Art 101: Words You Should Know Before Heading to Art Fair Philippines

Artspeak made simple.
IMAGE The official Facebook page of Luneta Hotel

The diverse world of art has a vocabulary of its own, and you can be privy to it even if you are no artist or collector. Here are some terms to bring with you to a gallery opening or an event like Art Fair Philippines, which opens to the public on February 16 and runs through February 19 at the Link—the experience is all about the details.


Abstract art vs. figurative art

Improvisation 27 (Garden of Love II) by Vasily Kandinsky and The Public Viewing David's 'Coronation' at the Louvre by Louis Leopold Boilly

Think of the verb form of “abstract,” which means to remove or separate. This is what abstract artists do: They use a familiar object and separate it from reality. The object is not depicted in its original form, but modified into other shapes, colors, or gestural strokes. The canvas no longer resembles anything in nature or external reality. An example is László Moholy-Nagy’s paintings using aluminum as canvas—the material made his geometric shapes float and have a kind of animated effect.

Unlike abstract art, figurative art still has a recognizable link to reality. The subject is a representational form of something familiar, most commonly the human figure. Its shapes and colors, though not necessarily realist, have some of the characteristics of the original object as seen in reality.

Some contemporary figurative painters that have their own monographs (books featuring the work of one artist, usually one who has current relevance in the art world) are Kehinde Wiley, Luc Tuymans, and Peter Doig.

Mixed media vs. multi-media


Portrait of Ralph Dusenberry by Arthur Dove

Mixed media is a work of art that uses more than one medium or material in a single composition. The combination can be various types of paint in one work. Some mixed media artists also combine modes of expression—such as drawing and collage—on a single canvas.


Multi-media, on the other hand, is a combination of technology and electronic media. For example, a multi-media piece may use video clips, still images, and distorted audio.

Still life

Recommended Videos
Still Life with Cake by Raphaelle Peale

The subjects of still life paintings are non-moving objects, which can range from fruits on a table and material pleasures such as wine and jewelry to plants and flowers.

Pop art

Andrei Krioukov at work

The Pop Art movement emerged in the 1950s and 1960s as an artistic reaction to traditional highbrow art. The inspiration ran the gamut from pop culture and advertising to commercial objects. Andy Warhol is the most famous figure in Pop Art. His Campbell’s Soup Cans and Marilyn Diptych have been immortalized in pop culture, much like the subjects.


Acrylic on canvas vs. acrylic on paper

Before the City Gate by Yuri Yudaev and Barbara W's Shoes by Gertride Bleiberg

Acrylic is water-based, but it becomes waterproof once dry (and it dries fast). What this means is that hardened acrylic, which has an element of plastic, is insoluble in water. Manufacturers claim that this makes acryclic last better than other kinds of paint, but this is still widely unverified because of how new the paint is—it only became in mode in the 1960s. But Wendon Blake, author of Acrylic Painting: A Complete Guide, has tested the durability of hardened acrylic on his own and found that it’s hard to budge with a thumb or even a palette knife.

Canvas, a woven fabric stretched and attached to a wood frame, is known to be more resilient than paper, which may get brittle over time. But paper does have an advantage for acrylic painters: When acrylic is thinned with water, it can look like or function almost like watercolor. Paper makes for a good surface in this case; it is able to soak the littlest hint of color.

Watercolor vs. oil

Mountain Stream by John Singer Sargent and Classical Landscape with Gypsies by James Wootton

The main difference between watercolor and oil paint is how they sit on the surface. Watercolor, which is done on paper, becomes part of the surface—it does not harden with exposure to air like oil.

In terms of color, oil paint produces more pronounced hues whereas watercolor has a transparency to it that makes paintings look washed and airy.

Some of the most famous oil paintings in history are The Scream by Edvard Munch and Girl with the Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer. Notice how opaque the colors are compared to the watercolor painting The Blue Rigi by Joseph Mallord William Turner.


Negative space vs. positive space

Negative space is the area that surrounds the subject, while positive space is the area occupied by the subject. Think of negative space as an adjective—it gives definition to the subject in the form of strokes, shapes, and colors.



Evening Calm, Concarneau, Opus 220 (Allegro Maestoso) by Paul Signac

What do art critics really mean when they use the term hue? The property of a color that is unique to it. For example, brown can be more plum than black. When you get into the nitty gritty of color—from gradation to tints—you are talking about hue.


Wheat Field with Cypresses by Van Gogh. Swirly strokes are a motif in Van Gogh's body of work.

Some artists have a signature look or are subconsciously drawn to repeat elements. This is the motif—a pattern or theme that is repeated in a body of work.

Sources: Museum of Modern Art, Tate, and Ket Education

View More Articles About:
More Videos You Can Watch
About The Author
Kwyn Kenaz Aquino
View Other Articles From Kwyn Kenaz Aquino
Latest Feed
Load More Articles
Connect With Us