle, wide-angle lens, and wide-angle shot.

  • wire - A usually pliable metallic strand made in many lengths and diameters (gauges), sometimes clad or coated with insulation, as are electrical wires. (See a table of wire gauges and their equivalents expressed in inches.) A group of wire strands twisted or braided together as a functional unit is called cable.

  • wireframe - In digital imaging, a two-dimensional depiction of a three-dimensional object displayed as an interconnected straight-line segments — each edges of adjacent polygons. A wireframe looks much like a wire-constructed cage. A wireframe is most often used as the basis for the development of a more developed picture: a framework upon which to model a surface of varied values, colors, and textures. People who work with wireframes often shorten the word to "wires."

  • woof - The threads or strands of yarn that are woven over and under the warp threads to make a weaving. The more common contemporary term is weft. (pr. woof)

  • Works Progress Administration (WPA) - An agency of the U.S. Government during the Great Depression of the 1930s and 1940s. Its Federal Art Project (FAP) is one of the federal entities which administered New Deal art programs. Its name was officially changed to the Works Projects Administration after July 1, 1939.

  • world-view or worldview - The larger point of view one has, and from which one interprets the world. A collection of beliefs about life and the universe held by an individual or a group. Also, this is the English equivalent of the German term Weltanschauung — the mind-set or outlook of a particular group, whether aesthetic, ethnic, political, social, etc. Weltanschauungs (or Weltanschauungen) are usually limited in scope to readily identifiable historical, geographical, ethnic and other groupings.

  • World Wide Web (WWW) - An interconnected network of electronic hypermedia documents available on the Internet. WWW documents are marked up in Hypertext Markup Language (HTML). Cross references between documents are recorded in the form of URLs. Tim Berners-Lee invented World Wide Web in 1989. A graduate of Oxford University, England, Tim Berners-Lee is now (2004) with the Laboratory for Computer Science (LCS) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The Web is a major platform for new media.

  • worm's-eye view - As if seen from the surface of the earth, or the floor. A variation on landscape, the horizon for a worm's-eye view is usually placed very low in the picture, or outside of it completely.

  • wove paper - The commonly seen gridded, patterned texture produced by paper pulp pressing against wires on the mold screen as the paper is made. Very different is the texture made by wires on laid paper. Examples of works on wove papers:

  • WPA - Acronym for Works Progress Administration. It conducted the Federal Art Project (FAP). These U.S government entities are among the "alphabet soup" of federal projects which administered New Deal art programs.

  • Wunderkabinett and Wunderkammer - A Wunderkabinett is most literally a "cabinet of wonders," and a Wunderkammer is a "chamber of wonders," exhibition spaces in which miscellaneous curiosities — odd and wondrous rarities — brought together for private contemplation and pleasure. These words are German, but they are also used by speakers and writers of English because so many of the earliest (16th century) and best examples have been German. The objects on display in these storage/display spaces were marvels of nature. If some or all of the objects were art, then they were more likely to be called Kunstkabinetts and Kunstkammern instead. These precursors of the museum were developments of the Renaissance. The museum, on the other hand, was a creation of the Enlightenment. A rule in writing German is that the first letter of every noun must be capitalized (common as well as proper nouns), so the W's in these words are usually capitalized in English texts. The plural of Wunderkammer is Wunderkammern.

  • WYSIWYG - An abbreviation in computer graphics and digital imaging for "What You See Is What You Get," meaning that what you see on your monitor is what will be seen later — on other monitors, or printed, or on the World Wide Web (WWW), etc. Also see aspect ratio.

