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abstract: Having little or no attempt at pictorial representation or narrative content

accordion-fold book: A book with pages that are creased or hinged to fold like an accordion

afterlife: An existence after death

autobiography: A first-person account of a person’s life; the biography of a person narrated by himself or herself


background: The part of a picture that appears farthest from the viewer

brushstroke: The paint left on a surface by a single application of a paintbrush


cast: To reproduce a three-dimensional object, such as a sculpture, using a mold

ceramic: A product made from a nonmetallic mineral (such as clay) and heated at a high temperature to achieve hardness

character: A person in a story

Chinese character: A symbol in the Chinese writing system that originated from pictograms (pictures of things such as “sun” or “moon”), and over time developed into graphical representations of abstract ideas. Characters often have two parts: one component hints at the meaning (for example, “sun” and “moon” = “bright”); the other component is phonetic, giving the pronunciation. Koreans and Japanese adapted the Chinese writing system into their own languages.

collage: Technique in which pieces of fabric, paper, or objects are glued onto a surface

commission: In art, a contract given to an artist to produce a work, often for a fee

composition: Arrangement of formal elements (lines, shapes, colors, and patterns) in a work of art

couplet: Two consecutive lines of poetry that form a unit

crop: To trim or cut something (i.e., a photograph)

culture of consumerism: Shared social attitudes that place emphasis on the purchase of goods and services and how they define an individual


distorted: Twisted out of natural, normal, or original shape or proportion


epic poem: A long and highly stylized narrative poem

etch: To produce a pattern or design on a hard material by eating into the material’s surface (often by using acid); used either to decorate an object’s surface (such as a suit of armor) or for the purpose of printing the image onto another surface (such as paper)


fashion house: A business that designs, makes, and sells clothes, typically associated with an important fashion designer

foreground: The part of a picture that appears closest to the viewer


glaze: A layer of clay or minerals in liquid form that coats pottery to give the surface a protected and luminous finish after being fired. For colored glazes, oxides of different metals are used.

gourd: A hollow, hard shell of a fruit often used for ornament, vessels, and utensils

grandstand: A usually roofed stand for spectators at a racecourse or stadium

groom: A person responsible for the feeding, exercising, and stabling of horses (or camels, as in the case of the Bactrian Camel and Central Asian Groom)


henna: A reddish-brown dye obtained from leaves of the henna plant

hue: An aspect of color usually associated with terms such as red, orange, yellow, etc.

hydrangea: A flowering shrub that has leaves and clusters of usually white, pink, or bluish flowers


imagery: In writing, the use of figurative language to create an image in the mind of the reader

immigrate: To enter a country and become established; a person who immigrates is called an immigrant

Impressionism: A style of art practiced by a group of artists in France around 1870. Impressionists each had their own individual approach to art, but they shared a goal of capturing the natural effects of light and shadow, often using dabs or strokes of unmixed colors. Many Impressionist artists also embraced subject matter of modern life.


landscape: A picture representing natural inland or coastal scenery


manuscript: A document that is either written by hand or typed, but is not a printed copy

middle ground: The part of a picture that is in-between the background (what appears farthest from the viewer) and the foreground (what appears closest to the viewer)

monumental: Something that is massive, highly significant, or of great importance

mood: A distinctive atmosphere or setting

motto: A short statement about a person’s values or guiding principles


narrative: A story that is told in detail; a representation of an event or story

neutral: A color that is not bright or strong


patron: A wealthy or influential supporter of an artist or writer

plaster: A soft mixture (as of lime, water, and sand) that forms a smooth hard surface once dried

Pop Art: Art in which objects from modern popular culture and the mass media are used as subject matter, often as a critical or ironic comment on traditional fine-art values

portrait: An image of a person (or group of people) usually showing the face

prey: An animal that is hunted, killed, and eaten by a predator

print: A work of art that can be reproduced by printing multiple copies from a single plate

protagonist: The main character in a story


recede: In art, to appear smaller and farther away than forms in the foreground


screen painting: A work of art, usually used as a room decoration, consisting of a number of painted, vertical panels that are attached to each other in an accordion-style so that the screen stands upright

setting: The time and place at which the action of a work of literature or art is represented as happening

skullcap: A close-fitting, brimless cap

still life: An image consisting predominantly of an arrangement of inanimate objects

subject matter: The topic dealt with or represented in a debate, exposition, or work of art

Surrealism: A cultural movement that was begun in the 1920s by a group of writers and artists in France. Surrealists sought to release the creative potential of the unconscious mind and were inspired by dreams, taboo fantasies, and the element of chance to create work that embraced the irrational and celebrated the marvelous.

symbol: An object or act that represents (or symbolizes) something else, such as an emotion, idea, or story


tapestry: A thick, woven textile characterized by complex designs and hung on a wall

theme: A subject, topic, or idea that recurs in or pervades a work of art or literature


vantage point: A position or standpoint from which something is viewed

verse: A line of metrical writing or poetry


watercolor: A paint in which pigment is dispersed in water

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