Glossary of Art Terms - P


Paint is any liquid, liquifiable, or mastic composition which after application to a substrate in a thin layer is converted to an opaque solid film. Paint is used to protect, decorate (such as adding colour), or add functionality to an object or surface by covering it with a pigmented coating. An example of protection is to retard corrosion of metal. An example of decoration is to add festive trim to a room interior. An example of added functionality is to modify light reflection or heat radiation of a surface. As a verb, painting is the application of paint. Someone who paints artistically is usually called a painter, while someone who paints commercially is often referred to as a painter and decorator, or house painter. Paint can be applied to almost any kind of object. It is used, among many other uses, in the production of art, in industrial coating, as a driving aid (road surface marking), or as a barrier to prevent corrosion or water damage. Paint is a semifinished product, as the final product is the painted article itself.


Painting, meant literally, is the practice of applying colour to a surface (support) such as paper, canvas, wood, glass, lacquer, or other. However, when used in an artistic sense, the term "painting" means the use of this activity in combination with drawing, composition and other aesthetic considerations in order to manifest the expressive and conceptual intention of the practitioner. Painting is used as a mode of representing, documenting and expressing all the varied intents and subjects that are as numerous as there are practitioners of the craft. Paintings can be naturalistic and representational (as in a still life or landscape painting), photographic, abstract, be loaded with narrative content, symbolism, emotion or be political in nature. A large portion of the history of painting is dominated by spiritual motifs and ideas; sites of this kind of painting range from artwork depicting mythological figures on pottery to biblical scenes rendered on the interior walls and ceiling of The Sistine Chapel to depictions of the human body itself as a spiritual subject.

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A palette is a surface on which a painter mixes colour pigments. A palette may be made of wood, glass, plastic, ceramic tile or other inert material and can vary greatly in size and shape. The most commonly known type of painter's palette is made of thin wood board designed to be held in the artist's hand and rest on the artist's arm.

Palette Knife

A palette knife is a blunt knife with an extremely flexible steel blade and no sharpened cutting edge. It is primarily used for mixing paint colors, paste, etc., or for marbling, decorative endpapers, etc. The "palette" in the name is a reference to an artist's palette which is used for mixing oil paints. Certain artistic techniques call for painting with a palette knife.


Panoramic paintings are massive artworks that reveal a wide, all-encompassing view of a particular subject, often a landscape, military battle, or historical event. They became especially popular in the 19th Century in Europe and the United States. A few have survived into the 21st Century and are on public display. The word "panorama", from Greek pan (all) horama ("view") was coined by the Scottish painter Robert Barker in 1792 to describe his paintings of Edinburgh shown on a cylindrical surface, which he soon was exhibiting in London, as "The Panorama". In 1793 Barker moved his panoramas to the first purpose-built panorama building in the world, in Leicester Square, and made a fortune. Viewers flocked to pay a stiff 3 shillings to stand on a central platform under a skylight, which offered an even lighting, and get an experience that was "panoramic" (an adjective that didn't appear in print until 1813). The extended meaning of a "comprehensive survey" of a subject followed sooner, in 1801. Visitors to Barker's semi-circular Panorama of London, painted as if viewed from the roof of Albion Mills on the South Bank, could purchase a series of six prints that modestly recalled the experience; end-to-end the prints stretched 3.25 meters.


Paper is a commodity of thin material produced by the amalgamation of fibers, typically vegetable fibers composed of cellulose, which are subsequently held together by hydrogen bonding. While the fibers used are usually natural in origin, a wide variety of synthetic fibers, such as polypropylene and polyethylene, may be incorporated into paper as a way of imparting desirable physical properties. The most common source of these kinds of fibers is wood pulp from pulpwood trees, largely softwoods and hardwoods, such as spruce and aspen respectively. Other vegetable fiber materials including those of cotton, hemp, linen, and rice may be used.


Pastel is an art medium in the form of a stick, consisting of pure powdered pigment and a binder. The pigments used in pastels are the same as those used to produce all colored art media, including oil paints. "Pastel" is also used: As a noun – to mean a pastel artwork As a verb – to represent the process of producing an artwork As an adjective – to mean a pale color.

Performance Art

Performance art is art in which the actions of an individual or a group at a particular place and in a particular time constitute the work. It can happen anywhere, at any time, or for any length of time. Performance art can be any situation that involves four basic elements: time, space, the performer's body and a relationship between performer and audience. It is opposed to painting or sculpture, for example, where an object constitutes the work. Although performance art could be said to include relatively mainstream activities such as theater, dance, music, and circus-related things like fire breathing, juggling, and gymnastics, these are normally instead known as the performing arts. Performance art is a term usually reserved to refer to a kind of usually avant-garde or conceptual art which grew out of the visual arts. Performance art, as the term is usually understood, began to be identified in the 1960s with the work of artists such as Yves Klein, Vito Acconci, Hermann Nitsch, Chris Burden, Carolee Schneemann, Yoko Ono, Joseph Beuys, Wolf Vostell and Allan Kaprow, who coined the term happenings. Western cultural theorists often trace performance art activity back to the beginning of the 20th century. Dada for example, provided a significant progenitor with the unconventional performances of poetry, often at the Cabaret Voltaire, by the likes of Richard Huelsenbeck and Tristan Tzara. However, there are accounts of Renaissance artists putting on public performances that could be said to be early ancestors to modern performance art. Some performance artists point to other traditions, ranging from tribal ritual to sporting events. Performance art activity is not confined to European art traditions; many notable practitioners can be found in the United States, Asia, and Latin America.