  • xanthic or xanthine - Of, relating to, or tending toward a yellow color. "Xanthic" has its roots in the Greek word "xanthos" which means "yellow." "Xantho-" and "xanth-" are prefixes which also mean yellow. (pr. zan'thick)

  • xenophilia - Love of the foreign or unfamiliar. A xenophile is a person attracted to that which is foreign (or ethnic), especially to foreign peoples, manners, or cultures. In Western societies during the 1990s, in reaction to the prevailing opinion that the great accomplishments have been made almost exclusively by males of European descent (DWMs), there was a xenophilic embrace of works by women, non-whites and the dispossessed. Also see antiquarianism, attitude, bias, chinoiserie, discrimination, empathy, ethnosphere, feminism and feminist art, First Amendment rights, gender issues, humanism, lookism, motivation, multiculturalism, political correctness, praise, and xenophobia. (pr. ze'ne-fee"lee-e)

  • xerography - A dry photographic or photocopying process in which a negative image formed by a resinous powder on an electrically charged plate is electrically transferred to and thermally fixed as positive on a paper or other copying surface. Xerox is a trademark. Also see photocopy.

  • x-ray or X-ray or x ray or X ray - A photon with a wavelength approximately 0.01 to 10 nanometers. photo of an xray of a handMore likely a stream of such photons, also known as roentgen rays (after Wilhelm Konrad Roentgen, the discoverer of x-rays and developer of x-ray photography). X-ray may also refer to a photograph taken with x-rays, also called a radiograph. Radiographs are most commonly made by physicians of course (as done to see the bone structure of a human see thumbnail to lefthand or see thumbnail to righthead), but are also made of art objects to better see what is beneath their surfaces, in hopes of revealing information about their making, and alterations over time. Typical examples are radiographs of mummies, and of paintings that have been painted over, are in need of conservation, or are suspected forgeries. Also see angstrom, infrared reflectography (IR) and reflectogram, overpainting, and ultraviolet.

  • xylene - Toluene is a gas or liquid used as a solvent and as a thinner for certain inks (e.g., some permanent markers), paints, and varnishes. It is typically a synthetic chemical POISONOUS!with a sweet-smelling odor, produced from petroleum, and found in gasoline, WARNING!aviation fuel, and cigarette smoke. Xylene is hazardous because its vapor is toxic. Keep out of the reach of children. Also see clean up and Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS).

  • xylography - A printing technique that involves carving text in relief upon a wooden block, which is then inked and an impression made on paper. "Xylography" combines "xylo-," meaning "wood," and "-graphy," which denotes writing in a specified manner. "Xylography" didn't appear in print in English until 1816, but it is linked to printing practices that are much older. The oldest known printed works were produced by this method in Japan and China during the 8th and 9th centuries. This method of wood-block printing appeared in Europe in the 14th century, and eventually inspired Johannes Gutenberg to create individual and reusable ("movable") pieces of type out of metal. These days, "xylography" can also describe the technique of engraving wood for purely artistic purposes. (pr. zye-lah'gruh-fee) Also see incunabulum.

  • yard - A unit of distance measurement equal to three feet, or 36 inches. To convert yards into centimeters, multiply them by 91.44; into meters, x 0.9144. Abbreviated yd.

  • yasti - In Buddhist architecture, a spire with three chatras, or circular disks which is the topmost element on the dome of a stupa. The yasti symbolizes the universe. It is surrounded by a harmika — a square fence-like enclosure symbolizing heaven.

  • Yayoi - An early period in Japanese art history, from about 200 BCE - 200 CE. It was the first metal-using culture in Japan. The Yayoi period was preceded by the Jomon period (c. 450-200 BCE), and followed by the Kofun period (200-500 CE).

  • yd. - Abbreviation for yard. Also see measure.

  • yellowing - In painting, a tendency on the part of binding media to turn a tint towards yellow. This is most likely to occur when linseed oil is included.

  • Youth Art Month (YAM) - Youth Art Month is an annual observance, sponsored by The Council for Art Education, Inc. (CFAE), each March to emphasize the value of art and art education for all children and to encourage public support for quality school art programs. Established in 1961, YAM provides a forum to support art education by developing self-esteem, appreciation of the work of others, self-expression, cooperation with others, and critical thinking skills.

  • Yuan or Yόan - A Chinese dynasty which lasted 1279-1368.

  • zeitgeist or Zeitgeist - The spirit of the times. A German word (especially when capitalized) for the taste, outlook, or general trend of thought which is characteristic of the cultural productions of a period or generation. For example, the zeitgeist of the Neoclassical period is considered to be rationalism, whereas that of the Romantic period is sentiment. The zeitgeist of the early modern period may have been faith in salvation through technological advancement, whereas that of the postmodern period would be disdain for such expressions of certainty. Because the identification of a zeitgeist tends to obliterate differences and imply a degree of essentialism, it is safe to say that postmodern thought in general distrusts it. The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage calls use of the word zeitgeist "pretentious." (pr. tsyt'gyst) Also see art, artist, design, Enlightenment, feminism and feminist art, gender issues, and multiculturalism.

  • Zen - A Chinese and Japanese school of Buddhism that claims that enlightenment can be attained through meditation, self-contemplation, and intuition rather than through scriptures.

  • ziggurat - A terraced pyramid of successively receding stories, used as a temple by the ancient Assyrians and Babylonians in Mesopotamia, such as the see thumbnail to rightone at Ur. The British Museum has a page about ziggurats.

  • Zhou dynasty - A Chinese dynasty which lasted c. eleventh century - 256 BCE. The Zhou dynasty can be further divided into the Western Zhou (c.1050 - 771 BCE) and the Eastern Zhou (771 - 256 BCE). Even further, the Eastern Zhou can be divided into the Spring and Autumn period (722 - 481 BCE) and the Warring States period (481 - 221 BCE).

  • zinc - A bluish-white, lustrous metallic element that is brittle at room temperature but malleable with heating. Used in galvanizing iron, it is often alloyed in making brass, bronze, various solder, and nickel silver, in manufacturing many products including various household objects. Atomic symbol Zn; atomic number 30; atomic weight 65.37; melting point 419.4° C.; specific gravity 7.133 (25°C); valence 2.

  • zincography - A lithographic process using zinc plates instead of stone ones.

  • zinc white - White formed from zinc oxide, giving pure cool cover. In oil it needs much medium, and has some tendency to crack. In watercolor it's known as Chinese white. Also see white lead.

  • zinnober green - Another name for chrome green.

  • zip - What Abstract Expressionist artist Barnett Newman (American, 1905-1970) called each of the vertical lines in his work. Many of his later works featured a zip.

  • zoetrope - An optical device comprised of a vertical cylinder that can spin around a pivot. Looking through slits in the outside of the cylinder gives an impression of movement to drawings placed on the inside of the cylinder. It was invented in 1834 by Englishman William Horner, although he dubbed it the Daedalum, meaning "wheel of the devil." An American named William F. Lincoln manufactured it in the USA in the 1860s, renaming it the zoetrope, which means "wheel of life."

  • zone system - A photographic technique for producing photos with an optimum range of value, developed by Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984).

  • zoom, zoom lens - In photography, to zoom is to move an adjustable camera lens toward or away from a subject, or by simulating such movement with a zoom lens, making the field of vision gradually narrower or wider. In the manipulation of a digital image, zooming in (or telephoto) is enlarging a portion of an image in order to see it more clearly or to make it easier to alter. Zooming out (or wide-angle) is the opposite — useful for viewing the entire image when the full image is larger than the display space. Zooming is comparable to making a tracking shot, although it is subtly and significantly different from tracking.

  • zoomorphic - In the shape of or having the attributes of an animal.

  • zoopraxiscope - A moving picture projector invented by Eadweard Muybridge (English-American, 1830-1904). Muybridge pioneered the taking of series of photographs employing a series of cameras. He printed these as sheets of sequenced exposures. In order to recreate a moving image from his still sequences, Muybridge developed the zoopraxiscope. It was first used at the home of Leland Stanford, former Governor of California, in 1879, and subsequently in Muybridge's lectures. See Eadweard Muybridge photos reproduced at the "Masters of Photography" site. Also see animation, camera, cinema, magic lantern, movement, optics, and zoetrope.

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