Perspective (from Latin perspicere, to see clearly) in the graphic arts, such as drawing, is an approximate representation, on a flat surface (such as paper), of an image as it is perceived by the eye. The two most characteristic features of perspective are: Objects are drawn smaller as their distance from the observer increases and the distortion of items when viewed at an angle (spatial foreshortening) In art, the term "foreshortening" is often used synonymously with perspective, even though foreshortening can occur in other types of non-perspective drawing representations (such as oblique parallel projection).


Photorealism is the genre of painting resembling a photograph, most recently seen in the splinter hyperrealism art movement. However, the term is primarily applied to paintings from the American photorealism art movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s.


A pigment is a material that changes the colour of light it reflects as the result of selective color absorption. This physical process differs from fluorescence, phosphorescence, and other forms of luminescence, in which the material itself emits light. Many materials selectively absorb certain wavelengths of light. Materials that humans have chosen and developed for use as pigments usually have special properties that make them ideal for coloring other materials. A pigment must have a high tinting strength relative to the materials it colors. It must be stable in solid form at ambient temperatures. For industrial applications, as well as in the arts, permanence and stabililty are desirable properties. Pigments that are not permanent are called fugitive. Fugitive pigments fade over time, or with exposure to light, while some eventually blacken. Pigments are used for colouring paint, ink, plastic, fabric, cosmetics, food and other materials. Most pigments used in manufacturing and the visual arts are dry colourants, usually ground into a fine powder. This powder is added to a vehicle (or matrix), a relatively neutral or colorless material that acts as a binder. A distinction is usually made between a pigment, which is insoluble in the vehicle, and a dye, which is either a liquid, or is soluble in its vehicle. A colorant can be both a pigment and a dye depending on the vehicle it is used in. In some cases, a pigment can be manufactured from a dye by precipitating a soluble dye with a metallic salt. The resulting pigment is called a lake pigment.


Pointillism is a style of painting in which small distinct points of primary colours create the impression of a wide selection of secondary colours. The technique relies on the perceptive ability of the eye and mind of the viewer to mix the colour spots into a fuller range of tones, and is related closely to Divisionism, a more technical variant of the method. It is a style with few serious practitioners, and is notably seen in the works of Seurat, Signac, and Cross. The term itself was first coined by art critics in the late 1880s to ridicule the works of these artists, and is now used without its earlier mocking connotation. The practice of Pointillism is in sharp contrast to the more common method of blending pigments on a palette or using the many commercially-available premixed colours. The latter is analogous to the CMYK or four-color printing process used by personal colour printers and large presses; Pointillism is analogous instead to the process used by computer monitors and television sets to produce colours.

Pop Art

Pop Art is a visual artistic movement that emerged in the mid 1950s in Britain and in parallel in the late 1950s in the United States. Pop Art is one of the major art movements of the Twentieth Century. Characterized by themes and techniques drawn from popular mass culture, such as advertising and comic books, pop art is widely interpreted as either a reaction to the then-dominant ideas of abstract expressionism or an expansion upon them. Pop art, like pop music, aimed to employ images of popular as opposed to elitist culture in art, emphasizing the banal or kitschy elements of any given culture. Pop art at times targeted a broad audience, and often claimed to do so. However, much of pop art is considered very academic, as the unconventional organizational practices used often make it difficult for some to comprehend. Pop art and Minimalism are considered to be the last Modern art movements and thus the precursors to Contemporary art or Postmodern art.

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Porcelain is a ceramic material made by heating selected and refined materials often including clay in the form of kaolinite to high temperatures. Raw materials for porcelain, when mixed with water, form a plastic body that can be worked to a required shape before firing in a kiln at temperatures between about 1200 and 1400 degrees Celsius. The toughness, strength, and translucence of porcelain arise mainly from the formation at high temperatures of glass and the mineral mullite within the fired body. Porcelain was named after its resemblance to the white, shiny Venus-shell, called in old Italian porcella. The curved shape of the upper surface of the Venus-shell resembles the curve of a pig's back. (Latin porcella, a little pig, a pig) Properties associated with porcelain include low permeability, high strength, hardness, glassiness, high durability, whiteness, translucence, resonance, brittleness, high resistance to the passage of electricity, high resistance to chemical attack, high resistance to thermal shock and high elasticity.


A portrait is a painting, photograph, or other artistic representation of a person or object. Portraits are often simple "head shots" or "mug shots" and are not usually overly elaborate. The intent is to show the basic appearance of the person or object, and occasionally some artistic insight into his or her personality (if a person) — character, status, the place and time they lived, the environment in which they live or simply showing beauty. Artists over the years have created many portraits to express their feelings about themselves in self-portraits.

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Positive Space

The space in a painting taken up by the object or subject being depicted, as opposed to the space around the objects, known as negative space.

Post Impressionism

Post-Impressionism is the term coined by the British artist and art critic Roger Fry in 1914, to describe the development of European art since Monet (Impressionism). John Rewald, one of the first professional art historians to focus on the birth of early modern art, limited the scope to the years between 1886 and 1892 in his pioneering publication on Post-Impressionism: From Van Gogh to Gauguin (1956): Rewald considered it to continue his History of Impressionism (1946), and pointed out that a "subsequent volume dedicated to the second half of the post-impressionist period" - Post-Impressionism: From Gauguin to Matisse - was to follow, extending the period covered to other artistic movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries — to artistic movements based on or derived from Impressionism.

Post Modernism

Postmodernism (abbreviated as PoMo, Pomo or Po-Mo) is a term used in a variety of contexts to describe social conditions, movements in the arts, economic and social conditions and scholarship in reaction to modernism.Postmodern art is a term used to describe art which is thought to be after or in contradiction to some aspect of modernism. In general movements such as Intermedia, Installation art, Conceptual Art and Multimedia, particularly involving video are described as post-modern. The traits associated with the use of the term post-modern in art include bricolage, use of words prominently as the central artistic element, collage, simplification, depiction of consumer or popular culture and Performance art.


Precisionism was an artistic movement that emerged in the United States after World War I and was at its height during the inter-War period. The term itself was first coined in the early 1920s. Influenced strongly by Cubism and Futurism, its main themes included industrialization and the modernization of the American landscape, which were depicted in precise, sharply defined, geometrical forms. There is a degree of reverence for the industrial age in the movement, but social commentary was not fundamental to the style. The degree of abstraction in the movement ranged considerably (Sheeler's work was sometimes almost photorealistic). Charles Demuth, Charles Sheeler, and Georgia O'Keeffe were prominent Precisionists. George Ault was also associated with Precisionism, although his association is less clear. The movement had no presence outside the United States, and although no manifesto was ever created, the artists themselves were a close group who were active throughout the 1920s and 1930s, and exhibited together. Georgia O'Keeffe, however, remained connected to Precisionist ideals until the 1960s, although her best-known works are not closely related to Precisionism. Her husband, photographer Alfred Stieglitz, was a highly regarded mentor for the group. Precisionist artists have also been referred to as "Cubist-Realists", "Sterilists", and "Immaculates". Their art would have an influence on the magic realism and pop art movements.


In painting, 'predella' refers to the paintings or sculptures running along the frame at the bottom of an altarpiece. They often consist of narrative scenes, e.g. scenes in the life of a particular saint.

Primary Colours

Primary colours are not a fundamental property of light but rather a biological concept, based on the physiological response of the human eye to light. Fundamentally, light is a continuous spectrum of wavelengths, meaning that there are an infinite number of colours. However, the human eye normally contains only three types of colour receptors called cones. These respond to specific wavelengths of light. Humans and other species with three such types of colour receptors are known as trichromats. Although the peak responsivities of the cones do not occur at the frequencies corresponding to red, green, and blue, those three colours were probably chosen as primary because with them it is possible to almost independently stimulate the three types of colour receptors, providing a wide gamut of experiences. To generate optimal colour ranges for species other than humans, other primary colours would have to be used. For example, for species known as tetrachromats, with four different colour receptors, one would use four primary colors (since humans can only see to 400 nanometers (violet), but tetrachromats can see into the ultraviolet to about 300 nanometers, this fourth primary colour might be located in the shorter-wavelength range and would probably be a pure spectral magenta rather than the magenta we see which is a mixture of red and blue). Many birds and marsupials are tetrachromats and it has been suggested that some female humans are born as tetrachromats as well, having an extra receptor for yellow. The peak response of human colour receptors varies, even amongst individuals with 'normal' colour vision; in non-human species this polymorphic variation is even greater, and it may well be adaptive. Most mammals other than primates have only two types of colour receptors and are therefore dichromats; to them, there are only two primary colours. It would be incorrect to assume that the world 'looks tinted' to an animal (or human) with anything other than the human standard of three color receptors. To an animal (or human) born that way, the world would look normal to it, but the animal's ability to detect and discriminate colours would be different from that of a human with normal colour vision.


A piece of work generally created from a master screen, plate, stone or block of wood and using an ink or paint print onto paper or similar material. Often multiple identical or very similar prints are created from the same master, when this is the case, each print is known as an edition.

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